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Lonzo Ball sits out showdown with De'Aaron Fox, and scrutiny follows

Lonzo Ball sits out showdown with De'Aaron Fox, and scrutiny follows
The Lakers' Lonzo Ball sits on the bench before an summer league game against the Kings on July 10, 2017, in Las Vegas. (John Locher / AP)

When the Los Angeles Lakers announced Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in last month's draft, would sit out Monday night's game here against the Sacramento Kings with a sore groin, the conspiracy theories didn't take long to catch fire.

Ball played in the opening two games of summer league ball, struggling in the first and putting up a triple-double in the second, without any hint of an issue before Monday's announcement — which happened to be the first time he'd be going up against De'Aaron Fox, the No. 5 pick in last month's draft by the Kings. In their previous meeting, Fox destroyed Ball, outscoring him, 39-10, and leading Kentucky to a win over UCLA in the Sweet 16.

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Were the Lakers, and-or Ball, avoiding a potential embarrassment for their young star? Is it possible that, somehow, he was afraid of Fox?

It didn't take long for the accusations to fly. Even Fox got in on the action, tweeting out a face-palm emoji — before later deleting it.

The Lakers' other first round picks sat out Monday, as well, with Kyle Kuzma (cramps) and Josh Hart (sprained right ankle) joining last year's No. 2 overall pick, Brandon Ingram (cramps) next to Ball in street clothes. Ball didn't speak to the national media, but said during an interview with Spectrum SportsNets, the Lakers' partner station, that sitting out wasn't his decision.

"I definitely wanted to play," Ball said. "They felt as a staff it was better for me to sit this one out. It's just summer league, being precautious, just day-to-day."

It's hard to see this situation as being anything other than that, frankly. It certainly wouldn't make sense to duck Fox when the Lakers and Kings will play here in an exhibition game on Oct. 8, plus four regular-season meetings.

Fox took the high road, making a joke that his Twitter account was hacked before downplaying the suggestion that Ball sat out on purpose.

The Kings' De'Aaron Fox reacts after a play against the Suns during a summer league game on July 7, 2017.
The Kings' De'Aaron Fox reacts after a play against the Suns during a summer league game on July 7, 2017. (John Locher / AP)

"Y'all ran with it faster than I would run a 40, so I did it," Fox said. "I like to play with y'all ... I know what y'all do. It made a story, didn't it?"

"He's a competitor," Fox said later. "If he's hurt, like people said, it's summer league, don't risk it. When I tweaked my ankle, coach took me out it was the same thing. No one's ducking anybody. At the end of the day we're still going to play each other. We're both in the NBA for a reason."

The irony of Ball sitting out, and all of the attention it caused, was that both he and Fox, who finished with 12 points and an assist in 20 minutes, were outshined by their backups, as the Lakers won, 95-92, behind 18 points and nine assists from Alex Caruso, while second-round pick Frank Mason had 24 points, five rebounds and six assists for the Kings off the bench.

Still, Monday was the moment he truly arrived in the NBA. The self-inflicted hype of the Balls, led by his father, LaVar, and the family's Big Baller Brand, whose apparel he wore on the bench Monday, has placed a target on Ball's back. That he plays for the high-profile Lakers only increases the scrutiny from a large contingent of people rooting for him to fail.

If Ball ever doubted that would be the case, he certainly learned otherwise Monday night, when the basketball world was set alight with rumblings that he was scared to face Fox.

Now imagine what it'll be like when the games actually count this fall.

The world of professional sports is harsh and unyielding, and the spotlight never goes away. That's especially true for Ball because he and his camp have chased after attention incessantly over the past several months.

He wound up with plenty of it Monday, and not for the last time. Welcome to life in the NBA, Lonzo. It won't get easier from here.

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