Zion Williamson, Coby White, Lonzo Ball

Chicago Bulls’ Coby White, middle, tries to get past the screen set by New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson, left, for Lonzo Ball during the first half of an NBA game in February in Chicago. AP file photo

The Boston Celtics have an opening in the backcourt after trading away Kemba Walker last month.

They could be looking to the free agent market to fill that hole with Lonzo Ball, as Shams Charania of Stadium reported on Thursday night that Boston is one of four teams (Chicago, Toronto, Indiana) that are expected to have interest in the Pelicans point guard.

“Lonzo Ball himself has a very strong market,” Charania said on Thursday night. “Chicago, we all know about their interest, going back to the trade deadline. But I’m told two more teams that have shown interest … Boston, Toronto. So, it will be a very interesting free agency period, along with Indiana. But there is significant interest in Lonzo Ball, with a deal that could rise upwards $21-$22 million a year.”

Ball is a restricted free agent so New Orleans will have matching rights on any offer sheet that Ball signs with another team. However, according to Charania, the Pelicans could be pursuing top tier point guards with their newly created salary cap room, opening the door for Ball to be available to other suitors.

How could the Celtics land Ball in free agency?

Landing Ball in Boston will not be a simple task if the two sides agree on a deal once free agency opens on Aug. 2. Boston is over the salary cap already so they would not have the ability to sign Ball to a contract on their own. Instead, the Pelicans and Celtics would need to agree on a sign-and-trade deal that would involve the Pelicans sending Ball to Boston and the Celtics sending back the necessary matching salary to New Orleans.

Finding the right compensation for New Orleans in that type of deal would not be easy for Brad Stevens, but it gets more complicated from there.

A bigger problem for Boston is their current payroll for next season. It’s already close to the apron at $143 million (aka: the hard cap) even without any free agent signings. Receiving a player in a sign-and-trade forces a team to stay under the hard salary cap for the entire season and that wouldn’t be feasible for the Celtics given their current payroll commitments ($123 million in guaranteed salary to 11 players).

The way the Celtics could get around this situation would be to dump some salary in a separate deal. In that scenario, the Celtics would have enough room to take back Ball on a pricy contract and still fill out the rest of the roster without going over the apron.

The odds of the Celtics figuring out a way to pull off all of those moves are quite low when you consider all the moving pieces involved. However, this is perhaps a sign Boston remains in the market for another pass-first guard after being rumored to show interest in Ricky Rubio earlier in the day on Thursday.

The 23-year-old Ball is coming off a career season where he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 39 percent from 3-point range.

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