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Lonzo Ball has a second chance

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We have that and more in Monday’s NBA newsletter.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

There are a whole bunch of winners in the Anthony Davis trade, and you’d have to rank LeBron James, Davis himself, and various Lakers executives as the top winners. But Lonzo Ball is right up there. He goes from a tough situation caddying for one of the GOATs to partnering with a next-generation superstar. This is really and truly a second chance to make a strong impression on the league, two years out from free agency and a year before he can sign a rookie extension.

Whether Lonzo is a good prospect is one of the most hotly contested questions among NBA fans and analysts. We have trouble grading out point guards. We have trouble agreeing on the value of non-scorers. I mean, look at the discourse on Kyle Lowry before he became an NBA champion! Lonzo shoots quite poorly — 33 percent on threes, 42 percent on free throws, 32 percent on shots outside of three feet — but he rebounds, passes, and defends well. The Jason Kidd comparisons have always been aspirational, but they are on the right end of the spectrum.

Lonzo was on track to be a poor man’s Rajon Rondo for LeBron’s Lakers (which also featured an old man’s Rajon Rondo in, well, Rajon Rondo). Instead, he now gets to run with Zion Williamson and learn from one of the best defensive guards in the NBA, and a fellow LA and UCLA kid from a deep basketball family in Jrue Holiday. There couldn’t possibly be a better mentor in the league than Jrue for Lonzo, or a better on-court running mate than Zion.

Will Lonzo take advantage in the turn of good fortune? That’s how we’ll find out if Ball is indeed good or if it turns out his electric style in high school and college was all a ruse. It’s been impossible to agree on whether Lonzo is good. One side or another will have some really good evidence within another year or so with few real excuses or caveats to fall back on.

Betting On Failure

Interesting piece by Tom Haberstroh on how the Pelicans are betting on the Lakers to fail by concentrating the Davis trade package so heavily on draft picks. That’s basically right and applicable to most NBA superstar trades. But there’s another element, which is that draft picks are the currency of the realm, so to speak. They are the placeholder for young prospects without the complications of contracts and personalities and broken jumpers. They are uncomplicated assets easy to use in future trades and easy to sell to ownership and fans.

There are already rumors that the Pelicans actually don’t want to use the No. 4 pick to grab Jarrett Culver or Cam Reddish or any other prospect, that New Orleans will instead flip it for a veteran player or multiple future picks. This is the benefit of trading for picks and pick swap options: they are highly liquid assets that you can focus new deals on. David Griffin doesn’t have to be convinced the Lakers will stink in 2023 for that unprotected L.A. pick to be valuable: someone who has something Griffin wants just has to be convinced. The same applies to pick swaps, which are also able to be traded. This is just pure asset collection really. The Pelicans had a very valuable asset in Davis, and the Lakers had a mandate to get him, so Griffin was able to extract every possible asset from them but Kyle Kuzma. There’s no guarantee he keeps all of them until fulfillment. In fact, it’d be weird if he did!

Links

Winners and losers from the big trade.

I wrote that the Lakers are really, truly back, for real this time, probably.

It sounds like Anthony Davis won’t be waiving his trade kicker and the Pelicans won’t be delaying the official trade date to helps the Lakers open up a bit more cap room.

The Celtics were circumspect on trading for Anthony Davis in part because of Kyrie Irving’s odd situation.

How the Raptors turned the NBA’s global dream into reality.

Be excellent to each other.