Five different teams could have multiple first round picks in the 2016 NBA Draft this June. I do not expect all of those teams to utilize all of those picks on draft night. Many teams lack the necessary roster space to include that many rookies on guaranteed contracts (although stashing European prospects is an option in an internationally heavy draft) or are built in a way that likely precludes them from desiring that many young players on the roster at once. Then there are the New Orleans Pelicans.
Anthony Davis has been the youngest player on the Pelicans since his rookie year. At no point during his NBA career has a younger player logged minutes in a regular season game. Davis has been in the league for FOUR years. This is equally amazing and depressing. This franchise has punted on real player development for far too long and hopefully this summer we will see a change in philosophy on that front.
These six teams provide potential options for the Pelicans to trade back in the draft if the ping pong balls are unkind, collecting additional first round picks in the process. While less common than in the NFL Draft trading back occurs about once a draft in recent years.
In 2014 the Denver Nuggets traded Doug McDermott (11th) to the Chicago Bulls for Gary Harris (16th) and Jusuf Nurkic (19th). In 2013 the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Trey Burke (9th) to the Utah Jazz for Shabazz Muhammad (14th) and Gorgui Deing (21st). In 2012 the Dallas Mavericks traded Tyler Zeller (17th) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jared Cunningham (24th), Bernard James (33rd), and Jae Crowder (34th).
Sitting in the sixth lottery slot right now the Pelicans most likely place in the draft is either 6th (43.9%), 7th (30.5%), or 3rd (8.1%). Looking at many recent mock drafts I think New Orleans may be able to extract greater value out of the draft by moving back instead of picking where the ping pong balls send them.
Caveat: If the Pelicans pick first, they should select Ben Simmons. Period. Simmons is a difficult fit due to his unique skillset at his size. Fine. Make it work. If New Orleans is in the second slot just take Brandon Ingram and get a small forward. However, listen to offers from teams looking to trade up. A nice enough package (multiple picks this year and a rotation player on a decent contract) should be considered.
Without further ado, the picks.
Philadelphia Sixers (Potentially Four First Round Picks)
Philadelphia has their own pick, Sacramento's lottery balls (if necessary in a pick swap), Miami's pick (1-10 protected, so probably going to convey), Oklahoma City's pick (1-15 protected, definitely going to convey), and the Lakers pick (1-3 protected, least likely to convey). At minimum Philly should have a top four pick (their own or Sacramento's via swap), one in the late teens or early twenties (from Miami),and one in the late twenties (from OKC).
Sam Hinkie and Jerry Colangelo also have a number of players on rookie scale contracts and Dario Saric (who will be a rookie himself) slated to come over from Europe next season. Adding three more rookies to that mix is unlikely, so asset consolidation is not out of the question.
The trade: Pelicans send their first round pick (7-ish) to the Sixers for Miami and Oklahoma City's first round picks. Not necessarily the best package New Orleans might fish out (would be the 22 and 27 right now), so let's keep looking.
Denver Nuggets (Potentially Four First Round Picks)
This is my favorite trade partner. Dell Demps and Tim Connelly already have an established relationship as Connelly was the assistant GM here in New Orleans before taking the Nuggets job. Denver owns the New York Knicks lottery balls via a pick swap (that Carmelo Anthony trade is still paying out), and could get both the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets picks if those teams make the playoffs. If, by some miracle, the Memphis Grizzlies fall out of the playoff picture thanks to the injury to Marc Gasol (say, the Blazers, Rockets, and Jazz all make the playoffs) Denver could have FOUR first round picks.
Maybe the Pelicans should have fired Demps and promoted Connelly, huh?
Denver will also have at least $20 million in cap space and five players (Emmanuel Mudiay, Jusuf Nurkic, Joffrey Lauvergne, Gary Harris, and Nikola Jokic) on rookie contracts this summer. Adding three more rookies to that mix seems unlikely.
The trade: Pelicans send their pick for the Portland and Houston picks, 15th and 16th overall right now. Other options could be one of those picks and a Nuggets young big man such as King Joffrey. Nurkic has lingering injury issues (bad idea for the Pelicans medical staff) while Jokic is an absurd bargain and unlikely to be moved.
Phoenix Suns (Potentially Three First Round Picks)
Thanks to a trade deadline deal the Suns have added Washington's pick (protected 1-9) to their trove of assets and opened up additional cap space this summer moving Markieff Morris. Phoenix also owns Cleveland's pick, almost certainly to be in the very late 20's. There are currently four players on rookie contracts (Alex Len, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, and Archie Goodwin) on the Suns roster and adding three more (PHX pick, WSH pick, and CLE pick) seems unlikely. The Suns could also have over $30 million in cap space this summer.
The trade: Pelicans send their pick to Phoenix for the Washington and Cleveland picks. Currently that returns the 12th (Washington) and 28th (Cleveland) picks. Better than a deal with Philly for sure.
Boston Celtics (Potentially Three First Round Picks)
Danny Ainge has the Brooklyn Nets pick (likely to be top five) along with the Dallas Mavericks pick (currently 17th) and the Celtics own (currently 23rd). There are also potential trade chips in the unguaranteed contracts of Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko. Both contracts guarantee on July 3rd but the Pelicans could "spend" some of their cap space by trying to include either (Johnson is a solid player that Boston might not have room for after fireworks this summer) in a potential trade. Boston has an absurd eight picks in the draft, including five of the first 35. There will be trades on draft night.
The trade: Pelicans send their pick to Boston for the Mavericks and Celtics picks. 17th and 23rd could be great depending on who is available. Maybe Dell Demps (or whoever the GM is) can try to get Johnson included as well. Asset consolidation for the Celtics is a matter of inevitability, there aren't enough roster spots.
Toronto Raptors (Two First Round Picks)
Masai Uriji will have two picks in this draft, Toronto's own and the lesser of the Nuggets and Knicks. Currently that lines up for the 8th pick and 26th. Since the Nuggets, Knicks, and Pelicans have very similar records the Raptors currently have very little motivation to trade up with New Orleans. However, if New Orleans could find themselves on the losing side of the ledger more frequently that situation might change. (Another benefit of tanking to consider.)
Right now no trade idea makes sense between Toronto and New Orleans. The lottery might change those calculations.
What if the Pelicans end up winning the third pick?
This is the most interesting scenario in my mind. For weeks now the third pick in many mock drafts has been Croatian power forward Dragan Bender. Bender recently turned 18 years old and is a 7'1" small forward in Israel. No, I'm not kidding. Check out this article from Jonathan Givony (from Draft Express) on Bender's fascinating potential. Given the success of Kristaps Porzingis some of the European fear may have dissipated among NBA GMs in the early lottery.
However, Bender might not be ready for the league right away and it is unlikely the Pelicans would draft a project, especially one that could spend another year or more in Europe. Should New Orleans find themselves picking third the available offers to trade back may increase significantly. Say the Nuggets own pick (currently 6th) and one of those playoff picks from Houston or Portland? Instead of picking Bender or Kris Dunn New Orleans could add Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine.
New Orleans could have options to move back and add more than one first round pick this June. A youth movement to build around Anthony Davis is still possible, if a few years delayed.