Lonzo Ball has made himself a lot of money with the way he’s played this season. Set to become a restricted free agent this summer, Ball, who did not sign a rookie extension with the New Orleans Pelicans this past offseason, has backed up the marked shooting improvement we saw in 2018-19 and could well be in line for something in the neighborhood of $80 million over four years.
The question is: Who will be paying him?
The New York Post is reporting that the Knicks, who are known to be monitoring Ball’s situation in New Orleans as the March 25 trade deadline approaches next Thursday, “would be heavily on Ball’s radar” this summer. If the Pelicans don’t trade Ball, they will have the right to match any offer he receives from another team, but ESPN salary cap expert Bobby Marks told the Post the Pels most likely wouldn’t match an offer sheet that starts higher than $18 million per year.
The Knicks have a ton of cap room this summer, and, if they really wanted to, would be able to drive the price on Ball so high as to eliminate other suitors, including New Orleans. If the Pelicans think the Knicks are going to offer Ball a number they won’t match, it would make sense for them to seek out a trade before next Thursday’s deadline to avoid losing Ball for nothing.
It’s not an easy decision for the Pelicans, who have watched Ball become an integral part of their young core. Wins aren’t happening at the rate they had hoped yet, but with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram as the co-star foundation, Ball has lifted his shooting to a level that can properly support more high-usage stars.
Entering Thursday, Ball is shooting 40 percent from 3, including 47 percent on corner 3s, per Cleaning the Glass. Since Feb. 1, Ball is shooting 43.9 percent from 3 on 7.9 attempts per game, per NBA.com. The only other player in the league shooting at least 43 percent on at least 7.5 attempts over that span is Zach LaVine.
Indeed, Ball doesn’t appear to be just an improved shooter. It looks like we can safely call him a legitimately good shooter. That’s what will get him paid this summer. But he brings a lot more. He’s an athletic, versatile defender with great instincts and a high motor, and he’s one of the best ball-pushers in the league. The Knicks would want him to operate more as a traditional point guard, a weak spot for them, and in that case, Ball’s inability to consistently be a threat to finish in the paint becomes more of a problem as it reduces the threat he poses running pick-and-roll.
That’s why he makes sense in New Orleans, where Williamson and Ingram are going to initiate most of the offense moving forward. We’ll see how this plays out. But know this: Whether it’s New Orleans, the Knicks or someone else, Lonzo is going to become a very rich man this summer.
Published: 2021-03-18 17:36:21
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