Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Pelicans Guard Lonzo Ball

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2021

New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball (2) shoots a free throw against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)
Derick Hingle/Associated Press

After an up-and-down three seasons and change with the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans, Lonzo Ball may be available ahead of his upcoming restricted free agency.

"New Orleans has been receiving calls about the availability of Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick and has shown an openness to discussing trades around both with interested teams," Shams Charania wrote for The Athletic. "A move would create a clearer pathway for young guards Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis in the Pelicans' rotation."

Redick's availability is not terribly surprising. The 36-year-old veteran could be a useful floor-spacer on a contender, something the Pelicans haven't shown themselves to be. In the twilight of his career, Redick likely has interest in heading to a winning team.

Ball's name, on the other hand, probably raises a few more eyebrows. Lonzo is just a few months removed from his 23rd birthday. He was part of the massive haul New Orleans received for Anthony Davis. And the Pelicans have the ability to match any offer he might receive as a restricted free agent in the offseason.

His start to this season may be worse than New Orleans' collectively, though. Basketball Reference's Daniel Myers wrote that a player around a 0.0 box plus/minus is in the range of a "decent starter or solid 6th man." Ball was at 0.5 over the course of his first three seasons. In 2020-21, he's plummeted to a below-replacement-level minus-2.7.

He's shooting worse than 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three and posting career lows in assist percentage, rebound percentage and steal percentage.

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Still, there's undeniable chemistry between Ball and the likely future face of the franchise, Zion Williamson. In the nearly 800 minutes those two have played together, the Pelicans are plus-5.0 points per 100 possessions. They're minus-10.7 in the 300-plus minutes Zion has played without Lonzo.

The young guard has a knack for finding Williamson in good position to score easy buckets. Even If he can just get to average as a shooter (something we may be saying about Ball for years), his feel for the game and unselfishness would make him a good partner for Zion.

All this is to say that despite the slow start, the Pelicans aren't likely to just dump Lonzo somewhere. Teams interested in the potential of his multifaceted game will need to ante up serious offers.

   

Los Angeles Clippers

Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

The Deal: Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson and a 2022 second-round pick (via Atlanta) for Lonzo Ball

Lou Williams was a staple of the Los Angeles Clippers' second unit under former coach Doc Rivers. Over the last three seasons leading up to 2020-21, he averaged 29.4 minutes, 20.4 points and 5.4 assists, almost exclusively off the bench. With Tyronn Lue now in charge, Lou-Will has dropped to 19.0 minutes, 8.8 points and 2.7 assists.

With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George handling such a significant portion of the scoring and playmaking, Williams' spark-plug offense just isn't as important. And when he's on the floor, the defense falls apart.

Replacing his scoring with Lonzo's defense could bolster a second unit that's struggling to defend. And in L.A., Lonzo wouldn't be called upon to do much beyond pass and take on difficult defensive assignments. Again, the Clippers don't need much extra scoring.

The switchability of defensive lineups that include Ball, Leonard, George and Marcus Morris Sr. would be off the charts.

For New Orleans, both contracts it is receiving in this deal are expiring. So, it is not taking on any extra long-term money. And Williams would be more useful with the Pelicans, who are 19th in points per 100 possessions (L.A. is first).

Think back to Lou-Will's chemistry with Montrezl Harrell in the pick-and-roll and then imagine those skills in play with Zion. If Williams was the first guy off the bench for the Pelicans, he and Williamson could spend some time owning the middle of the floor, with Brandon Ingram flanking.

That combination and Williams' general ability to manufacture points would almost certainly increase the team's offensive efficiency.

As for the rest of the deal, Patterson is an expiring contract who also isn't playing much for L.A. He likely wouldn't have a long-term future in New Orleans, but his salary is necessary to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement's trade rules.

The second-round pick shouldn't be too tough to give up either. The Clippers are in title-or-bust mode, and the hit rate on second-rounders isn't great. For New Orleans, it's another addition to a growing stockpile of draft capital.

   

Golden State Warriors

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Deal: Kelly Oubre Jr., Alen Smailagic and a 2022 second-round pick for Lonzo Ball and Willy Hernangomez

This comes down to a pretty straightforward either-or proposition: Would you rather have Kelly Oubre Jr. or Lonzo?

When presented with the stats for both in a blind flash poll, Twitter users overwhelmingly voted for Ball's passing and impact over Oubre's scoring.

On a team that already has Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins (averaging 17.8 points on career-best efficiency), that swap might make some sense.

"Lonzo screams a Steve Kerr type of player," Light Years Podcast's Sam Esfandiari tweeted. "And I wouldn't be mad at it. Would work really well w/ Steph (and eventually Klay etc)."

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 wouldn't be as glaring an issue.

And who better to spend time with than Curry and Kerr for a struggling shooter?

Plus, if Ball did fit well, Golden State would have his Bird rights and the inside lane of the incumbent in restricted free agency.

For the Pelicans, they at least get a little bit of draft capital for a player they might lose in free agency anyway. And 20-year-old Alen Smailagic offers some intrigue on a low-salary contract that lasts for three more years.

In the short term, Oubre would not help with New Orleans' shooting woes unless he rediscovered his form from 2019-20. He would add more athleticism to a roster that already includes Zion and Ingram, though. Those three in the open court could be scary.

And the departure of Ball might mean more point-forward reps for Ingram. Stan Van Gundy is certainly familiar with the concept, as evidenced by his years with Hedo Turkoglu and the Orlando Magic.

   

Portland Trail Blazers

Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

The Deal: Derrick Jones Jr. and a 2023 first-round pick (lottery-protected) for Lonzo Ball

With CJ McCollum out for the foreseeable future, the Portland Trail Blazers suddenly have a glaring backcourt need, and Lonzo Ball could help, despite his struggles as a shooter.

And Damian Lillard has some experience (and a little success) playing with a decent-sized playmaker who can't shoot the lights out in Evan Turner.

Ball's vision and passing certainly exceed any level Turner got to on that front too (though he may be a little underrated in that regard).

In lineups with Lillard, the 6'6" Ball could be tasked with defending the opposition's more dangerous guard, sparing the superstar a bit of energy on that end. The ability to create some offense and give Lillard off-ball scoring opportunities would help too.

And in today's NBA, Portland might even be able to get away with some Lonzo-at-the-3 minutes when McCollum returns to the lineup.

New Orleans, meanwhile, gets a player back who is around the same age as Ball but could very well be making less next season (Ball only needs one team to feel a little wild to get a hefty offer in restricted free agency). Derrick Jones Jr. is also switchable on defense and a good finisher around the rim.

The downgrade in playmaking will have the Pelicans looking for more, though. And McCollum's absence might make the Blazers desperate enough to include a protected first-round pick.

If the Pelicans have some sense that they might lose Ball in restricted free agency (or at least be presented with an offer they don't want to match), getting a first would be tough to pass up.