LaMelo Ball and the New York Knicks have been flirting for months. The Knicks played shyly to preserve leverage, but reports have linked the two sides for months. So has LaVar Ball. He explicitly stated that New York is the best solution for his son.
It’s a game seemingly made in heaven, a Knicks team in need of point guards in a town obsessed with point guards capturing one of the best passers-by ever to enter the NBA Draft and a Hollywood finale for a family whose first missing prodigy caught fire in their hometown. Tinseltown Christmas. The project’s biggest star landing in a crazy market of stars seemed, well, written in the stars, especially after Ball’s patriarch spoke on the last time Lonzo Ball landed in Los Angeles.
But the lottery gods disagreed. The Knicks didn’t jump to number 1. They didn’t jump into the top four. They have not even maintained their position. They entered Thursday at number 6 and left it at number 8, which could easily leave them seven spaces less than their supposed savior.
Or maybe it won’t.
After all, Ball is not Zion Williamson. It’s a tempting but flawed perspective in a weak draft without a maximum consensus perspective. Without that consent label, fit will be more important than ever. This won’t do Ball good in an NBA full of point guards.
Detroit taking Ball wouldn’t be such a disastrous outcome, and it’s not particularly likely. For all his flaws, Ball is a unique prospect and someone, somewhere very high up on the board, will want to give him a chance. But the fact that none of them absolutely need him creates an opportunity. If the Knicks had known in 2009 what they know now, they would have paid the Minnesota ransom to jump past Golden State and grab Curry. They remained motionless. But guess who controls Ball’s future now?
Minnesota and Golden State, and unlike 2009, both may be eager to welcome the Knicks … at the right price.
Minnesota gave away their first pick of 2021 to get Russell in February. The Knicks could replace it with their own. Resource recovery is a worthwhile goal, especially when none of the project’s best prospects seem easy to achieve in Minnesota. Ball and Russell collide. Why take Anthony Edwards, a guard whose best theoretical trait is shooting, at Number 1 when Minnesota already has such a guard at Malik Beasley, which they acquired on maturity and averaged 20.7 points per game on the 42.6% shot from 3 the hiatus? Karl-Anthony Towns is the center of Minnesota. James Wiseman would be a luxury, and strange given Gerson Rosas’ obsession with shooters. What the Timberwolves really need are defensive-minded wings. Players like Isaac Okoro and Devin Vassell should be available at no.
Golden State doesn’t need anyone in this class. The Warriors want to win now. The Knicks can hardly offer it to him directly, but given the relatively low commercial value of this overall No. 2 in particular, potential sellers could be lured into a volume package. If number 2 and number 8 are similar in value to less desperate teams than the Knicks, a package involving the first two Dallas reserve players burning a hole in their pocket might be tempting. Given the choice of Clippers they’ve acquired upon expiration and an intact collection of their future selections, the Knicks have all the ammo they would need to trade … if that’s still what they want.
And there are a number of valid arguments against doing so. Ball, at this point, is not a 3-point shooter. Not even the other two main Knicks: Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett. Los Angeles pressure didn’t exactly help the older NBA ball, would New York have been better for the younger ones? Would it be right for a beginner to be anointed savior of these Knicks rebels? They just spent two decades of choices in wild superstar geese chases. Jamal Murray, Joakim Noah, Gordon Hayward and LaMarcus Aldridges have all been taken with picks originally owned by the Knicks. The last few years have been geared specifically to avoiding such regrets. Is Leon Rose really ready to risk another one going up, especially with a much stronger 2021 class draft coming up?
This is a decision the front office has to make because the point here is not that trading for Ball would be a good idea, it is simply possible. The first two choices are generally completely untouchable.
But they’ve been keeping an eye out for a particular perspective for most of the year, and due to this project’s unique circumstances, their unfortunate ping-pong balls haven’t pushed that perspective beyond their reach. If the Knicks had finished in the first few selections, the decision would have been easy. But these things are never easy for the Knicks. It will now be up to Rose to decide how far she is willing to go to get her man. The Ball, regardless of Thursday’s lottery results, is still in its field.