Lonzo Ball has yet to find a stable home in the NBA since becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft. Ball spent one season on the Los Angeles Lakers as a 20-year-old rookie before the trajectory of the franchise was radically altered with LeBron James’ commitment in free agency. A year later, Ball was mercifully sent to the New Orleans Pelicans in the long-rumored trade for Anthony Davis. Now in his fourth season, Ball is again finding himself at a crossroads in his young career with restricted free agency on the horizon this summer.
The Pelicans are reporting listening to trade offers for Ball and veteran guard J.J. Redick, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Though Ball is still only 23 years old, New Orleans has two younger guards who need minutes in Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis. Ball has been starting all year, but he isn’t doing enough with his minutes to warrant keeping them on the bench. The second pick in the draft isn’t supposed to play for three teams before his rookie contract expires, but it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Ball’s first 12 games under new Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy have been a disappointment. As he’s battled a lingering knee issue, Ball has seen all of the progress he made with his three-point shot last year evaporate. Ball is making just 29.1 percent of his threes on 7.2 attempts per game, down from hitting an encouraging 37.5 percent in 2019-20. When his shot isn’t falling, Ball doesn’t much provide much scoring impact. He’s completely averse to getting to the rim, taking a career-low 14.9 percent of his shots within three feet, per basketball-reference. His inability to put pressure on the defense as a driver means he isn’t getting easy points from the foul line. In 12 games this season, Ball has attempted only 12 free throws.
While Ball’s offensive issues are well-documented at this point, there remains hope for his career. He’s been an impactful defensive guard since entering the league, putting up a steal rate above two percent every season he’s been in the league. He’s always been a heady passer who can process defensive coverages quickly and get the ball to the open man. He’s also consistently graded out as a positive impact player when he’s been on the court. Even during a nightmarish start to this season, Ball has the highest net rating on New Orleans for any player who has logged more than 120 minutes. Ball had the fourth-best net rating on the team last year, as well.
What does the ideal situation look like for Ball? It starts with having some more shooters on the court. With Zion Williamson, Steven Adams, and Eric Bledsoe sharing the floor with him in New Orleans, Ball has become just another non-shooter on a team with too many of them. While he’s always been a considered a point guard, it would also help Ball to play next to a lead handler who can get to the basket.
With that in mind, here are five potential deals for Ball.
The Clippers have two superstar scorers, the best three-point percentage in the league, and a dire need for some quality passers on the roster. Ball would likely welcome the opportunity to move back to his native southern California, and revitalize his career after the Lakers gave up on him.
A swap for Patrick Beverley would work salary-wise.
Here’s another trade that puts Ball back in California surrounded by stars. Lonzo’s willingness to make quick decisions with the ball as a passer would be a nice fit for Steve Kerr’s offense, and he could help a defense that currently ranks No. 18 in the league.
The Warriors and Pelicans have reportedly discussed a potential trade with Kelly Oubre Jr., according to Charania. The salaries work when you toss in Nicolo Melli from New Orleans’ side.
The Bulls badly need a point guard. Ball seemingly pairs well with both Zach LaVine and Coby White as a plus defend who prefers to set up teammates rather than score himself.
Chicago is facing its own conundrum in restricted free agency with Lauri Markkanen. The Pelicans badly need shooting in the front court. The Bulls might need a future draft pick from New Orleans to entice them (fortunately the Pelicans have plenty), but a swap could be beneficial for all parties involved.
Kyle Lowry turns 35 years old in March and will be a free agent after the season. The Raptors could use a big guard to pair in the backcourt long-term with Fred VanVleet. Ball’s ability to disrupt passing lanes feels like it would be a nice fit in Nick Nurse’s defense.
Would New Orleans agree to take Norman Powell and Terence Davis in exchange for Lonzo?
The Mavericks could use another big playmaker next to Luka Doncic. Ball also would help a Dallas defense that ranks No. 17 in the league. Would Dwight Powell and a future draft pick be enough to entice New Orleans?