Lonzo Ball entered free agency as the most desirable restricted free agent who could presumably be had. The Chicago Bulls wasted no time acquiring him via a sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans for Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and a second-round pick. Ball’s new contract will pay him $85 million over the next four seasons, an acceptable number that could even be a steal if his outside shooting continues to improve. (He made 37.8% of the 8.3 threes launched per game last year.)
The Bulls telegraphed their desire to win at last year’s trade deadline when they dealt Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter and two first-round picks for Nikola Vucevic, a two-time All-Star who naturally complemented their own franchise player, Zach LaVine. Ball isn’t good enough to slide in as the third piece in anybody’s Big 3, but his on-court fit, age and cost is a nice complement beside Chicago’s two best players as the organization tries to build itself into a competent playoff team.
The 23-year-old averaged a career-best 14.6 points per game last year, but his appeal expands far beyond scoring. Ball’s defensive versatility, ability to impact games without the ball (on a team that already has LaVine and Vucevic sucking up plenty of oxygen) and burgeoning three-point shot are how the deal will ultimately be judged. Almost half his shots last season were non-corner threes and he drilled 40.2% of his spot-up tries. He doesn’t create his own shot and has yet to forge his pull-up three into a respectable weapon, but should have an easier time getting downhill with Vooch as a pick-and-roll partner, versus the paint-clogging big men he played with in New Orleans.
Complementing LaVine-Vooch pick-and-rolls is key for everyone on Chicago’s roster, and Ball will absolutely need to hit open shots, drive closeouts and find different ways to keep his defender glued to the perimeter. Asking him to veer outside his line as a high-usage ball-handler probably won’t work. But Ball can still carry different forms of offensive responsibility, be it leading Chicago’s second unit (Coby White may be an OK fit beside Ball in those groups) or helping speed up one of last season’s slowest transition teams.
The Bulls are thin right now, and Satoransky’s exit doesn’t help. But they still have some ability to upgrade their team, with Patrick Williams potentially sprouting into either a key source of internal growth or an intriguing trade chip. And if they hang onto Lauri Markkanen, Ball will have himself another pick-and-pop partner.
Vucevic, LaVine and Ball aren’t the three best players on a title contender, or even a team that should day dream about winning two playoff series. But adding a sensible talent on a fair contract is a step in the right direction. The Bulls have talent, now they just need to go out and build a logical roster that supports it.