Let me give credit, to begin, to a tweet. Every once in a while some analogy hits so clearly, and this one may be the best I’ve seen regarding the New Orleans Pelicans at this point in their rebuild.
I’ll help a bunch of Pels Twitter because it’s Valentine’s Day: building a team is much like building a relationship. Sometimes you have to figure out what you like/ need in a partner/ player, and to do that you have to go on some bad dates.— put the macaroni on the phone (@kenPOPtweets) February 15, 2021
Anthony Davis requested a trade, no, a divorce from the Pelicans on January 28, 2019. NBA franchises marry their stars, hoping that they can achieve success together. Most marriages fail, and the franchise moves on searching for the next star. New Orleans was incredibly lucky mere months later that Zion Williamson fell into their laps. Anthony Davis was sent to Los Angeles after the lottery but before the draft for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the #4 pick (which eventually turned into Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Didi Louzada), the Lakers 2021 pick (8-30 protected, unprotected in 2022), a 1st round pick swap option in 2023, and the Lakers 2024 first round pick, unprotected, which New Orleans can elect to turn into the Lakers 2025 first round pick if they so desire.
Everything the Pelicans have done since is an attempt to find the right partner for Zion Williamson. Injuries didn’t help. The global COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help. Brandon Ingram made the most of his opportunity anyway in route to earning his first career All-Star selection and the Most Improved Player award. New Orleans locked Ingram up long term this off-season, signifying their commitment now to two cornerstones.
Role players? NBA teams don’t marry role players. They date them. A lot of them. Rosters turn over. Players leave due to any number of circumstances. And the Pelicans have only committed to one of them, Steven Adams. Not just the trade for him, but the extension as part of the trade. Will Steven Adams be here for the rest of his career? Maybe, but the NBA rarely works that way.
David Griffin, Trajan Langdon, and Swin Cash have already tried a bunch of players around their Zion & Ingram foundation. Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore and Derrick Favors have already gone. Others may be gone by the upcoming trade deadline on March 25th.
A strained relationship with the backcourt
Two players require the most immediate decision: JJ Redick and Lonzo Ball. The circumstance is purely contractual. Both expire this summer, Redick will be an unrestricted free agent while Lonzo Ball will be eligible for restricted free agency. Redick doesn’t seem long for his Pelicans’ relationship. It’s already been reported he’s been discussed as a possible trade target and moving closer to his family in Brooklyn may be high on his wish list.
Lonzo Ball is a more difficult discussion. Restricted free agency makes retaining him easy for the Pelicans but also costly. Is Lonzo Ball a no-brainer max player? No. With those guys, there is little to discuss beyond an option year. Is Ball promising enough that some team will make a difficult to match offer in restricted free agency? Yes.
Has Lonzo Ball proven so valuable that the Pelicans should re-sign him to a large contract? That’s where the debate lies. In my opinion, no. He’s completely replaceable. He’s functioned essentially as a 3&D guy this season, as I predicted after Stan Van Gundy was hired. After an ice cold start, Ball is knocking it down from behind the arc, and still avoiding layups. But the D? It’s lacking. He’s a good, not great team defender. His limitations as the one-on-one stopper New Orleans needs beside Ingram and Zion were on full display last week as Zach LaVine and Luka Doncic scored 46 points each on Wednesday and Friday respectively.
Eric Bledsoe? He cares as much as I do about this paragraph.
Time is of the essence. If the Pelicans’ brass is reasonably convinced they don’t want to give a rose to Redick or Ball at the end of this year, valuable time with other potential matches is passing every night. Instead, New Orleans continues to go on dates with guys they should know are not the right one for them.
The Pelicans are in a toxic relationship with their entire backcourt rotation. Ball and Redick are probably gone within four months. Eric Bledsoe does not give a damn when he’s on the floor, and is most famous for tweeting he didn’t want to be in Phoenix. Meanwhile New Orleans sneaks off for a late-night bite and movie with Kira Lewis Jr. every other day because he actually makes them happy.
Update your relationship status, Pelicans. Toss Ball and Redick’s laundry on the lawn. Try to get Bledsoe out of your basement. Commit to the young, fun guy who cares about you.