In the midst of all the Anthony Davis drama surrounding the Lakers at the 2019 NBA trade deadline, Lonzo Ball made it clear that he did not want to end up on the New Orleans Pelicans when the dust settled, with reports surfacing that he preferred to be dealt to the Chicago Bulls or New York Knicks, with the Phoenix Suns later being added to that mix.
But while the Suns were talked about plenty as a possible destination because of their mutual interest and Ball’s camp’s clear desire for him to go there, less consideration was given to the idea of Ball as a Bull because of the seeming lack of movement on that front at the time.
However, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times, the Bulls and Lakers did have discussions about Ball, but it’s unclear how far those talks got:
According to one NBA executive, the Bulls and Lakers did start initial conversations on point guard Lonzo Ball shortly after the Ball camp made it public that the Bulls would be one of his desired destinations if Los Angeles were to move him.
The fact that these talks are sourced to “one NBA executive” rather than an executive with either team doesn’t necessarily mean that neither team leaked it, it just leaves some wiggle room as to where this is coming from, so these reports should possibly be taken with a grain of salt.
That noted, Ball to the Bulls would make some sense. Chicago has a need at point guard, and is exactly the type of young team that would likely be willing to gamble on Ball while his value is low and give him time to develop. It’s not clear what they would give up, or which side backed away from these exploratory talks, though, so it’s hard to gauge how realistic this is, or what the Lakers would be getting. It’s worth noting, however, that there are NBA teams with interest in Ball as this summer continues.
Still, this is the point where we have to ask: Didn’t we just go through this? Ball and D’Angelo Russell are far from the same player, and yes, Russell would be looked at differently if he was not named as an NBA All-Star injury replacement in a weak conference, but the constant theme — if the Lakers were to do this — would be giving away promising second-year guards who were still far from maxing out their development curve while their value was potentially as low as it’s ever been.
(Yes, I know that the Lakers could still take advantage of the Russell trade if they sign a max star this summer. I’m just saying as things stand right now. Moving on.)
More worrying for the Lakers down the road, if they were to make this move, is that Ball has arguably already shown more as an NBA player than Russell had by the time they gave up on him — albeit while playing 44 less games over their first two seasons, a non-insignificant concern.
Russell averaged 6.8 more points per 36 minutes than Ball did in their first two seasons, while shooting around 3 percent higher from the field and almost 4 percent better from behind the arc. However, Ball averaged more assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals per 36 minutest than Russell did, according to Basketball-Reference, while also turning the ball over less.
Ball fares even better by advanced metrics, posting significantly improved Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Box Plus-Minus and Defensive Box Plus-Minus than Russell (who has Ball beat in Offensive Box Plus-Minus), while also beating Russell in Win Shares and Defensive Win Shares (Russell again wins in Offensive Win Shares).
None of this to say is that Ball is a certainty to be better than Russell is. He has some obvious flaws, mainly in terms of his scoring efficiency at nearly every level of the floor, but he improved a lot over the course of the most recent season before suffering his season-ending ankle injury. If the Lakers are worried about Ball’s health long-term, moving him could be a genuine consideration, as could the fact that they are more of a win-now team with LeBron James, and they may not have time for Ball to fully develop.
No matter what happens, the point is that Ball has shown to be a pretty decent prospect, and the Lakers should avoid selling low on a promising point guard for the second time in two years. Whether they deal with the Bulls or any other team, or move on from him at all, they should make sure they are getting fair return, and not handing away a player who could get much better for little-to-no long-term benefit.
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