When the L.A. Lakers selected Lonzo Ball 2nd in the 2017 NBA Draft, nobody assumed it was for anything more than his talent. Coming out of UCLA, Lonzo was hailed as a superb shooter and even better playmaker.
And while talent, no doubt, had a lot to do with the Lakers' decision-making process, so too did the storyline. According to Bill Oram of The Athletic, Magic Johnson (the team's president at the time) decided to pick Lonzo not just for what he could do on the court, but because of the particular storyline his arrival would create.
“‘It was looked at from Magic [Johnson] and others’ perspective as being too good of a Hollywood story to pass up,’ said one league source who was familiar with the Lakers draft strategy preparation,” Orem wrote. “‘This has to work out because it’s a perfect story. Because it’s Hollywood.’
“Another source close to the Lakers agreed with that characterization, saying, ‘It was too good to be true. I think the Hollywood story was the worst thing that could have happened to him looking back. You have the most storied franchise and the franchise’s most storied player, arguably, proclaiming this guy to be the next big thing. Wow.’”
'Zo has very close ties to L.A., and even played college there before making his transition into the NBA. Between his intriguing persona and attention-grabbing family, he must have seemed like an ideal candidate to become the new face of the Lakers. Fast forward a while and, while Lonzo has only played a few seasons for the franchise, nobody is quite sure what to make of his time there.
On one hand, Lonzo has turned out to be a pretty solid player, and trading him to New Orleans is what helped the Purple and Gold land Anthony Davis and, eventually, win a Championship.
On the other hand, though, the Lakers passed on players who are objectively better than Lonzo, including Bam Adebayo, Donovan Mitchell, and De’Aaron Fox. Any one of those guys would have made life a whole lot easier for the Lakers.
Instead, they had to endure a few more years of mediocrity before finally flipping the switch and making the trade for AD.
As for Magic, he stepped down from his position in 2019 amid reports of drama and infighting within the organization. It's easy to criticize him for his mistake now, knowing who they could have had instead, but story does matter in L.A., and Magic knows that better than anyone.
Unfortunately, Lonzo just wasn't able to live up to it.