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NBA AM: Is LaVar Ball Hurting Son’s Draft Stock?

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Top draft prospect Lonzo Ball is several million dollars poorer than he should be at this point, thanks in large part to the tinkering of his father LaVar, whose demands with Nike, adidas and Under Armour ultimately forced all three hoops sneaker powerhouses to pass on a guy that is likely to be a top-three selection in the NBA Draft this June.

The whole thing, first reported by Darren Rovell of ESPN, has been very well-publicized, with Twitter memes blasting LaVar Ball’s hypothetical shoe design with a fervor not seen since Stephen Curry released the Curry Twos that looked like something nursing homes would issue to residents on their first day at the facility.

But what’s really important about this story is what LaVar Ball might be doing to Lonzo Ball’s draft stock.

There are two ways to look at this:

1. Lonzo Ball is an insanely good basketball player, with elite court vision and height and length at his position that will put him in line for Rookie of the Year contention from game one of his rookie season, no matter who plays for.

2. LaVar Ball is going to be a headache, and if all things are equal, surely players like Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox or Malik Monk—none of whom come with Ball’s baggage—would be less frustrating options for a young franchise looking to build a positive culture from which to crawl forth from the ashes of mediocrity.

According to Steve Kyler, who has spoken to a few teams about the possibility of drafting Ball, the overbearing father angle would not deter them from drafting Lonzo if they felt his talent and fit made him the best option at a certain point in the draft.

In fact, there have been plenty of fathers in the past that have micromanaged their children’s careers, especially early on. Shaquille O’Neal’s father reportedly would call members of the Orlando Magic front office in the middle of the night threatening to make O’Neal sit if the coaching staff didn’t run more plays through him.

It happens, especially now in the modern NBA, where fathers have seen what a little extra hard work and training can do for a child prodigy. It’s hard not to watch those old videos of Tiger Woods and think to yourself, “That could be my kid if I get them started playing sports early enough.”

Anybody who ever has watched their kids play in a Little League game knows that there’s a version of LaVar Ball in every set of bleachers in the country. Anybody who has ever coached Little League, however, knows that working with overbearing parents can suck the fun out of the whole ordeal. If that’s the most talented kid on your roster, though, you deal with it. Or maybe you don’t. That’s the question facing NBA teams right now regarding Lonzo Ball, but on a much larger, more expensive scale.

The pater familias of the Ball family has made it his life’s work to see his children become not just the biggest stars in the NBA, but the biggest brand in the NBA, and however grating the man’s personality may be, he deserves at least some measure of kudos for dreaming big.

However, those big dreams have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and already his insistence to “co-brand” with the big three shoe manufacturers rather than just sign his son to a standard eight-figure shoe deal has cost Lonzo millions of dollars, while also giving NBA teams a little sneak peek at what they have to look forward to over the next several years.

Worse, every pick down the draft order Ball slides will cost him just a little bit more, too. Realistically, it’s hard to imagine him falling out of the top three selections, and he almost certainly won’t get past the Los Angeles Lakers, wherever they pick, but if L.A. passes on Ball, it’s not impossible to envision a scenario in which he tumbles a tish, especially with so much other elite talent in this draft.

Philadelphia, for example, plans on making Ben Simmons their ball handler. Boston is a top seed with a pristine culture they may not want to risk tarnishing. Phoenix collects point guards like Lance Stephenson collects shoes, and New York is run by someone in Phil Jackson who seems about as likely to put up with LaVar Ball’s nonsense as he is to put the Triangle offense to bed.

In other words, there are plenty of teams that could pass on him for plenty of reasons.

The reality is that whichever team does draft Lonzo Ball is going to get a player that has, not ironically, been compared to Magic Johnson, so some organization in the top five is going to make this gamble without hesitation. Then, a contingent from that team, which probably will include somebody from ownership and a few members of the front office, will sit LaVar Ball down promptly remind him how important it will be for him to shut his trap.

Ball doesn’t seem like the guy to accept such an edict, though, and with two more blue chippers among his progeny coming our way, it’s not going to get any better any time soon. Even Shaquille O’Neal’s dad kept his demands relatively private, but that was in an era before Twitter. LaVar absolutely will speak to the media when he’s unhappy about his children and his brand, and NBA teams are going to have to weigh the impact of that headache with Lonzo’s talent and see which one wins out.

At some point, when Lonzo is raking in cash without his father’s help and presumably racking up All-Star appearances, he’s not going to need his dad to speak for him anymore. He’ll grow out of the weird passiveness he seems to have for his father’s antics and we’ll forget all about LaVar.

Lonzo is a confident kid, but he’s not as outspoken or anywhere near as boisterous as his father, and that’s what teams are going to look at first and foremost. The kid is going to be fine, but it’s the patriarch that could make the meantime pretty ugly. Almost as ugly, one assumes, as the shoe design that Nike, adidas and Under Armour all turned down.

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About Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.