A Bull market on Lonzo Ball? Not with so many questions unanswered

There’s no doubt that Coby White’s play as the starting point guard has been inconsistent, but the rumors surrounding Ball seem to be more fiction than fact at this point.

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Despite the rumors, the Bulls aren’t actively trying to acquire Lonzo Ball.

Despite the rumors, the Bulls aren’t actively trying to acquire Lonzo Ball.

Derick Hingle/AP

Everything about this NBA season is written in pencil, not pen.

That includes the tentatively scheduled trade deadline, which is currently set for March 25.

Will the Bulls be active before the deadline window closes? Considering how fluid this season has already been for the new regime and coaching staff, flip a coin.

According to a league source, executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas has been on the phone with other teams, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary at this point.

So the idea that a Lonzo Ball or even a Ben Simmons — the rumor mill has been active lately — is Chicago-bound to take over point guard from the inconsistent Coby White are more fiction than fact as of Wednesday.

Especially when the Bulls have been very deliberate in letting it be known that they are operating in the moment, which means doing all they can from a developmental standpoint to make sure a proper evaluation of their own players is taking place.

That philosophy isn’t going to be thrown out the window a quarter of the way into the season, especially on a second-year player such as White, who has made just 18 starts.

“I think for Arturas, I think his main thing right now, I think he’s evaluating,’’ coach Billy Donovan said of trade- deadline talk. “We’re communicating, and the biggest thing right now is the investment we can make in these guys that are here now, and we want to continue to help them grow and get better.’’

Even with White playing less than stellar basketball the last five games, Donovan wasn’t even contemplating sitting him for veteran Tomas Satoransky, thus giving White a chance to work with a veteran-laden second unit in hopes of rebooting his confidence.

“I think my responsibility is to do what I can for this group to put them in the best position to win,’’ Donovan said when asked about that scenario heading ahead of a home game Saturday against Portland. “You have to look at what the give-and-take of doing something like that may be. Does it disrupt that group? Is it not good for Coby?’’

The way it sets up now, Satoransky and the second-team unit remain the most consistent aspect of this team when they are all healthy.

The “old guys’’ just keep getting it done.

The Bulls’ first unit has been up-and-down lately, and in the last two losses it has struggled. Slow starts against the Lakers and the Celtics doomed the team in the end, and unfortunately it has been the same culprits.

That begins with White, as his education as an NBA starting point guard continues to be a series of peaks and valleys, or in some cases, sinkholes as the last five games have shown.

Since the game against the Mavs on Jan. 17, White is 17-for-51 (33%) from the field and has 21 assists to 10 turnovers. The concerning number, though, is his minus-23 in the plus/minus category during that time, and that includes a plus-nine in the win over the Hornets.

The starters aren’t functioning consistently, and White is the quarterback of that group.

Meanwhile, Satoransky has 13 assists to four turnovers in limited minutes and is a plus-18 in plus/minus in the last three games since returning from the coronavirus.

Donovan has a good argument about disrupting the units by switching point guards, but maybe White working with veterans such as Otto Porter Jr., Garrett Temple and Thad Young for a bit would do the second-year player some good.

Conversely, maybe Satoransky brings a calming influence to a starting unit that would allow for more focus at the tipoff.

According to Donovan, there is no edict by Karnisovas demanding that White be given a certain amount of time to show he can handle the duties of a starting point guard. White has shown improvement, but is it enough?

The problem with pulling the plug on White and adding a player like Ball is how does that make the Bulls better? Both are struggling in player-efficiency rating — White is 10.68 and Ball is 9.93 — and it isn’t like Ball has been operating the Pelicans’ starting unit at a high level or fixing an outside shot [currently 29.1% from three-point range] that has been broken since his rookie year.

Then there’s the finances. The Pelicans and Ball couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract extension before the season, so he’s a restricted free agent who could demand $16-$18 million per year on the open market.

The Bulls could always put in a bid for Ball if they’re interested, allowing them to continue seeing where White is, as well as giving themselves an idea of where they fall in the lottery. Draft prospects Jalen Suggs and Cade Cunningham each have higher ceilings than White or Ball at point guard, so patience would be the smarter choice.

From the way Donovan is talking, it’s also the route this regime is taking.

“[Karnisovas] probably wants to watch us continue to evolve as a team before maybe passing any judgment, and I think honestly it’s smart,’’ Donovan said. “We’ve got some young players, we’ve got to see how they’re progressing, how they’re developing, how they’re growing, and at some point and time we’ll probably talk about how to continue to improve the team and help the team.’’

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