Lonzo Ball is ready to run the point in Chicago

Ball averaged a career-best 14.6 points per game on 41.4% three-point shooting last season with New Orleans.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Lonzo just wants to ball. Not necessarily to personally be a Big Baller. But he does want to get to the point, which is back to being Lonzo Ball and the point guard to help make other players and the team better. You know, just what the Bulls were looking for.

"Just come in and do what I've been doing my whole life, playing point guard, leading the team, getting things going on the defensive end, for sure, picking up the ball," Ball—with a capital B—told reporters by video Friday during an introductory conference. "Just playing with energy and creating a good atmosphere that everybody really wants to be a part of, building chemistry together as a unit to win basketball games. That's what I'm coming in there trying to do, throw those pieces together and move as one.

"They were the team that stood out that really wanted me for me," said Ball. "At the end of the day, I want to go somewhere I'm appreciated and I can play my game. I think Chicago is a perfect place for that."

Could it finally be a happy marriage for Lonzo and his career and the Bulls? Both sides certainly appear anxious to make it work.

Lonzo Ball's full introductory call with the media.

Ball, a restricted free agent, came to the Bulls this month in free agency through a sign-and-trade deal with the New Orleans Pelicans that the NBA still is examining. Though it likely won't change his destination. Ball agreed to a multi-year contract with the Bulls to fill a role that essentially has been wanting since the departure of Derrick Rose.

Though the Bulls have more talented and accomplished players than the 23-year-old Ball, namely Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and free agent addition DeMar DeRozan, the team still needed that instinctive facilitator and distributor to get the train moving.

It's reminiscent of the old story of when Casey Stengel for the expansion New York Mets selected catcher Hobie Landrith with the first pick of the 1961 draft. There were many better players available. Why, Stengel was asked, did he select Landrith first? Well, Stengel explained, if you don't have a catcher the ball rolls to the backstop every time.

Similarly with a point guard. He may not be the team's best player, though like with Rose he was. But he's a vital spoke in that wheel for getting the team rolling, and finding the right place and the right person to put in the driver's seat. As the Bulls have seen the last few seasons, without that you can go off the road and crash.

The 6-6 Ball, who also is acclaimed for his defensive play, is noted for his transition offense and passing. He led the nation in college in assists and burst onto the NBA stage with such acclaim as the Los Angeles Lakers No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft that no less than arguably the game's best point guard ever, Magic Johnson, proclaimed Ball his rightful heir and the new face of the Lakers as Ball was the star of preseason Summer League.

And then it was Ball who looked magical.

Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball was draft second overall in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Lakers before being in a trade package to New Orleans that sent Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.

He scored 29 points in his second NBA game and missed by an assist of becoming the youngest player ever to record a triple double. He was coming for Oscar Robertson more than Russell Westbrook. He got that triple a few weeks later to push ahead of LeBron James for that honor.

But Ball had that peculiar shooting motion during which he seemed to cover his eyes and he shot poorly on threes. Then he went on to miss almost half the season with shoulder and knee injuries that limited him both seasons with the Lakers. He's had ankle and knee surgeries and missed about 90 games in his four seasons. Though he's been healthy the past year. If Ball didn't quite fall flat on his face, it certainly became pockmarked because of the vagaries of NBA life.

With the Lakers acquisition of James, Ball had to play off the ball more. It wasn't his choice nor the best use of his skills. It would occur again with the Pelicans, though Ball said his desire to be a good teammate always transcended any personal goals.

"Whatever coach asks me, that's what I'm going to do," Ball said. "I'm a basketball player at the end of the day. I can do a lot of things on the court. So I (don't) want to be just caged in. I want to do whatever I can to help. And whatever they think that it, that's what I go out and try to do. They believed that was the best for the team (playing off the ball). So I just went with it. I'm not the type of guy that's going to pout or go hide in the corner. I'm going to do what's asked of me the best I can. I think I did that. I think it ultimately did help me grow as a player. It was a new position for me pretty much and I think I did a pretty good job."

That so called 3-D role, which hardly anyone would have suggested for Ball's ballin', was also with the Pelicans last season as they began featuring Zion Williamson as a point forward. And with the acquisition of James, the Lakers' title window became immediate. Their patience with development was over; plus, Ball had ankle problems and sought surgery outside the Lakers' purview. The Lakers stopped that, but the love affair was cooling. Also, Lonzo's father, LaVar was often criticizing the Lakers' use of his son, forcing meetings with management. LaVar's outspoken nature also was raising questions among other teams about Lonzo. Though LaVar seems to have moved on with no interviews in recent years.

"My dad's been a part of my life the whole time I've been here," Lonzo said Friday. "He's always been a loud person. I just think he started to focus on helping my other brothers out (LiAngelo and LaMelo with Charlotte). I am who I am today, and there's really not any more he can do for me. He's given [me much] as a father and I appreciate him for that and I love him to death. But now it's my job; it's up to me. He did everything he could for me, and that's fine now. Now he's helping out the other two."

Lonzo Ball defends Zach LaVine

Lonzo Ball defends Zach LaVine during the 2020-21 season.

LeBron's restlessness led to trading for Anthony Davis in a package of players, including Ball and Brandon Ingram, to New Orleans. Lonzo changed his shooting motion and last season averaged a career high 14.6 points per game and became a surprisingly good three-point shooter. But the development of Ingram as an All-Star and the franchise's focus on Williamson reduced Lonzo's role. He became expendable to the Pelicans as a restricted free agent.

"Every year, it's been an up and down journey," Lonzo acknowledged. "But at the end of the day, I just stay in the gym. I just keep working and keep trying to get better as an individual first and do what I can to help the team out with those set of skills that God blessed me with. I was born gifted, I believe, and I just try to maximize those gifts given to me."

And then someone's problem becomes another's answer. The Bulls got right to the point.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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