Despite an expanded playoff field including a first-of-its kind “play-in” round, the Pelicans will not be a part of this year’s postseason, finishing two games back of 10th-seeded San Antonio for the Western Conference’s final play-in spot. A difficult decision awaits former second overall pick Lonzo Ball, who is headed for restricted free agency this offseason. Coming off career-highs in points (14.6 per game), three-point percentage (37.8) and free-throw shooting (78.1 percent from the line), Ball isn’t sure where he’ll end up this summer, though the fourth-year guard out of UCLA says he’d strongly consider a return to the Big Easy, if the Pelicans will have him.
“Obviously, I would love to be back,” said Ball, per ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. “I built a bond here with the coaches and the teammates who are here. I definitely wouldn't mind coming back at all.”
The 6’6” Ball began his career as a distributor but has branched out, improving his shooting range while taking on a larger scoring role. “My shooting picked up from all levels of the court,” said Ball, acknowledging his progress as a shooter. “I think overall it was a solid season for myself.”
As a restricted free agent, the Pelicans can retain Ball by matching any offer he receives on the open market. New Orleans could also pursue a sign-and-trade if Ball prefers to play elsewhere. If it were up to leading scorer Zion Williamson, he’d sign Ball back in a heartbeat. “Me, Brandon [Ingram] and Zo, the three of us have a great relationship. I would really want Zo to come back,” expressed Williamson, the Pelicans’ lone All-Star representative this past season. “Zo is a grown man, so he'll make the decision that's best for him. The only thing I can say is, I hope he stays."
Leading up to the trade deadline in March, Ball’s famously outspoken father, LaVar, criticized the Pelicans for employing his son in a “three-and-D” role, while insisting the 23-year-old was eager for a change of scenery. “He can’t stand New Orleans,” the Ball patriarch told Mason & Ireland of ESPN Los Angeles. “I hope they trade him.”
Ball’s younger brother, LaMelo, a leading candidate for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award (Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards would seem to be his biggest threat), will be in action for the Hornets against ninth-seeded Indiana in Tuesday night’s Eastern Conference play-in game.