While Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson insists that Lonzo Ball corrected his shaky jumper and is prepared for “a breakout season,” and newest L.A. superstar LeBron James suggested that the second-year point guard is “destined for greatness,” the oft-criticized and highly scrutinized 20-year-old will have to achieve both from the bench, at least to start the season.
“Luke Walton told me today that Rajon Rondo will be the Lakers’ starting point guard to start the year,” ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on the radio on Monday, via Silver Screen and Roll. McMenamin clarified in print on Tuesdaay, via ESPN colleague Ohm Youngmisuk, that Walton’s plan is to start Rondo at the point “as Ball makes his way back” from the surgery to mend his torn left meniscus in mid-July.
Has Lonzo Ball been cleared to play?
Ball’s availability is in some question. He missed 30 games as a rookie last season, mostly due to what the Lakers listed as a midseason left MCL sprain and late-season left knee bruise. Ball initially treated the knee with platelet-rich plasma injections, per Youngmisuk, but ultimately required surgery on July 17, when the Lakers announced that he would make a full recovery by the start of training camp.
That script changed last week, when Walton told Spectrum SportsNet that Ball would not be cleared for five-on-five scrimmage work at the start of training camp and the team will not “rush him back at all.”
Then, Ball told reporters at media day that, while the plan is still to work him back into the mix slowly, he “just got cleared” for full participation. Just how slowly is the question. The Lakers play their first preseason game on Sunday, and their regular season won’t begin until they visit Portland on Oct. 18.
Rondo is supposedly cool with coming off the bench
There is a chance that what Walton meant by “to start the year” was that Ball would come off the bench at the beginning of preseason, but it sounds an awful lot like the Lakers plan to bench last year’s No. 2 overall pick — a kid whose development should be a priority for the organization and who started all but two of his 52 games last season — in favor of the 32-year-old Rondo to start the season.
Walton was a little more non-committal after Tuesday’s practice:
Walton said Rondo was great today, that his team “won a lot of the drills.” Rondo would start if there were a game tomorrow since Lonzo isn’t doing 5-on-5 yet, but Walton sees no need to commit to anything beyond that.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) September 25, 2018
This may not be all that big of a deal, at least to everyone but LaVar Ball, so long as the Lakers install Ball as the starter once his knee feels 100 percent. For his part, Rondo is saying all the right things.
“Whatever role this team wants me to play, I’ll play it,” said Rondo, via ESPN. “Whether it’s starting 15 games and getting benched for eight, I’ve been through it all in my career. … I’m ready for anything.”
Wait, couldn’t this create a point-guard controversy?
This also has a chance to backfire. Rondo might be the team’s best option at point guard. His brilliant passing and shaky shooting aren’t so dissimilar from Ball, but he’s also a four-time All-Star with a championship ring who led the New Orleans Pelicans to the playoffs in a resurgent 2017-18 season.
There’s no telling what this could do to Ball’s confidence, something he conceded at media day was one of his biggest areas of concern last season. Rondo signed a one-year deal, and Ball is considered a vital component to a successful Lakers future, unless they traded him for a greater return. Maybe he won’t see coming off the bench as a demotion if he’s still not fully healthy. And maybe it isn’t one.
But there are other issues at play. There’s a chance the Lakers start the season out well with Rondo, leaving the Lakers to decide if it’s prudent to make Ball his full-time backup. Or, what if they make the switch back to Ball and start to struggle? That leaves a cloud over the whole situation, with fans, players, coaches and executives all having to decide whether it’s better to win now with a veteran or invest for later with a sophomore. All the while, the Ball family reality show will play out on Facebook.
This is the exact scenario that caused so many eyebrows to raise when the Lakers opted to sign Rondo this summer. Won’t LeBron want to play with the guys who can help him win now? Is Rondo really cool coming off the bench behind a guy he surely believes he’s better than? Will this stunt Lonzo’s growth?
All of which is to say the drama that will be the Lakers is already beginning to unfold.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Chiefs LB: Garoppolo injury ‘his fault’
• Happy ending after homeless teen kicked off HS team
• Vikings player reportedly made shooting threat
• Eric Adelson: Flaw of Mike Tomlin’s Steelers exposed in win