Lonzo Ball Rumors: Pelicans PG Linked to Bulls, Knicks; 'a Lot of Interest' from CHI

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMay 18, 2021

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - MAY 10: Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans brings the ball up court during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on May 10, 2021 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks are reportedly among the teams with interest in New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball, who'll be a restricted free agent during the 2021 NBA offseason.

"The Bulls: there's a lot of interest there," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said Tuesday on The Woj Pod. "That deal could have happened at the trade deadline."

Woj added:

"I think Ball and Chicago will be an interesting one to watch, and it will be interesting to see what New Orleans does and how they want to structure their payroll, how far they're willing to go on matching an offer sheet. Do they want to match it at all? But I think Lonzo will get a pretty good number. I think whether it's Chicago, whether it's New York, and some other places with younger point guards who might want to bring in a little more of a veteran."

Ball put together the best statistical campaign of his four-year career in 2020-21. He averaged 14.6 points, 5.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 3.1 threes and 1.5 steals while shooting 37.8 percent from three-point range in 55 games. His overall shooting efficiency (41.4 percent) still needs work, but he's made progress.

The question for New Orleans is whether it needs to shake up its core after falling short of expectations in the loaded Western Conference.

Ball's improvement paired with Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Eric Bledsoe should have produced a better record than 31-41, especially since the roster featured plenty of depth, led by Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart and Steven Adams.

Instead, the Pelicans missed the playoffs for the third straight year and have to at least consider revamping the roster. Letting Ball leave in free agency, or working out a sign-and-trade deal, is one way to create space.

The 23-year-old UCLA product said Monday he'd "love" to remain in New Orleans but stopped short of guaranteeing it'll happen.

"That's a conversation between me and my agent moving forward. But obviously I would love to be back," Ball told reporters. "I built a bond here with the coaches and the teammates who are here. I definitely wouldn't mind coming back at all."

The Pelicans allowed Williamson to take on more of a point forward role as the season went on, and getting the ball in your best player's hands as frequently as possible is generally a good rule, so the potential departure of Ball doesn't necessarily mean New Orleans would be in the market for a starting point guard.

That said, the 2017 second overall pick seemed like a nice fit alongside Williamson and Ingram since he didn't need the ball a lot to make an impact thanks to his well-rounded offensive skill set. He's also a solid defender with length who gives opposing point guards problems at that end of the floor.

So the only way to secure a definite upgrade would be using Ball's roster spot to acquire a bona fide superstar, and there's usually a limited number of those available each summer, if any.

It creates a dilemma for the Pelicans. The roster hasn't been good enough to climb the West standings, but there's no easy solution to the lack of wins so far in the Zion era.