ESPN’s Jeff Goodman published an interview with LaVar Ball on Sunday where Ball delivered heavy criticism directed at Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton. LaVar’s comments to ESPN weren’t terribly surprising if you’ve been following the LaVar vs. Lakers story this season. LaVar claims that the Lakers young players don’t believe in Walton, and that he isn’t using Lonzo Ball in a way that would make him most effective.
Ball has been insinuating these feelings all year, but his language in the Goodman interview was particularly sharp.
LaVar’s comments prompted Los Angeles media to ask Lonzo about his relationship with the Lakers and Walton at shootaround on Sunday. Lonzo didn’t really defend his father or Walton to the media, and his message more or less amounted to Lonzo declaring that he would be comfortable playing for any coach. It was certainly not a ringing endorsement for Walton, and did nothing to end speculation that there is a strong Ball vs. Walton war happening behind the scenes.
In response to both LaVar and Lonzo (and L.A.’s losing streak), a Lakers source told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that there have been no conversations about potentially firing Luke Walton. The Lakers organization put their full support behind their head coach, but this story doesn’t end there.
Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle addressed the ESPN interview with LaVar Ball prior to their game against the New York Knicks on Sunday. Carlisle is the president of the coaches association, and to say he wasn’t pleased with ESPN for publishing that interview would be an understatement.
“As the president of the coaches association, I view the recent ESPN article as a disgrace, quite honestly,” Carlisle says. “Luke Walton is a terrific young coach who is bringing along a young team and it’s a difficult task. If you don’t believe it, just ask me. We’re going through it right now and went through it last year. ESPN is an NBA partner, and they’ve been a great one, but part of that partnership is the coaches do a lot of things to help them with access, interviews, all those kinds of things. And in exchange for that they should back up the coaches. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that’s printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust. It erodes the trust we’ve built with ESPN and our coaches are upset…He earned the Laker job and to have to deal with these kinds of ignorant distractions is deplorable.”
When pressed on if he was saying coverage should be curtailed to make coaches happy, Carlisle offered this retort.
“They should look at their sources and do a better job of determining whether they have any merit or any validity or are they just blowhard loudmouths. That’s what I’m saying. ”
Carlisle’s stance here is easy to sympathize with. He’s an NBA head coach, as is Luke Walton, and in reality, all you’ve got here is The World Wide Leader In Sports (and a major NBA partner) publishing an article trashing one of his peers from the point of view of a disgruntled father. More than maybe any other collection of people in the sports world, the NBA coaching family sticks up for their own. Look no further than anytime ESPN’s own Jeff Van Gundy talks about a head coach, and this isn’t any criticism of Van Gundy, he openly admits how close that fraternity is.
The problem is twofold here. First, LaVar Ball doesn’t need ESPN anymore. At some point, years ago, LaVar needed an outlet to get his message across. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle now, or the toothpaste back into the tube, etc. It’s too late for all that. LaVar Ball is here. He has a voice. He has a message. He’s going to get that message to the public with or without ESPN.
Second is, whether people want to admit it or not, the father of the Lakers’ star rookie point guard ripping the coach is absolutely a story. Whether Carlisle finds it fair or not, the thoughts of the parents of athletes has long been a story. Coaches don’t like anyone speculating about things going on in their locker room, but if the parent of one of those in the locker room has something to say, it gets covered, it just so happens LaVar has lots to say.
Carlisle’s sentiment is nice, but if what LaVar Ball says didn’t matter, you wouldn’t have reporters asking Lonzo Ball about his comments at shootaround. You wouldn’t have a Lakers source telling Ramona Shelburne that Luke Walton’s job is safe. What LaVar Ball says, for better or worse, is NBA news until it isn’t and ESPN’s job is to cover it.