Lonzo Ball’s future is one of the biggest mysteries for the New Orleans Pelicans heading into the offseason. The 23-year-old had perhaps the best season of his career last year, and he’ll have a number of teams interested in his services as he heads into restricted free agency.
Instead of watching Ball walk for nothing, New Orleans could pursue a sign-and-trade to give him what he wants and get a few assets back in return.
As simple as it sounds, deals like this can get very complicated. That’s why a team like the New York Knicks has been linked to Ball so often in the past few months. They have enough cap space to simply sign Ball without needing any help from the Pels, which makes the process much easier.
To analyze some of the other options for Ball, I enlisted the help of our front office insider John Hollinger. He has plenty of knowledge when it comes to this particular topic.
Let’s break it down.
Guillory: First off, thanks for doing this, John. I know this is the craziest part of our calendar.
Before we jump into different Ball scenarios, I think it’s important to lay out the basic rules of a sign-and-trade and how they need to be structured. They tend to get a little complicated in certain scenarios. Do you mind taking us to Salary Cap School and breaking down some of the details we need to keep in mind when putting these deals together?
Hollinger: For starters, the Pelicans have to make a $14.4 million qualifying offer to retain his restricted free-agent rights. This should be a no-brainer; there is no chance Ball would actually sign this, but it allows New Orleans to match any offer by another team and gives the Pels leverage in a sign-and-trade negotiation.
But the other big thing is that Ball has a $27.5 million “cap hold,” which is a placeholder the league uses for unsigned free agents. This is important if you’re the Pelicans because if you want to, say, sign Kyle Lowry for $25 million a year, you need to renounce your rights to Ball first and remove that cap hold. Otherwise, you don’t have the cap space to sign Lowry. This same logic applies to any move the Pels make with cap space (a 2021-22 salary of $10 million a year or above would require the use of cap space; New Orleans can generate as much as $36 million).
What that means is that the Ball move has to happen before the free-agent move … at least as far as the NBA’s calendar is concerned. Welcome to the NBA’s version of the time-space continuum, which is a bit different from yours and mine. Here, it doesn’t matter when the deals are agreed to, only the order in which they’re executed once all the dust settles. It’s very possible the Pels could agree to terms with a free agent long before Ball’s fate has been decided, but until ink hits paper, the Pels can still do a Ball deal.
(By the way, all this applies to Josh Hart and his $10.5 million cap hold, as well, although it is possible for New Orleans to sign a free agent without needing to renounce Hart).