EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — As LeBron James and Rajon Rondo continue to slowly make their way back to the court, Lonzo Ball is trying to fill the massive leadership void left for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nowhere near as vocal as James, Rondo and veteran center Tyson Chandler, Ball wants to try to lead by example first and then be vocal when needed. The second-year point guard envisions Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard leading in a similar fashion.
“It’s just a big void to fill,” Ball said. “LeBron and Rondo are arguably two of the best leaders ever. Having both of them out, that’s two of our main guys who are talking on the court. It’s new for me. It’s new for BI [Brandon Ingram]. Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] probably talks the most out of all of us.”
“… For me, it’s more about action,” Ball added of how he tries to lead. “I don’t think you can talk if you’re not doing your job. So, it starts with that for me and go from there.”
Ball, who is more reserved and quiet by nature, understands that there will be times when he has to be more vocal as the team’s starting point guard.
Ball — who is averaging 9.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists while shooting 32.7 percent from 3-point range this season — was asked if there is another player he has seen that leads more by example and isn’t as vocal.
“Not that I know of,” Ball initially answered. “Every time I played on, I kind of [have] been the leader for it. Obviously Rondo and ‘Bron talk all the time. I don’t know how Kawhi is, but if I had to pick one [player who is quiet and leads by example], I’d probably say him.”
The Lakers (23-21) have struggled to go 3-7 since James (groin) and Rondo (hand) were both injured on Christmas Day in a win over the Golden State Warriors. They’ve dropped their past two games, including a 101-95 loss at home to Cleveland, which snapped the longest losing streak in the NBA this season at 12.
James and Rondo have continued to try to lead as much as they can from the sidelines while Chandler has assumed the vocal leadership mantle on the court. But while James is out, the Lakers are looking to Ball, Ingram and Kuzma to keep the Lakers afloat in the Western Conference playoff standings. The Lakers were tied for eighth in the standings entering Monday night’s games.
“We want to win,” Ball said of the Lakers’ young trio while James is out. “It’s kind of our team right now. The team’s looking to us to make things happen and we are not doing that. We just go to do better.”
Rondo, who was cleared to begin dribbling and working with his right hand which he had surgery on Dec. 28 to repair a ligament in his ring finger, has been trying to mentor Ball and bring out more emotion in him. Earlier this season, Ball said Rondo would accomplish that by talking trash to him in practices and getting the younger point guard to play angrier. Rondo also would organize players-only film sessions as well.
“We’re talking … Tyson and I and LeBron, we’re all trying to teach them what to say,” Rondo said of trying to help Ball, Ingram and Kuzma. “Because a lot of times, people don’t know what to say, so they don’t talk. And right now, it’s been a learning curve in terms of a lot of film sessions, in terms of what guys see out there and what they’re supposed to say.”
Rondo said he began feeling comfortable being more vocal during his second year in Boston but knew he had to know what he was talking about or veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would correct him. Ball has been the leader on every team he has played on, but now that he’s surrounded by more talent than he has ever played with, the point guard wants to make sure he’s doing his job first before being vocal with others.
“In high school, it was easy [being vocal],” Ball said of his playing days at Chino Hills High School. “It was pretty much my whole family [playing on the team]. I played with my brothers and my cousins so it was easy to talk to them. At UCLA, it was pretty cool. [Former UCLA head coach Steve] Alford kind of gave me the keys and told me to take the team as far as I could.”
“Guys looked to me to make all the plays pretty much,” Ball added. “I had the ball in my hands pretty much the whole game. Now we have a lot of talent on this team. A lot of guys get the ball and we just got to learn how to click, translate that into wins.”