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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Can you follow the Ball?


Lonzo Ball is. on to his third team in four years.
Illustration: Deadspin

From mad hype to NBA Siberia.

That’s where Lonzo Ball finds himself after Day 1 of NBA free agency in 2021.

Ball, once considered the point guard of the future, is now headed to Chicago after the New Orleans Pelicans and Bulls agreed to a sign-and-trade. Ball inked a four-year, $85 million pact.

The loot isn’t an issue. Everybody gets paid in the NBA.

Still, no way did anyone envision that after four full seasons in the league, Ball would be with his third franchise. Worse, Ball would be in a spot that doesn’t really register on the NBA Richter scale.

For sure, this isn’t Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

Few outside of Chicago will even know what Ball and the Bulls are doing on a nightly basis.

This is a far cry from when Zo was supposed to be a big star in this league.

There’s a Ball who is a star in the NBA, but it’s his brother, LaMelo Ball, with the Charlotte Hornets. He won the NBA Rookie of the Year this past season.

Make no mistake about it, though. Lonzo Ball was supposed to be the star of the family.

Thanks to his dad’s big mouth, Lonzo got so much hype coming out of UCLA. LaVar ranted and raved to all in NBA America that Lonzo would be better than Jordan.

LaVar even dared the Lakers not to pick his son with their No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft. LaVar said it would be the worst decision and they would regret it.

In reality, if that draft was redone, knowing what we know now, Lonzo would have a tough time cracking the Top 10.

Ball might wind up being a good NBA player and having a fine career. But let’s be honest. Much more was expected of the former UCLA guard.

In fact, the L.A. kid was dubbed the next Magic Johnson. The hype went to 11.

Even the great Magic was caught up. That infamous press conference where Magic proclaimed Ball would be better than him.

“I’m going to put a little pressure on you right now,” said Johnson to Ball’s face in 2017. “You look to your right, there’s some jerseys hanging on that wall. We expect a Ball jersey hanging up there one day, all right? Good.”

At that moment, Magic dubbed the 19-year-old “the new face of the Lakers, the guy who I think will lead us back to where we want to get to.”

Sounded good. But it was a total flop.

Truth is that Magic had really no choice but to take him. Not because he was the best player on the board when they picked. Heck, the Lakers could have drafted Jayson Tatum or De’Aaron Fox.

Now, the spin is that Ball is perfect for the Bulls and that he will flourish being slotted as the point guard where he will grow with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.

The Bulls are lost in the sauce in the Eastern Conference, a no man’s-land situation. They aren’t a serious contender and they aren’t terrible enough to have a shot at getting a lottery-changing pick.

They are stuck in the middle going nowhere fast.

Ball was supposed to finally blossom in New Orleans after the Lakers ditched everything, including the kitchen sink for Anthony Davis in the blockbuster trade.

Ball was expected to thrive with Zion Williamson. Ball would feed the big man the ball and get a double-double almost every night. It didn’t happen.

Worse, the Pelicans actually took the ball from Ball’s hands. Zion started to run the point position in the offense. Hence, Ball became an off-ball wing. He’d run the offense off the break, but Zion handled it in the half court.

Ball, now 23, has improved his game. When he got to L.A. in 2017, he was way too passive. He had the ugliest shot in The Association. He was a terrible free-throw shooter. He’s improved in all those areas now.

Maybe Ball will excel even more in Chicago. There’s not much pressure or anything to play for. Sometimes, those are the best situations.

All Ball has to worry about is staying warm in NBA Siberia.

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