With contract talks stalled with Dennis Schroder, there is a familiar face that should be high on the Los Angeles Lakers’ free agency list: Lonzo Ball. The former Lakers guard will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and there is growing buzz that the Pelicans will not retain Ball. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst noted that Ball is likely a sign-and-trade candidate given the team has recently played Zion Williamson more at point guard.
“He’s been so strong that I question whether or not the Pelicans are going to try to keep Lonzo Ball, because Lonzo’s played pretty well with him,” Windhorst explained on “The Hoop Collective” podcast. “Lonzo has had a good year off the ball, but Lonzo was available in trade talks. They didn’t find a trade, but there’s a possibility he could be a sign-and-trade candidate this summer, because their point guard of the future might be Zion, and it may be about finding guys who fit alongside that concept. Not that Lonzo doesn’t — Lonzo is shooting much better, like 38% on three — but they may have to build their team around point-Zion.”
Ball will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Pelicans can match any offer he receives this summer. Windhorst’s comments show the Pelicans may be reluctant to do so given how Williamson has played in recent months. This is where the Lakers come in to potentially have a reunion with Ball — whom they selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft — but Los Angeles will admittedly need some help to make it work.
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The Former Lakers PG Is Reportedly Seeking a $20 Million Annual Salary
The Lakers are projected to be well over the salary cap heading into next season and would not be able to sign Ball outright. Los Angeles would need the Pelicans’ help to orchestrate a sign-and-trade to have any chance of landing Ball. This is also assuming Ball is open to a reunion with his hometown team after his career has ascended since the Lakers traded him to the Pelicans.
Ball is due for a sizable raise from his current $11 million salary on the final year of his rookie contract. Prior to the trade deadline, The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported Ball is seeking a contract worth $20 million annually in free agency.
“The Pelicans’ willingness to discuss Lonzo has everything to do with his own market,” Amick noted. “That’s a common thread here: It’s not that the team doesn’t like the player, but it may not like him at the price that is likely forthcoming in free agency. To that end, one source who has discussed the Lonzo dynamics with New Orleans said the 23-year-old guard is hoping to make approximately $20 million annually on his next deal (he’s a restricted free agent this offseason).”
Ball Offers the Lakers a Viable Alternative to Schroder
All this brings us to why a Ball reunion could make sense for the Lakers, even with a $20 million price tag. The Lakers tried to sign Schroder to an extension, but the team’s starting point guard turned down a four-year, $84 million offer, per Windhorst.
Schroder has made it clear that he intends to test out free agency, and there is always a chance the guard’s decision is about keeping his options open rather than the finances. On the surface, it would appear Schroder is seeking something beyond the $21 million range annually, which is a lot of money for a player who has never been an All-Star.
Ball could come with a cheaper price tag and is a player who has elevated his game since his first stint in Los Angeles. The guard is averaging 14.5 points, 5.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game while shooting a career-high 38.4% from long range this season.
Ball Has Become a Much Better 3-Point Shooter
By comparison, Schroder is averaging 15.4 points, 5.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 34.1% from behind the 3-point line. Both are plus defenders, but Ball has a bit more versatility to guard multiple positions on defense. Despite his reputation, Ball is a significantly better shooter than Schroder and also more of a facilitator for his teammates.
The challenge with Ball is the Lakers would have to give up assets in a sign-and-trade, compared to Schroder whom the team can sign outright thanks to his Bird Rights. Los Angeles clearly wants Schroder back long-term, but if his asking price continues to rise the team would be wise to consider pursuing Ball. Schroder does not come with the Big Baller Brand and LaVar Ball drama that the Lakers dealt with during the guard’s first stint with the team. Yet, Ball represents a viable backup option if talks between Schroder and the Lakers deteriorate over the summer.
It was a no-brainer to trade Ball in order to land Anthony Davis, but the point guard is a significantly better player than the one the Lakers drafted. Like six other players on the Lakers roster, Ball is represented by Klutch Sports’ Rich Paul now, and it would not be a surprise if the point guard puts out some feelers this summer about a possible second stint in Los Angeles.