The New Orleans Pelicans have a lot of questions to answer prior to the start of the 2021-22 season.
Finally, after a month of searching, it seems as if the franchise has found its next head coach. According to several reports, the hiring of former New Orleans Hornet and current Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green could come as soon as next week.
Hiring a coach has become an annual rite of passage since David Griffin took over as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations two years ago. Pelicans fans are hoping against hope that the third time is the charm.
While the fates of players like Josh Hart and Eric Bledsoe are of great concern to the fan base as well, no player’s future has been given more thought and stirred more passion than that of point guard Lonzo Ball.
It’s still mesmerizing at times to see just how definitive opinions can be about someone 23 years of age and who has played fewer than three seasons worth of games in his career.
Here’s the good:
Last season Lonzo set career-highs in nearly every shooting/scoring metric.
Asked to relinquish many of his direct playmaking duties as Zion Williamson assumed the role of primary ballhandler, Ball flourished in a number of ways.
As a volume three-point shooter, Lonzo’s combination of attempts, makes, and percentage placed him among players like Steph Curry, Zach Lavine, Damian Lillard, and Donovan Mitchell.
Once you throw in his rebounds (4.8) and assists (5.7), the group narrows to just Ball and Curry.
Four of the top five Pelicans 3-player lineups, and three of its top five 2-player lineups feature Lonzo as well.
And, according to ESPN’s NBA Real Plus-Minus stats, Ball ranked third among all point guards; falling behind only Curry and Lillard, and was fifth in RPM wins behind Curry, Lillard, Chris Paul, and Luka Doncic.
Lonzo possesses a number of skills that make it completely understandable to project him continuing to develop into a core piece for a contending team.
Like many of his teammates, talent isn’t the problem when it comes to assessing Lonzo Ball’s value.
The first part of the problem is financial. It has been reported that the Pelicans would be hesitant to match any particularly lucrative offers for Lonzo, who is reportedly seeking a contract worth near $20 million annually.
That problem is mitigated by the fact that very few teams currently have the cap space to sign Ball outright. Of those who do, many of those won’t have interest in signing him for one reason or another.
The teams most often linked to Ball; the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, are either short of cash or viable assets that would help make the Pelicans a contender.
The second part of the problem is consistency. Though Ball has improved significantly, his performances seem to ebb and flow over the course of a season.
He remains indecisive at times, unsure of whether to facilitate or shoot. His mid-range game improved, as did his finishing at the rim, and yet Ball seems caught between the player he is, the player people want him to be, and the player he will actually become.
And then there is that injury history. Lonzo Ball has still not played in more than 63 games in any season. Over his first four years in the league, he’s missed nearly 30 percent of his team’s games.
The Pelicans need fewer variables. They need players that they can count on to perform at a certain level on a nightly basis.
Is Ball one of those players?
He certainly can be. But only he knows for certain. David Griffin, and the executives around the league considering making an offer, will be making their best guesses and hope that the next four to five years produces the Lonzo Ball that was compared to everyone from Magic Johnson to Jason Kidd.
There are three choices ahead: sign Lonzo, sign-and-trade Lonzo, or let Lonzo walk for nothing at all.
Letting him walk would be an embarrassment for the Pelicans, considering that they could have moved him at the trade deadline.
That leaves re-signing him or trading him.
Whichever way that choice goes, the Pelicans fan base will remain divided until the on-court results provide some sort of resolution.