The New Orleans Pelicans are in year two of the post-Anthony Davis era. While teams who trade superstars aren’t expected to be good immediately, the Pelicans found themselves in a great situation where they could be competitive right away with Brandon Ingram and a solid core, while Zion Williamson emerges in the coming years.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, they have not lived up to the expectations of improving in the present. They have started the season at a disappointing 5-10 record, well behind the playoff pace they wanted to be at. In fact they’re the 4th worst team in the league.
So they find themselves in a very tricky situation, particularly with Lonzo Ball who is up for an extension after the season.
After a promising 2019-20 season with great moments in the limited time he had with Williamson, Ball has more or less stagnated in his development. On paper and at times on the court, Ball is the ideal point guard to have alongside a duo of Zion and Ingram. A past first, second and third, before wanting to shoot guard, who defends at an all defensive team level.
And that is what makes Ball so frustrating. He has all the tools to be an all-star caliber player, or something close to it, yet he continues to float around mediocre to average. I’m not sure if it is his demeanor, coaching, or a combination of both, but he has hit a wall in his progression.
Some times I question where is the Chino Hills, UCLA Lonzo Ball. Where is the extremely confident, joyful, explosive guard that he once was? Where is all the expolsocve tomahawk slams he used to throw down? The flashy passes? The border line cocky attitude?
He shouldn’t have peaked in March Madness in UCLA.
The Pelicans are not going to extend him at the money he is projected to get on the open free agent market, and he isn’t progressing in their system, so they have to trade him and get back what they can right?
So let’s look at a few potential destinations that could use, or revive his career.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are off to the most fun start since Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony were running the show in MSG. Tom Thibodeau has put his stamp on this young Knicks team and the culture has quickly changed. RJ Barrett has improved and Julius Randle is looking like an All-Star.
They also might have their point guard of the future in Immanuel Quickley, who is making the floater look easy and is already foul-bating like a young James Harden.
But the Knicks still need that playmaking facilitator, defensive minded guard, one they have been searching for since Mark Jackson? Yes the same Mark Jackson who this generation knows better for his commentary “Mama there goes that man.” It’s been that long.
Ball could shine in New York under Thibodeau. Some of his best games, the ones where he looked like UCLA and Chino Hills Lonzo Ball, have taken place under the lights at MSG. He actually thrives off the idea of playing on the biggest stage.
His fit with the Knicks is also ideal. At just 23 years old, he fits the timeline of the Knicks, and could come into his own on a team absent of a veteran guard that will take away minute from him. For the first time in his career he wouldn’t have Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Jrue Holliday, or Eric Bledsoe hovering over him. He could play stress free basketball.
The Knicks also have the salary cap space, and assets to take a flyer on the unproven, but high potential guard.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Lakers fan in me hates this, but the Los Angeles Clippers acquiring Lonzo Ball would solve all of the Clippers needs.
The Clippers point guard situation is a timeshare between Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Patrick Beverley bringing the ball up and down the court and facilitating the offense. None of them are true facilitators, and you can see the Clippers offense goes into offensive droughts because of it.
Bringing in Ball as the main playmaker, and orchestra of the offense would immediately make the Clippers a better team. And with the offensive fire power and shooting ability of the Clippers, Ball’s weakness will be masked.
The Clippers have zero assets that the Pelicans would find intriguing outside of Luke Kennard, who the Clippers just brought in this season. While I like Kennard’s shooting, if I’m the Clippers I pull the trigger on the player swap instantly.
Golden State Warriors
Lonzo Ball is everything the Golden State Warriors and Steve Kerr preach: ball movement, unselfishness, high IQ, and defensive minded.
With Lonzo in an Andre Iguodala-type role (again, he wouldn’t be asked to do much more than defend and move the ball), his lack of shooting would be masked by Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and eventually Klay Thompson.
Who knows maybe some time in the gym with the greatest shooter who ever lived will help Ball find the long sought out jump shot.
Bringing in Lonzo Ball, who is actually on the same timeline as rookie James Wiseman, allows the Warriors to accomplish two things. Have a young core to go forward with, while also capitalizing on the end of the primes of their former champions.
A simple Kelly Oubre Jr. for Ball swap gets the deal done.
Lonzo Ball would fit the Miami Heat culture perfectly. Ball fits the free-flowing offense the Heat have thrived in over recent seasons and does not need many shots to be effective. He is an expert passer and defender. He would hustle for this Miami Heat team and would be a joy to watch throw lobs to Bam Adebayo.
Having sharp shooters Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro on the wings with Jimmy Butler would cover up the fact Ball lacks that ability.
The trade package the Heat could offer is less than impressive but it would help fit a need the Pelicans have. Bringing back Kelly Olynyk would add spacing at the center position, which New Orleans desperately lacks. Adding some sort of draft compensation likely gets it done.
This is more of a oh this would be cool choice than it is a realistic one, but let’s have some fun.
Could you imagine a passing game involving Ball and Nikola Jokic? It just screams San Antonio Spurs combining with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Jamal Murray would not be tasked with the primary playmaking duty and would also not have to take the primary guard defensive matchup. Murray was drained in the playoff, chasing Donovan Mitchell on defense whole matching his 50 point outbursts.
Adding in Ball would take away half of that load. It would also ensure the Nuggets maintain their offensive brilliance (third in offensive rating), but also allow them to pick up the pace of play with Ball’s ability to run the break off a miss.
The best way to make the trade work is sending both Ball and Reddick over while shipping back Gary Harris and one of the younger Nuggets, let’s say rookie RJ Hampton.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The OKC Thunder, while having one of the worst rosters in the league, are sitting pretty for the next decade because of their abundance of 1st round picks after finessing the Clippers, Rockets and just about everyone else in the league.
They are also a primed to take some flyers on underperforming, one promising players. Lonzo Ball fits that criteria.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder’s promising combo guard looks like he will be the face of the franchise for a decade. Outside of him, the roster is in the tryout phase, fighting for their position going forward.
Add in the boot load of picks in coming years, the Thunder’s roster will contunue to be young and in flux. Taking a flyer on Ball, in exchange for one of those lesser valuable picks, is worth it.
If he clicks in the system you have yourself an elite backcourt for the next decade.
If he flops, well you still got 100 draft picks in the next decade. It seems like a low risk hight reward scenario for OKC.
When it is all said and done, Kyle Lowry might go down as the greatest Raptor of all time.
But that doesn’t change the fact that he will be 35 in March and his contract is up at the end of the season. Toronto needs to look at life post Lowry, and the search begins now.
They locked themselves into Fred Van Fleet for the foreseeable future, so having a big guard to play alongside him would be ideal going forward.
Ball fits that criteria, standing 6’6″ with immense defensive and play making ability. Ball can sit behind Lowry for the rest of the season, learn a few things, and take the keys to the offense next season.
This is not as flashy as the previous options, but it makes sense.