If the Los Angeles Lakers acquire Anthony Davis in a trade, it is a near certainty that Lonzo Ball will be part of that deal. The former No. 2 overall pick is the most valuable trade asset that the Lakers have, and the New Orleans Pelicans would certainly be interested in his star power as one of the headliners of their new team. But according to a report from Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times, Ball has other potential destinations in mind. Her reporting indicates that Ball would rather be sent elsewhere, with the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls listed as possible destinations, rather than New Orleans.
The Knicks and Bulls are appealing over the Pelicans on several levels. The most obvious of which is market size. Ball is the face of the growing Big Baller Brand, a company his family owns, and it would be much easier for him to sell shoes in New York or Chicago than New Orleans. Then there is the roster he would be joining. Neither the Bulls nor the Knicks have a long-term point guard. The Pelicans have Jrue Holiday, who is really more of a shooting guard, but he handles the ball quite a bit and would make it harder for Ball to take control of the offense.
Ball ultimately doesn’t have a choice in where he plays. He is under contract for two years beyond this one, and would only reach restricted free agency upon the expiration of his rookie deal. The soonest he could possibly become an unrestricted free agent and choose his team without outside interference would be the summer of 2022, but that would require accepting his qualifying offer rather than a long-term offer in 2021, which is a step virtually no young stars ever take. Realistically, he isn’t going to be a true free agent for six or seven more years.
But Ball could exert some degree of influence over his final destination through the media. His father, Lavar Ball, is known for making bombastic statements that serve as major distractions for Lonzo’s teams. If he makes it clear that Lonzo does not want to be in New Orleans and threatens to shred the team in the media, a small-market team like the Pelicans might not have the stomach to deal with the fallout of acquiring him.
Even if they were scared off, though, they would have to find something on the Knicks or Bulls worth trading Ball for. The Knicks likely wouldn’t cooperate, as they want Davis for themselves. If they refused to accommodate Ball, the Lakers might fall out of the running as a threat for Davis. The Bulls aren’t realistically in the running right now, and it is unclear how committed they are to Kris Dunn as their point guard. If they were open to swapping either Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter for Ball, the Pelicans would probably listen. But there is no indication at this time that they are ready to take such a step.
Realistically, Ball is probably going to be playing for one of two teams in the near future: the Lakers or the Pelicans. It is just too difficult for a second-year point guard that isn’t an All-Star to dictate his future. But the Ball family willed Lonzo to the Lakers in the NBA Draft lottery. Perhaps they can pull another miracle out of the hat and get him to another big market after all.