Upon further review, it quickly became apparent that the Pels wouldn’t be able to copy the formula due to a combination of health, roster cohesion and excellence at the point guard position from Steve Nash. That Suns team had a preposterous run of good health from their core nine players all the way through the playoffs. They also had a roster that seamlessly fit together with a primary playmaker in Steve Nash, an elite offensive big in Amar’e Stoudemire and a combination of ample shooting and defense from complimentary pieces such as Jason Richardson, Channing Frye, Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Robin Lopez.
Since my initial research for this article, the Pels have spiraled. Sitting at 17-22 and in the midst of the worst trade speculation since Chris Paul, New Orleans is flailing about for wins. Anthony Davis remains on the roster, but seemingly for only as long as he wishes. Should the All Star big man decline the supermax on July 1, or an extension of any kind, it will be imperative for the Pelicans to deal him to the highest bidder to ensure the franchise’s future instead of losing him for nothing. Worse than that, if he decides he wants out before this upcoming trade deadline, the team won’t have Boston as an option or bargaining chip against current bidders should they decide to comply (Obviously, it’s difficult to imagine this scenario coming to fruition.)
Speculating on the team’s options to deal Davis has been the current joie de vivre. Canvassing the league, it’s challenging to find a palatable deal that would satisfy the demands Davis’s talent should return while also setting the team up for success. However, we’re here to be different so lets try and save the sinking ship.
The Pelicans are currently outside the playoff picture, are losing close games and playing their stars heavy minutes without victories to justify it. It’s clear the roster needs some changes but the assets are slim, save a 2019 1st Round Pick which gains value with every loss and shouldn’t be moved for any band-aid.
The solution then, could be reshuffling the current roster to better resemble that of those successful Phoenix Suns from a decade ago. One opportunity the Pelicans have to accomplish this is to bring in players whose value is distressed or diminished by their current situation. An example would be former Cleveland Cavalier Jae Crowder who’s play took off once he landed in Utah and was given a familiar role. A possible scenario lies with two teams in the East, who’s wings could impact the Pelicans both immediately and for the long-term in a dramatically positive way.
The above trade may seem lowkey and unimpactful on the surface, but should New Orleans make this deal, it may unlock the entire roster’s potential. Adding Justin Holiday, Rodney Hood, Cameron Payne and Channing Frye is probably not the major move that Pelican fans want. However, if executed, this deal fills multiple depth issues for New Orleans while not giving up any of their biggest trade assets.
Filling the wing position with Holiday and Hood would instantly add shooting and versatility from the position. Playing within Gentry’s system next to Elfrid Payton, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis should provide them the same space and freedom to fire from three-point range as Nikola Mirotic. This season, the elder Holiday is firing a stunning 7.2 3PA per game and shooting 36%; a number that surpasses New Orleans own Nikola Mirotic’s 7.2 3PA and 34%.
As a team the Pelicans are simply not generating or connecting on enough looks from 3. That Suns roster only shot 21.6 3PA per game, a whole 7 fewer than present day New Orleans, but they were 6th in the league in attempts at the time. For the Pelicans to match that, they’ll need to increase their output by over 5 3PA per contest. Their lack of outside firepower cramps lanes for Jrue and AD, sometimes forcing the offense into lackadaisical jump shots. There’s no need to become the Rockets and rely on the 3 exclusively, but increasing their output with capable shooters would give the team more flexibility for easy scoring opportunities and let Davis confidently kick out from double teams.
Having Cam Payne added to the deal may be nothing more than salary filler, but it could give the Pelicans much needed playmaking behind Elfrid Payton. A veteran with a chip on his shoulder, Payne was solid in limited games last season to the tune of 8.8 PPG, 4.5 APG in 23.3 MPG. This year he has yet to excel in the dumpster fire of the Bulls season. He won’t change the trajectory of the team, but he could prove to be a valuable backup guard if Gentry is able to summon a little more of his Point Guard voodoo.
The cherry on top of this deal is the addition of Channing Frye, a featured member of the 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns. Frye is lauded league wide as a positive locker room presence, knows Gentry and his fit would be better than most, giving the Pelicans a great option as a 4th or 5th Big who won’t make too many mistakes while provide lethal three-point shooting.
Injecting these four into the current roster while supplanting Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo and Wesley Johnson is as a low risk move this team can afford to make, as one primary issue of the team is the ineffective balance between the top players and the reserves. New Orleans roster is clearly top heavy, with Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton and E’Twaun Moore as strong of a group as most teams best six players. However, when Alvin Gentry has been forced to sprinkle in the reserves, the lineups usually fall apart.
With the influx of the four aforementioned players, the Pelicans would look more like the head coach’s old Phoenix Suns, perhaps providing the kind of sea change New Orleans needs this minute.
One intriguing aspect of this deal would be Jrue Holiday’s future — allowing him to operate as a point guard or two guard. He’s thrived as a creator and penetrator all season and should be an All-Star, though the team’s record may inhibit that distinction. Featuring him at point and flanked by flame throwers like Hood, Justin Holiday and Mirotic may make his job easier and alleviate some of the stress and pressure throughout games and thus allow he and Davis to have more energy to finish out close games and better manage the defense. Even if he maintains his preference for staying at off the ball, the return of Elfrid Payton should allow for Gentry’s preferred small ball lineups as trotting out better size and ability beats throwing out Tim Frazier, Ian Clark and Frank Jackson together any day of the week.
While this article features a Hood/Holiday deal, realize the Pelicans front office should be able to find other options. This was simply meant to be an assessment of the situation and what New Orleans might realistically be looking to/able to acquire should they hope to toe the line: remain competitive and acquire more complementary talent to pair with AD.
Like it or not, Dell Demps is still the decision maker in New Orleans, which means we should expect him to approach the situation in a similar manner to what he’s done in the past. Maybe that ends up with Dell flipping the Pelicans ‘19 pick and making a bigger splash, but this smaller avenue may be one where that doesn’t have to happen because of the unique circumstances in Chicago and Cleveland. Were the worst to happen come this summer and Anthony Davis asks to be moved, New Orleans would retain their pick and the rights of solid veterans to either stay the course with whomever comes back in an AD trade, or move for other picks and assets down the line .
The national discourse is frothing at the mouth to get Anthony Davis out of New Orleans and onto the Lakers or Celtics. That doesn’t mean the Pelicans should or will give in and trade the best player in franchise history at the behest of LeBron, Danny Ainge or any other vulture circling the Smoothie King Center. Adding elite three-point threats with the size and the potential to defend the league’s best wings in Justin Holiday and Rodney Hood along with a veteran in Channing Frye and lottery scratch off like Cam Payne, is simultaneously a dramatic gamble on the main rosters potential and a rational solution to its glaring holes.
It could be a way to take a one last swing while preserving all of New Orleans options regardless of what the future brings.