LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Lakers are a franchise known for winning championships –or at least making it to the NBA Finals. However, since the debacle that was the four-team Dwight Howard-Andre Iguodala-Andrew Bynum-Nikola Vucevic blockbuster trade, the Lakers have become consistent bottom feeders in the Western Conference. The Dwight Howard trade, as everybody knows by now, was a complete disaster. The Lakers barely made the postseason in 2012-13 due to Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol not meshing well together, which inevitably led to Dwight leaving via free agency and putting the Lakers in a terrible spot. Since Howard’s defection to the Rockets, the Lakers haven’t had a winning season since 2012-13.
Enter Lonzo Ball. With the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Laker selected LaVar…I mean Lonzo…or do I? No matter what Lonzo does on the court, his father continues to dominate the headlines with silly statements, a shoe deal, and even has a painting with all of his sons in Laker jerseys. The problem is Lonzo isn’t even that good to make the spotlight more about LaVar’s son, rather than LaVar himself. Consider this: When it comes to analytics, Lonzo Ball isn’t even in the Top 20 for NBA point guards in Real Plus-Minus (RPM), Win Shares (WS), or even Player Efficiency Rating (PER). In fact, Lonzo is so overrated that according to John Hollinger, he doesn’t rank in the Top 50 for point guards in PER. So why keep Mr. Ball and his father when the dude isn’t even that good?
Here are some pros and cons for the Lakers to trade him. Pros: Trade the Guy As previously stated, Lonzo just doesn’t matchup in terms of the analytics. But he has to be doing well compared other rookies, right? Not at all. Hollinger and other analysts determine the one-and-done UCLA product to be less efficient than Frank Mason III. The constant headache of LaVar just doesn’t add up for a franchise that is used to winning. They won’t be winning if Lonzo has to remain on the floor WITHOUT LeBron James and/or Paul George as his wing-mates. Lonzo isn’t even old enough to drink alcohol legally, and he sure isn’t known for his jump shooting abilities. Lonzo shoots EXACTLY 48 PERCENT from the free-throw line, under 31 percent from 3-point land, and averages just over 10 PPG. This guy is your franchise player? I think not. The good news is his contract is pretty friendly for an Eastern Conference team like the Orlando Magic or New York Knicks to take a chance on him. Still just 20 years old, Lonzo could blossom in a pass-first point guard that can drop double-double or triple-doubles on any night. Ball has a club option after the 2018-19 regular season, and considering how overpaid he is right now, there’s no way the Knicks, Magic, or any other team would pick that up at over $8.7 million guaranteed.
However, if he shows promise next season, you could realistically re-sign him at $5-6 million per season. If he refuses? Just let him walk after not picking up the club option. Dumping Ball gives the Lakers even more cap space. Plus, point guards will be available on the open market during free agency. If LeBron and Paul George come to Hollywood, Chris Paul might also be tempted to leave Houston. Cons: Don’t Trade Him Yet The only problem is his draft stock is pretty darn low right now. Despite being the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, the Ball family comes with a lot baggage, maybe too much baggage for even the Knicks to take on for the long-term process. The best that the Lakers could do is include an upcoming free agent, like Isaiah Thomas, to be included in the deal as part of a sign-and-trade to make the deal seem more enticing.
The Lakers want draft picks, but there’s no way in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks that the Knicks would trade away their lottery pick as unprotected. The Knicks would be tempted to pick up Lonzo Ball if they could dump Joakim Noah’s contract on the Lakers’ hands. Considering LA wants to dump Luol Deng, this could make perfect sense. However, why dump Lonzo on the cheap when he could improve in his sophomore season? Now that the Cavaliers are improving with its new trade pieces, and since the Lakers are probably missing the postseason once again, who’s to say that LeBron and/or PG13 (Paul George) are coming to Hollywood? The Lakers still have a lot of holes to fill, and because the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets will be loaded next season as well, there’s no reason to dump a former lottery pick to create cap space for an aging LeBron, an aging Carmelo, or a guy-who’s-never-been-in-the-NBA-Finals Paul George. Waiting one more year on Lonzo might work wonders for the Lakers. His stock can’t drop any further unless his assist rate declines. And considering that the Lakers are 2.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court, one more year of Lonzo-LaVar drama can’t hurt that much, can it?
The Consensus: Try to Trade Him Lakers fans are tired of losing. A franchise who has won 16 NBA championships now looks like more of a circus show than a professional basketball team whenever Lonzo is on the floor. Why would LeBron James want to deal with LaVar Ball when he can run his own show in Cleveland? Why would Paul George want to leave the “Big 3” in Oklahoma City for an NBA team that hasn’t had a winning season since Dwight Howard was part of California’s largest city? If you want to appease the fan base, try to trade Lonzo for more cap space and less of a headache off-the-court.
There are some bad NBA teams out there who need a spark in their backcourt. Is Lonzo Ball the end-all, be-all answer at the point? Meh, probably not. But he’ll definitely bring in fans, especially those who watch his Facebook Live show. The guy can pass. He leads all rookies in assist rate. The guy can’t really score, but if you get some stars around him, he can become a decent leader in the backcourt. That being said, the Knicks, Magic, Atlanta Hawks, or whoever else in the Eastern Conference who acquires Lonzo in a trade would force LaVar to stay out of the spotlight. Otherwise, Lonzo will remain with the Lakers for the forseeable future.