David Griffin, Trajan Langdon, and the New Orleans Pelicans front office came into the 2020 NBA Draft with four picks; #13, #24, #39, and #42. They walked out with a grand total of one player: 13th pick Kira Lewis Jr. from the University of Alabama. In the process, though, the Pelicans added to an already impressive array of future picks.
Before we dive into what lies within the New Orleans draft chest, let’s discuss why. Why is a team that missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season kicking the can down the road by trading current picks for future picks? The answer lies in the roster: Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. New Orleans already has their two franchise pillars in tow. And the NBA continues to demonstrate that the cost of adding talent to your roster via trade is draft picks.
Jrue Holiday was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, who included three first round picks and two pick swap options. Anthony Davis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for three first round picks and one pick swap option. Robert Covington this week was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Portland Trail Blazers for two first round picks. Draft picks are the currency required in the market place when a good team wants to get better.
New Orleans is not yet a good team, but they do have two great players on the roster. They are planning on becoming a good team, and then will have the assets necessary to fill out their rotation for the next disgruntled star or key role player needed to take a step towards greatness.
Now, onto the future picks. The Los Angeles Lakers 2021 pick is 8-30 protected and unprotected in 2022. For sake of simplicity, we’ll just roll it over automatically to 2022.
2021: Pelicans 1st, Cleveland Cavaliers 2nd, Washington Wizards 2nd, lesser of Pelicans and Chicago Bulls 2nd (Bulls own swap rights with NOLA)
2022: Pelicans 1st, Lakers 1st, Pelicans 2nd, Cavaliers 2nd, Utah Jazz 2nd
2023: Better of Pelicans and Lakers 1st (Pelicans own swap rights), Denver Nuggets 1st (lottery protected), Wizards 2nd, Pelicans 2nd (if it falls 46-60, it conveys to the Atlanta Hawks)
2024: Better of Pelicans and Bucks 1st (Pelicans own swap rights), Lakers 1st (Pelicans can chose to defer this to 2025), Pelicans 2nd, Charlotte Hornets 2nd
2025: Pelicans 1st, Bucks 1st, Pelicans 2nd
2026: Better of Pelicans and Bucks 1st (Pelicans own swap rights), Pelicans 2nd
2027: Pelicans 1st, Bucks 1st, Pelicans 2nd
That is a LOT of future draft capital. Of note, the Pelicans are also owed future second round picks from both the Charlotte Hornets and Utah Jazz that are not included above. The exact details are pending. Once received, we will update this piece. EDIT: 2022 Utah and 2024 Charlotte
New Orleans does not appear to be in a hurry to spend their draft capital. They’re saving for the big moves that make sense when the team goes from struggling to make the playoffs to thinking about how they matchup with other playoff teams to advance deeper.
David Griffin knows what that is like from his years in Cleveland building a team around LeBron James. He knows how difficult it is to add pieces when the cupboard is bare. And now, before the pressure is really on, he’s making sure to stock it up. Once the team on the floor, or the players available around the league warrant, the Pelicans will pounce.
During the Dell Demps’ years, I begged for patience early on. Instead the team was built, year after year, in an attempt to maximize the now. The Pelicans could have done that. They could have held on to Holiday and drafted the best wing available at #13 and made making the playoffs in the 2020-21 season an obvious goal.
That’s not happening here.
New Orleans is unlikely to be a favorite to make the playoffs this year. David Griffin said he wants to build a sustainable winner. The foundation is still in progress — but New Orleans is already saving up to make sure they can finish it right.
For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @Fish_TBW.