Lonzo Ball is leaving California for the first time in his basketball career.
After high school in Chino Hills, college in Westwood and two seasons at the Staples Center, the former UCLA men’s basketball guard is headed to the Bayou. After two years of playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Ball will join the up-and-coming New Orleans Pelicans.
In a trade to be completed July 6, the Lakers will trade Ball, forward Brandon Ingram, guard Josh Hart and three future first round picks to the Pelicans for forward Anthony Davis.
The trade follows two years of ups and downs for Ball. He played just 99 of 164 games for the Lakers over the past two years because of injuries. After Ball was drafted No. 2 overall by Los Angeles in 2017, he didn’t make the group of finalists for Rookie of the Year in 2018.
However, he did average 10.2 points, 7.2 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game his rookie season and made the All-Rookie Second Team.
Off the court, the acquisition of forward LeBron James and the abrupt departure of former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson have both created controversy for the Lakers.
As he leaves the glitz and glamour of LA for New Orleans, Ball should look forward to the opportunity to build and grow with a team that could have multiple NBA titles in its future. The new-look Pelicans roster is stacked with talent that will surround Ball next season.
Ball’s Lakers teammates Ingram and Hart are respected offensive players. Hart has shown he can be a solid 3-and-D guy in the NBA. While his 3-point and overall shooting percentages dipped about six percentage points each last season, his near 40% clip from 3 as a rookie shows the potential he brings.
Ingram was a No. 2 pick out of Duke only three years ago, and he has put in back-to-back years averaging over 15 points per game. While he may stagnate the offense at times and play passable defense, his presence means assured bench scoring.
Ball knows how to play with Ingram and Hart from their Laker days and shouldn’t have trouble adjusting to playing alongside a similarly dynamic guard in fellow former Bruin and NBA All-Star Jrue Holiday.
As a true point guard, Ball will likely slide into the starting lineup next to Holiday, who had one of the best years of his career last year for the Pelicans.
The combo guard averaged a career-high 21.2 points, five rebounds and four free throw attempts per game and honed his off-the-bounce offense to be a threat from anywhere on the floor. A defensive backcourt of Holiday and Ball should have any team rethinking its game plan.
And that is merely the returning NBA talent in New Orleans.
The ping pong balls bounced the Pelicans’ way in this year’s NBA Draft Lottery and they landed the No. 1 pick, which they used on Duke superstar Zion Williamson.
The hype entering his first season in with Blue Devils was through the stratosphere – and he exceeded it.
Williamson cemented himself as the clear top pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. He averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting 68% from the field, good enough to earn the John R. Wooden Award given to the nation’s best collegiate player every year.
With the 285 pounds he packs into his 6-foot 7-inch frame, he is as powerful an athlete as the NBA has seen since Shaquille O’Neal.
But this wasn’t the full draft bounty the Pelicans brought in.
They shipped the No. 4 pick and Solomon Hill as well as the No. 57 pick and a future second rounder to the Atlanta Hawks for No. 8, No. 17 and No. 35 this year.
No. 8 pick Jaxson Hayes will be a rim protector, and No. 17 pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker can shoot and slash. The structure around Ball is built to work and built to last.
Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin has put all the right pieces around Ball to succeed. Alvin Gentry is a veteran coach, and Holiday and Williamson are as good as any core to give a young point guard.
The media circus that has surrounded Ball will never cease, especially if his father’s antics continue.
But for Lonzo’s basketball legacy, the Ball is still in his court – only now that court is in the Big Easy.