By not agreeing to an extension with the Pelicans by Monday evening’s deadline, Lonzo Ball’s path in the future became much clearer, even if the end result remains unknown. Like teammate Brandon Ingram last season, Ball will now enter a “prove it” contract year.
First and foremost, regardless of how this season plays out for Ball, he will enter restricted free agency next offseason. Ball’s long-term future could still very well be in New Orleans. With Ingram, New Orleans allowed him to enter restricted free agency but there were never any real rumors of him leaving the franchise before the two sides agreed to a deal.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks discussed players that did not agree to an extension on Monday, Ball included. In his piece, he estimated a salary in the neighborhood of $16-$18 million annually for Ball with a ceiling of a deal at $20 million annually.
There will be teams that will have the cap space to afford Ball this upcoming off-season. The New York Knicks will have the most at $66.2 million while the Thunder will have $54 million, though both sides figure to be rebuilding teams even next season.
One of the most intriguing teams could be Dallas, who could have upwards of $34 million in cap space The Spurs and Toronto, other teams expected to compete, could have $48.8 million and $21.3 million in cap space, respectably.
No team would be more intriguing than the Charlotte Hornets, for obvious reasons. Should the franchise renounce each of its free agents and not agree to an extension on Devonte’ Graham, they could reach $20.6 million in cap space, which would be enough to offer Ball a contract.
In total, 11 teams will have cap space next season with each one capable of offering a contract up to $20 million, which appears to be Ball’s ceiling. Again, though, because Ball is entering restricted free agency, even if the teams can afford to offer Ball a contract, New Orleans will have the right to match the offer sheet.
Even the teams that can afford Ball’s likely contract would also have some decision-making to do. While a team like Dallas could afford Ball, would they want to use the vast majority of its cap space on Ball? Multiple teams will have to face similar questions as well.
Ultimately, the only way teams generally pull restricted free agents away from the incumbent teams is by overpaying them. In Ball’s case, that would likely mean a contract north of $20 million, which would quickly cut down on the number of teams that could be in the running.
It all paints a scenario in which Ball likely remains in New Orleans, akin to Ingram this past offseason. It also might be why the Pelicans are taking a patient approach with Ball in hopes they may be able to sign him to a cheaper deal this summer.
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