Ballgazers Update: Viva Lithuania

(As much as I️ despise covering Lavar Ball in any capacity, his most recent antics were simply too insane and unhinged to go without comment. I️ was planning on this piece as being another smaller Ballgazers capsule for my mid season round up, which will come out next week, but I️ got a little carried away. I️ digress.)

Last month Lavar announced that he would be pulling his middle son LiAngelo out of UCLA after the fallout stemming from his shoplifting charge in China and subsequent suspension. This coming after he declared he would be pulling his youngest son LaMelo out of school (he’s 16) and homeschooling him, in order to prepare him for the NBA. Shortly after that, the family announced that LiAngelo and LaMelo had signed professional contracts with BC Prenai Vytautas of the Lithuanian Basketball League.

The club plays out of Prienai, a small town in southern Lituania of about 10,000 people, and plays in an arena (if you can call it that) that seats about 1,700, roughly the size of a midsized high school gym. BC Prienai is a perennial bottom dweller in the not-so-competitive LBL and has had serious financial woes in recent years. In fact, the team rarely practices because they can’t afford gym time. A long way off from sunny Southern California. The owner is also the head coach, and the best player on the team is his son, an arrangement I’m sure won’t cause any conflict with Lavar, who has a reputation for undermining and clashing with his sons’ coaches.

Then last week, Lavar announced he would be starting his own pro basketball league designed for young players who don’t want to go to college. He stated he planned on paying players $3000-$10000 per week and hoped to launch teams in about 10 cities. I was hesitant to label Lavar as an innovator or disruptor the way many in the NBA sphere have. In order to be a disruptor, you have to have two things; vision and execution. In almost all of his endeavors thus far, he has lacked one or both of these qualities. However I think that out of all his idiotic ideas, this might be the worst.

First and foremost, the NBA has invested heavily in developing the G-League into a legitimate minor league with the potential to feed talent into the NBA. They have expanded to 27 teams and recently signed an exclusive deal with Twitch that allows fans to stream all the games. We are far removed from the days where then D-League were still basically an extension of the NBA Summer League. I think Silver has bolstered the G-League for the specific reason that he intends on revoking the one and done rule sooner rather than later, and positioning the G-League as a viable alternative to going to college, the same model Lavar is pitching.

Secondly, we can’t ignore the fact that most of the nations top recruits will be illicitly paid by their university much more than the meager salary Ball is offering them, not to mention the other perks that go along with being a star basketball player at a top flight program. You’re telling me Marvin Bagley or Michael Porter is going to give up 6-8 cushy months of being a fucking god on campus and honing their games against the nations best amateur talent in favor of life on the road playing against meager competition? Not happening.

Lavar seems so desperate to make his youngest two sons professional players he will literally do anything to make that happen. He doesn’t mind sending them halfway across the world to basically play for the Flint Tropics of Lithuania. And when that doesn’t work out, he will just start his own league (with blackjack and hookers!) Personally, I’d be pretty mad if my dad basically gambled my future away just so he can try to prove to everyone he is this mystical basketball whisperer and not the cut rate snake oil salesman he is.

I think that Lavar is starting to realize that LaMelo and LiAngelo will never play in the NBA, and is doing everything in his power to avoid eating his own words. LiAngelo was a borderline D1 prospect to begin with and was only able to play at UCLA by riding Lonzo’s coattails. Lavar has already called him the black sheep of the family and hedged his bet by publicly telling everyone what I just told you. LaMelo, for all the hype already surrounding him, is only 16. But in my opinion he is not an NBA prospect. Just because you dunk a few times on @HouseOfHighlights doesn’t annoint you the second coming of LeBron James. If his brother wasn’t Lonzo Ball he would be just another solid high school player with a psycho dad. But the biggest reason I don’t think he will make the league is his style of play and the system he plays in. If you have watched any film of the way his high school and AAU teams play you would be sickened. While his teammates play 4 on 5 on defense, LaMelo basically just cherry picks at the offensive end and waits for long outlet passes that lead to wide-open layups and uncontested threes. Remember Jack Taylor, the D3 player who scored 138 points in a game (highlights for the uninitiated: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHsjK2mQ_Zg)? Chino Hills, the Ball’s high school team, and the Big Baller AAU team run the exact same system with LaMelo at it’s center.

I’m getting tired of this media trope that Lavar is somehow this mad genius playing 4D chess while everyone is playing checkers. I’m tired of people making excuses that he’s just a showman who knows what puts asses is seats, a caricature of himself that shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s the same shit everyone said about Donald Trump, and look where that landed us. When it comes down to it he’s just Lonzo Ball’s asshole dad. He’s no different than any of the other countless helicopter sports parents that have cropped up over the years. The only difference is that the age of social media has given him a platform he otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

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