Lonzo Ball was one of the most coveted young players available at the trade deadline, but the New Orleans Pelicans ultimately decided against dealing their starting point guard. Ball, 23, will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Pelicans will therefore have the right to match any offer made to him on the open market. In theory, that makes them heavy favorites to retain Ball this offseason, but that is no guarantee.
Teams that discussed Ball trades with the Pelicans at the deadline came away with the impression that Ball could be available again this offseason, but through a sign-and-trade arrangement, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Andrew Lopez. Such a deal would allow the Pelicans to recoup assets for a player who they might not view as part of their future, but doing so would come with several complicating factors.
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Any team acquiring a player through a sign-and-trade hard caps itself at the apron, roughly $6 million above the tax line. That limits the number of teams that can feasibly acquire him. There is also the matter of his new contract itself. Ball's cap number is only around $11 million, making it relatively easy for most teams to match in a deal. Ball's next contract should start at roughly twice that figure, making a trade harder to figure out, and that's before considering the base-year compensation rules meant to discourage sign-and-trades. Ball's entire new salary will count as incoming money for his new team, but only half would count as outgoing money for the Pelicans in the deal.
But Ball will be one of the best free agents on the market. Other teams will want him badly enough to work around these issues, if the Pelicans are willing to trade him at all. His second season in New Orleans has been a career year as he has averaged 14 points per game and 37.5 percent shooting from behind the arc. If he keeps that shooting up along with his playmaking and defense, he could evolve into an All-Star down the line.
Again, the Pelicans had the chance to re-sign him before the season and couldn't reach an agreement. They then listened to offers at the deadline despite his improvement. Ball is inconsistent, but his fit next to Zion Williamson has been strong, and the two fit neatly along the same timeline. We'll find out this offseason if New Orleans feels the same way. If it believes he's a core piece alongside Williamson, it will pay him accordingly. If the Pels don't? Expect plenty of strong offers from teams eager to poach one of the NBA's best young guards.