Different regime, same target.
Let the Lonzo Ball-to-the-Bulls rumors recommence.
The NBA free-agent frenzy officially tips off Monday, but organizations have been back-channeling information for months, setting the stage for the best sports soap opera going.
That’s what the NBA’s free-agent market has become in the last decade: high drama, franchise-changing decisions and big checks.
That’s not about to change this week. The point-guard market is the focal point, and the Bulls are right in the center of the storm.
And it starts with Ball.
In April 2019, former general manager Gar Forman and ex-vice president of basketball operations John Paxson had made inquiries to the Lakers after Ball’s camp leaked that he wanted out of Los Angeles and the Bulls were one of a handful of teams on his wish list.
Fast-forward a few seasons with a different regime in place, and the Bulls — with executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas at the helm — were back in the Ball sweepstakes at the March trade deadline. The Bulls and Pelicans were discussing a Ball-for-Lauri Markkanen deal.
The rest of the package — including draft compensation — hit a snag, so Karnisovas quickly pivoted and acquired All-Star center Nikola Vucevic.
But the desire to find a point guard with size, a willingness to play defense and playmaking ability hasn’t gone away. The circumstances, however, have changed.
The No. 2 pick from the 2017 draft, Ball is a restricted free agent. The Pelicans can match any offer if they so choose. They cleared a lot of cap space last week by trading Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe to the Grizzlies but still need a willing partner.
The first domino to fall could be free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry.
If New Orleans can land Lowry, any offer Ball receives likely won’t be matched. If their newfound $37 million can’t lure Lowry to play alongside Zion Williamson, and they strike out on other potential point guards, Ball could be right back in the “Big Easy’’ — like it or not.
On the Bulls’ side, they still would have to clear more cap room — bye-bye, Tomas Satoransky, for starters — to make a competitive offer for Ball, and they’re not the only team interested in him. The Celtics and Knicks have been linked to Ball, with New York having one of the best cap-space situations in the league.
If Ball doesn’t become a Bull, then what?
The Bulls also have been linked to Dennis Schroder — despite his outrageous contract demands — Derrick Rose and Spencer Dinwiddie.
Then again, the Bulls have their own decisions to make by Sunday. They already extended a qualifying offer to Markkanen to make him a restricted free agent and could get bold in freeing up more than $36 million if they decline Ryan Arcidiacono’s $3 million team option, waive-and-stretch Al-Farouq Aminu’s $10.2 million player option that he picked up, then waive-and-stretch the partial guarantees of Satoransky at $5 million and Thad Young at $6 million.
Could they get bold and go after Lowry for their own version of a Big Three?
With Karnisovas and his aggressiveness, it’s not as far-fetched as it would’ve been with the old regime.
Either way, a change at point guard likely is coming for the Bulls.