It has been a very, very long time since I sat down to write about the New Orleans Pelicans, but once again, they face an offseason filled with tumultuous change.
Stan Van Gundy is in as head coach. Jrue Holiday is rumored to be heading out in a trade soon. The last time I sat down, this franchise had zero cornerstones for the future.
Holiday is a nice player and a wonderful person, but he was not a star cornerstone of the franchise. Now, David Griffin looks onto the roster and has two: Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. The job should be much easier, right? Not yet.
Let’s dive right in with a hypothetical Jrue Holiday trade.
You can check out the particulars at this link as well. I’ll walk through my rationale from left to right.
The Atlanta Hawks obtain Caris LeVert and Garrett Temple. LeVert is the prize here for Atlanta, and he’s under contract longer than Jrue Holiday. This is why the reports on Atlanta’s interest in Holiday struck me as more likely to mean they may be involved as a third team.
(Oleh, Kevin, David, and myself discussed Atlanta as an option on our recent podcast. The cost is the #6 pick, Kevin Huerter, and Dewayne Dedmon.)
The Brooklyn Nets acquire Jrue Holiday at the cost of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and Garrett Temple. The Nets push to win now in getting Jrue, and LeVert is likely the best current NBA player the Pelicans can get out of someone. However, by roping in Atlanta and Houston, I think New Orleans obtains greater long term value.
Jarrett Allen and the Pelicans #13 pick in this draft goes to the Houston Rockets. This is hypothetically part of a bigger retooling around James Harden. Allen gives him a lob threat on offense and the team a defensive anchor at the other end. Additionally, they get a young wing prospect (Saddiq Bey or Aaron Nesmith?) in the draft to space the floor. They ship out Robert Covington in this deal as they try to build a more conventional lineup around Harden. Russell Westbrook is traded someplace else in a completely different transaction.
For the Pelicans, this is again trying to simultaneously win now (Covington, Dedmon, and Huerter are all real NBA rotation players right now) and later (Huerter is 22 and under team control for another 6 seasons with restricted free agency, and the #6 pick could be as young as 19).
The crown jewel here is the sixth pick, and in this scenario the Pelicans select Killian Hayes. Hayes is the number one prospect on Kevin O’Conner’s big board at The Ringer. He did well in a lesser European league last season. His three-point shooting numbers are concerning, but his superb free throw numbers suggest there is significant potential if his shot selection improves behind the arc. Hayes is an excellent creator and very left hand dominant. Hayes projects as a big point guard in the NBA who can also slide over to the two depending on his backcourt mate and the matchup.
New Orleans also has three second round picks. They’ll either be used to shore up the team via trade or used for draft and stash candidates. But, I have one more trade to swing too — since this is my dream.
Is this possibly selling too low on Jaxson Hayes? Probably. Is re-uniting Larry Nance with Josh Hart and solidifying the big man rotation worth it? Absolutely.
Where does that lead us?
2020-21 New Orleans Pelicans
|Larry Nance Jr.||28||B||$11,709,091||$10,690,909||$9,672,727|
After all that maneuvering, New Orleans is just over the salary cap (I’ve calculated Killian Hayes contract at 120% of the rookie scale as is typical) but with room to utilize the full mid-level exception (MLE) beginning at $9.26M for up to four years without approaching the luxury tax. Also, I would cut Darius Miller. *shrug emoji*
Three roster spots remain, but with this roster, finding minutes to offer becomes very difficult.
Ball Handlers: Lonzo Ball / Killian Hayes / Nickeil Alexander-Walker
This is the weakest position, but also one where you want to decide if Lonzo Ball is the guy AND figure out what you have in Killian Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. It’s a good point to note using the pick on a wing like Patrick Williams or Devin Vassell and using the the MLE on a steadying veteran point guard could make better short term sense. However, as you’ll see below finding minutes for a rookie wing will be very difficult.
Wings: Brandon Ingram / Robert Covington / Josh Hart / Kevin Huerter / JJ Redick
Look! It’s a team ready to play in the modern NBA! Redick is the only player ON THE ROSTER under 6’5”. Shooting? Check. Defense? Check. Options to play big or small? Absolutely. Huerter is an above average creator and could even slide into the reserve PG position in a pinch. Covington will make both Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson’s lives easier and functions as a skeleton key unlocking a myriad of lineup possibilities.
Bigs: Zion Williamson / Dewayne Dedmon / Larry Nance Jr. / Nicolo Melli
There are options here but a lack of real size. Don’t let Larry Nance’s listed height fool you, he’s a superb rebounder and capable rim protector. Stan Van Gundy has options here to play any two of these guys together or go small and slide Covington to the PF slot with Zion at center. This is another place where adding a veteran with some or all of the MLE could make sense.
Before making any other signings, David Griffin, Trajan Langdon, and the Pelicans front office take the suspense out of the room in New Orleans. Brandon Ingram signs a max 5-year contact. Additionally, they extend Josh Hart to a Solomon Hill-esque contact, 4 years and roughly $48-56M total. Lonzo Ball and the team have had good conversations, but both sides agree to table those talks until next summer.
In an ideal world, the Pelicans use a portion of the MLE to bring D.J. Augustin back home to New Orleans. That means either Killian Hayes or Nickeil Alexander-Walker will spend a lot of time in the G-League getting reps, but in order to try to win both short and long term, sacrifices must occur. I’d lean more toward Hayes of the two, but I remain firmly entrenched on NAW island. Using the remainder of the MLE (or the full BAE) on a rotation big man like Kyle O’Quinn should fill out the roster nicely.
There’s one roster spot left. No, Frank Jackson and Kenrich Williams are not options.