Lonzo Ball’s future gained some form of clarity while adding some intrigue over the past week. On the same day that it was reported that the Pelicans would not match a “significant” offer sheet this offseason, a handful of teams were rumored to likely be interested in Ball as well.
No name was more intriguing than the Los Angeles Lakers, the franchise that drafted Ball in 2017 before dealing him to New Orleans for Anthony Davis. After winning a title in the first year after acquiring Davis, injuries derailed the Lakers in their bid to defend their title, leading to an offseason where a roster shakeup could be possible.
For all the same reasons Ball and James made sense as a pairing years ago, the same ring true to an even greater degree now.
Ball’s 3-point shooting is levels better than it was in Los Angeles. In his final year in Los Angeles, Ball ranked as an 18th percentile spot-up shooter, per Synergy, on 123 attempts. He attempted 127 catch-and-shoot jumpers and hit 26.8% of them, ranking in the 13th percentile.
In New Orleans last season, Ball was a 73rd percentile spot-up shooter on 306 attempts. On 277 catch-and-shoot jumpers, he shot 40.1%, ranking in the 71st percentile. He also showed more skill as a pick and roll scorer than he ever did in Los Angeles, finishing in 78th percentile on jumpers when dribbling off a ball screen.
The case to be made that Ball is a good fit in Los Angeles does not need to be made. It’s whether the Lakers can maneuver their way to either have enough cap space to sign Ball outright or are willing to hard cap themselves via a sign-and-trade. Both avenues come with risks on the Lakers side.
Los Angeles could create enough cap space to sign Ball, though it would come at the cost of numerous role players currently on the roster. Silver Screen & Roll’s Christian Rivas detailed what it would take to acquire Ball financially. In short, the trade-off for signing Ball would be losing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Marc Gasol for no players in return.
A sign-and-trade, meanwhile, allows them to keep some of their current players, but would greatly restrict their ability to retain some of their free agents. In trading for Ball, the Lakers would hard cap themselves, meaning they can not exceed the tax apron which is typically roughly $6 million above the luxury tax line.
This season, that would likely cost the Lakers a chance at retaining Alex Caruso or Talen Horton-Tucker, two young guards that contributed to the team last season. While Ball himself is young and could be part of the future, it’s hard to swallow the Lakers losing two guards for one.
Laying it all out shows how difficult it will be for the Lakers to acquire Ball, if they are earnestly interested. Ball is a talented player, but is he worth gutting the roster to sign outright or mortgaging the future in a trade? As much as he’s improved in New Orleans, is he a true No. 3 option alongside James and Davis?
He will likely be paid as a No. 3 option this summer. He has experience playing alongside James and the two were successful together. But unless the Lakers really see a shakeup as the best avenue moving forward, it’s hard to envision a return to Los Angeles for Ball….for now.