Lonzo Ball, at one point, looked like he wanted to leave the Pelicans. The Pelicans, at one point, looked like they wanted to trade Ball.
Trade rumors percolated. He’ll become a restricted free agent this summer.
But New Orleans kept Ball through last week’s trade deadline.
Pelicans lead executive David Griffin, via Christian Clark of nola.com:
“He’s made it very clear personally, one to one, that he wants to be here,” Griffin said. “Yet what you will read is, ‘This is a player who doesn’t want to be here. He’s not in our plans. So you should trade him for a ham sandwich.’ That doesn’t make any sense when we know the actual, real story behind Lonzo Ball.”
Griffin also said he believed Anthony Davis was open to staying in New Orleans. Really, Davis was set on leaving. Sometimes, executives just say things publicly because calming tension is best for the franchise.
Is that the case with Ball?
The test will come this summer.
As a restricted free agent, Ball will have limited leverage. He can court offer sheets and even agitate for the Pelicans not to match or facilitate a sign-and-trade. But once Ball signs an offer sheet, matching or not would ultimately be New Orleans’ call. Ball also has the nuclear option of accepting his qualifying offer and becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2022. It helps that Ball’s qualifying offer will be the largest in NBA history ($14,359,936).
The Pelicans should value Ball highly. He’s a good player who fits well with franchise player Zion Williamson. Especially as Williamson takes more playmaking responsibility, Ball can thrive in a role of pushing the pace in transition, serving as a secondary ball-mover, spotting up beyond the arc and defending.
But Ball could also become too expensive for New Orleans’ tastes. Brandon Ingram, Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams are guaranteed high salaries season. Long-term, Ingram is on a max contract and Williamson will surely follow.
So, of course, the Pelicans shouldn’t have dumped Ball for cheap. Yet, if looking for more proof than just Griffin’s word about Ball’s and New Orleans’ commitment to each other, you’ll have to wait until the offseason.