The Los Angeles Lakers had a lot riding on the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery. Even though they had the third worst record in the NBA this season – only the Phoenix Suns (24-58) and Brooklyn Nets (20-62) finished below them in the standings – there was a 53.1 percent chance that their pick would fall out of the top three in the upcoming draft. If that was the case, their pick would’ve gone to the Philadelphia 76ers as a result of the Steve Nash trade the Lakers made with the Suns in 2012, which would’ve made their current rebuild a whole lot harder.
Fortunately for the Lakers, their pick ended up being No. 2 – start the conspiracy theories! – meaning they get to keep their pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and select one of the brightest stars in college basketball. All signs point towards the Boston Celtics, who have the first pick despite finishing the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference, drafting Markelle Fultz, so the Lakers will have an opportunity to draft one of Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum or De’Aaron Fox with the number two pick on June 22nd. Either way, when paired with their young core of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers have a lot to be excited about.
Out of that group, Ball is the most likely to be a Laker next season. Beyond being the second best prospect in this draft class, his outspoken father LaVar Ball famously stated in February that Lonzo will “only play for the Lakers” before backtracking somewhat with the following: “All I said was that my boy is going to play for the Lakers. I’m going to speak it into existence. I want him to be a Laker, but I wasn’t saying he’s only going to play for the Lakers.” The reason why? “I’d like him to play for the Lakers because it’s home,” Ball said, “and I’d love him to learn from Magic Johnson.”
The whole thing has sort of taken on a Hollywood feel to it. At this point, it would almost seem wrong if the UCLA standout wasn’t wearing a yellow jersey and calling the Staples Center his home come this autumn.
— Mr.Gemini♊ (@RonG30) May 17, 2017
While the Lakers have made it clear that the elder Ball won’t influence their decision either way, it appears as though Lonzo feels as strongly about playing for the franchise as his father. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Lonzo is still undecided on whether or not he will work out for teams other than the Lakers heading into the draft. Although they haven’t yet ruled out auditioning for other teams closer to the 2017 NBA Draft, Shelburne’s source made it clear that Los Angeles has been their desired destination “from the start.”
Lonzo only working out for the Lakers obviously doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be on their roster next season. The Celtics could select him with the No. 1 pick or he could, in theory, slip ever-so-slightly in the lottery if the Lakers fall in love with another prospect within the next month. (The Lakers are deciding between Ball, Fultz, Jackson and Fox, according to Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding. They aren’t necessarily set on drafting Lonzo). Doing so, however, gives Lonzo an opportunity to prove to the Lakers that he’d be an ideal fit in Luke Walton’s Golden State Warriors-like system, which is suited perfectly for his skill set. It’s not like Lonzo is the first prospect to use pre-draft workouts as a strategy to land in the right situation, either.
Nonetheless, this all comes back to what LaVar Ball said in February. Lonzo, who was born in Anaheim, played high school ball at Chino Hills and spent his lone collegiate season at UCLA, has an opportunity to play for his hometown team next season just like he stated. A lot could change before the NBA Draft next month, but the combination of Ball being the second best prospect in this class and a California native who could become the franchise pillar the Lakers are looking for makes this union feel inevitable. In the end, the NBA Draft Lottery couldn’t have worked out better for the Lakers, but it worked out to be an even better night for the Ball family.