The Latest Wrinkle in a Potential Bulls Trade for Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball

Getty Lonzo Ball dribbles the ball in a December 23 game against the Toronto Raptors.

With the NBA’s trade deadline just weeks away, the Chicago Bulls‘ pool of players to target may be shrinking.

It’s been widely reported that they’d be interested in a potential deal for guard Lonzo Ball. But Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported on Monday morning that trade talks between New Orleans and teams have “fizzled.”

Ball is averaging 14.5 points, 5.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game.

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Ball has Become a Key Piece for the Pelicans

Despite the New Orleans Pelicans still being a ways away from contention, the team is starting to see the potential between Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson, both as a duo and as individuals.

Right now, it wouldn’t be considered out of pocket to call the two youths their best players. Ball specifically fills a number of holes for New Orleans, as O’Connor noted in his reporting:

Trade talks involving Ball have fizzled for now, league sources say. Ball has been at times the Pelicans’ best defender, and he’s certainly their best playmaker in the backcourt.

That said, he still didn’t rule a trade outside the realm of possibility come March 25:

Trading the 23-year old will remain a possibility, especially since the Pelicans are expected to be active ahead of the trade deadline. Executives say they could be buyers or sellers, depending on what direction the trade winds blow.

The Pelicans walked into the All-Star break having lost four of their last five and the 11th seed in the Western Conference. How they start the second half of the season will likely also dictate their approach with Ball.

Does Ball Make Sense for the Bulls?

All of this speculation and reporting should only further pressure the Chicago front office to evaluate Ball’s fit on this Bulls roster, both as constructed and given any other plans they may have for the offseason.

The guard is an established floor general and is one of the best passers in the league. That kind of addition makes a lot of sense for a team in desperate need of ball movement and direction. But as one Eastern Conference GM told, it’s not that simple for Ball and the Bulls:

A guy like Ball needs to play with big men who can finish at the rim and great catch-and-shoot players. That’s the kind of players he can make better, and the Bulls don’t have those guys. There are some good trades, good assets, on that team but they can address different issues with those assets. I don’t think he is or should be their priority.

He’s not wrong regarding the team’s current big man rotation. Wendell Carter Jr has started every game he’s been available this year but is struggling at the rim both on offense and defense alike. It’s why veteran forward Thaddeus Young has largely been head coach Billy Donovan’s preference for their closing time center.

But the Bulls aren’t a terrible team in catch-and-shoot situations.

Per, they’re shooting 38 percent from deep in those situations, which is tied with the San Antonio Spurs for 11th across the league. That number would ideally be a little higher, assuredly, but Ball would no doubt only help to increase it. Wouldn’t he?

As is often the case, these questions can best be answered through the lens of a price tag.

What Does Chicago’s Offer Look Like?

Among the number of difficulties that surround any trade for Lonzo Ball, lies the potential package you’d have to put together. Keep in mind, he’ll be a restricted free agent this offseason. So any team that trades for him is only doing so for another opportunity to pay for him again in just three months.

O’Connor mentioned this in his report, as a potential reason why the Pelicans may inevitably pull the trigger:

…New Orleans needs to consider the type of contract Ball will demand this offseason in restricted free agency, and whether giving it to him would limit future possibilities.

That being said, this does affect what kind of package teams come calling with.

Would New Orleans be interested in Tomas Satoransky as a potential guard option for next season? If not, he is only guaranteed for half of his $10-million salary for next season.

Then there’s Lauri Markkannen, who’s potentially available, but approaching restricted free agency himself. It’s doubtful that the Pelicans would sign up for a guy in such a similar situation as Ball.

He’s averaging 7.2 points and 4.4 assists in just 21 minutes a game off the bench this year. Provided the Bulls are deadset on throwing a huge offer at Ball in free agency, they’ve also got plenty of draft capital to offer up. Chicago has all of their future first-round picks, and two second-round picks in the 2022 NBA Draft.

It’s hard to judge whether other teams would offer a first-round pick for Ball, given the nature of his upcoming free agency. And it’s harder to judge whether that alone would get a deal done with New Orleans. They’ve amassed an intimidating bounty of draft picks that only Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder could rival.

If draft picks alone aren’t the incentive David Griffin needs to trade Lonzo Ball, the Chicago Bulls may have a harder time pulling off a deal for the 23-year old. That is if the New Orleans Pelicans come around on trading him.

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