Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
Lonzo Ball is the reflexive answer. He might even be the right one. Josh Hart will have no shortage of leaguewide interest, but his starting salary is destined to be cheaper as someone who doesn't consistently generate his own offense or scoring opportunities for others.
At the same time, if the New Orleans Pelicans weren't open to shelling out the money necessary to retain Ball, his name would have been more of a rumor-mill staple leading into the deadline. He instead went kaboom after being bandied about in early-season trade talks, and neither he nor New Orleans seems especially eager to dissolve their marriage.
Posturing is rampant in the NBA, so take the following with an iota of salt, but Ball said he's "happy" to still be with the Pelicans. Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin took it one step further.
"He's made it very clear personally, one to one, that he wants to be here," he said, per NOLA.com's Christian Clark. "Yet what you will read is: 'This is a player who doesn't want to be here. He's not in our plans. So you should trade him for a ham sandwich.' That doesn't make any sense when we know the actual, real story behind Lonzo Ball."
JJ Redick is somewhere rolling his eyes. The logic still tracks. The Pelicans have at least a semi-firm grasp of Ball's market. They wouldn't have kept him past the deadline if they were going to get sticker shock from offers to pay him upward of $20 million per year.
New Orleans has the flexibility to meet that price point without rocketing its cap sheet to the moon. The most expensive scenario—matching a max offer for Ball—would leave it with around $103.5 million committed to Ball, Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Ideal? No. Workable? Sure.
That brings us to Hart, a gritty defender with four-position switchability who hits just enough of his triples to upkeep the three-and-D label. He could become collateral damage of the windfall Ball is about to receive—if that deal comes from the Pelicans.
Once more: This isn't predictive. New Orleans might keep both. But it seems much less likely to break its piggy bank for Hart if he gets an offer north of $12 million annually. All of which makes this a bet that the Pelicans will let him walk before they do the same or seek sign-and-trade scenarios for Ball.