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2021 NBA Free Agency: Ranking lead guard options for New Orleans Pelicans

If Chris Paul, Mike Conley Jr. and Kyle Lowry prove unattainable, there’s other choices

Indiana Pacers v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Today’s the day the madness begins. When the clock strikes 5 PM central, the Woj Bombs and Sham Wows will be flying full force, surely knocking options off the Pelicans’ board in the process. But before the chaos of free agency negotiations ensues, we looked at potentially attainable options at lead guard, ranking our personal preferences and then taking the collective mean to produce the following TBW list.

Some names have been rumored and linked throughout the offseason, some are just free agents and a few are speculative based on the trade market for guard Lonzo Ball. We’ll go through each one and state the case for or against their acquisition.

1) Chris Paul

The prodigal son returns home, the Pelicans acquiring CP3 after all this time apart and a brand new regime in place would be nothing short of a fairy tale. Coming home to lead the young guns to the promised land — following his own template established in Phoenix — feels the appropriate dream to shoot for.

Pros: Obviously, Paul is an elite floor general and a substantial upgrade over the Lonzo/Bledsoe backcourt from last season. Rumors are running wild that he’s New Orleans No. 1 option, again, but unless Phoenix dramatically messes something up, it’s hard to see him leaving the Suns.

Cons: Paul will undoubtedly be expensive, possibly costing the entirety of New Orleans $36+ million in cap space. Coupling that with his advanced age and history of injuries, it makes for a bit of a gamble. Adding CP3 and not filling the other guard spot with a veteran is also a concern.

2) Malcolm Brogdon

Indiana has been heavily rumored as a Lonzo suitor via sign-and-trade. And the top target for some of our crew in return would be former Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon.

Pros: With Brogdon being another big combo guard, not dissimilar to Lonzo, could slide into a similar role and potential lineup construction the front office is familiar with. However, Brogdon puts significantly more pressure on the rim with his drives than Lonzo ever has while still being a solid defender and 3-point threat.

Cons: Brogdon’s injury history is serious cause for concern. He’s only played more than 78% of his team’s games once in his career, his rookie season where he took home Rookie of the Year. If Aaron Nelson gets a look at his medicals and signs off, we’re in. But this scenario is not a sure thing.

3) Kyle Lowry

The most talked about man of the summer. Lowry is the biggest name in free agency that’s a certainty to change teams. Every time he’s mentioned, the Pelicans soon follow and there’s no doubt he’s the team’s 1B target after Paul, perhaps even after the strong rumors favoring him to now land with the Heat.

Pros: Lowry offers a lot of what Paul did for the Suns last season. A steady veteran guard who’s a playmaker, leader, shooter and tone setter. Lowry plays tough and sets a great example for the rest of the roster, drawing charges and mixing it up at every opportunity.

Cons: Whatever Lowry is going to get paid is going to be a ton, and despite being an excellent player, Lowry is not on the Paul’s level. And all signs are pointing Lowry directly south to Miami anyways.

4) Terry Rozier

Charlotte Hornets v Indiana Pacers - Play-In Tournament Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This option is somewhat speculative based on the market for Lonzo Ball. The Hornets are the home of Lonzo’s younger brother, LaMelo, and also seem like an ideal fit given their signing of his other brother Gelo.

Pros: Rozier is as passionate and engaged in the game as they come. He’s a consistently healthy player in the prime of his career and coming off his best year as a starter in Charlotte. He shot the 3-ball at a near 40% clip, on 8+ attempts per game as well, so he offers plenty of the much desired spacing.

Cons: Rozier would be a small guard addition to the backcourt and has one year left on his contract. The possibility of him turning into a rental as the centerpiece return in a Lonzo trade is a concern.

5) Lonzo Ball

With all the machinations we’ve already discussed, many would argue why don’t the Pelicans just *keep* Lonzo Ball? After all he’s got a great relationship with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram and has shown a commitment to improving every year of his career.

Pros: Lonzo would give the team some continuity in the backcourt after already dumping Eric Bledsoe. And he played well for the most part last season, with a significant uptick in free throw percentage to go along with his reformed 3-point shot. He’s reportedly committed to improving his driving skills this summer and may be poised for yet another step forward.

Cons: Does Lonzo actually want to *be* in New Orleans? All signs seem very much pointing the other direction, and the last time New Orleans matched an offer sheet for a guard who’s heart was elsewhere… things didn’t go so well. His cost may also be at a higher price point than his previous level of production has warranted. Either way he’s a tough call.

6) Mike Conley

Conley’s included due to his free agency, but it’s very hard to see him leave Utah as the Jazz have no other avenue to improve their roster if he walks. They’re much more likely to salary dump Joe Ingles to keep Conley. But if the Pelicans can get their foot in the door, Conley would function as an excellent third option if Paul and Lowry are both out of the equation.

7) Marcus Smart

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Five Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Another predicated on the Lonzo situation. Boston would almost certainly have to include Smart in any sign-and-trade for Zo. Smart would be a significantly different player but would give the Pelicans all the things they were hoping for in Eric Bledsoe. A tough, hard nosed bulldog defender that dives for loose balls and makes all the hustle plays.

8) Devonte’ Graham

Graham is a restricted free agent so his situation is tricky. Graham would be the space-providing flame thrower Zion and Ingram need while likely allowing for the continuation of Point Zion as a primary creator the majority of the time.

9) Coby White

Chicago seems to be drooling over the potential to add Lonzo Ball, so New Orleans needs to see how bad they truly want him. Rumors have consistently mentioned shooting big man Lauri Markkanen as the potential return in any Ball deal, but the Pelicans should really push for White to be the return, if not added to Markkanen. White has the potential to be a fantastic third scoring option next to Zion and BI, with a lightning quick first step and developing 3-point shot. Primary issue for White: he had surgery on June 10 and won’t return to court action until at least October.

10) Dennis Schroder

11) Spencer Dinwiddie

12) Cameron Payne

13) Goran Dragic

Schroeder, Dinwiddie, Payne and Dragic are all either stop gap or additional options. Were the Pels to re-sign Lonzo while adding one of them, that could make for a productive pairing. By themselves, they all leave a lot to be desired for starting guards for various reasons.

14) Alex Caruso

15) Patrick Beverly

16) Derrick Rose

If the Pelicans get down to one of these three as the only options left, potentially losing Lonzo to an overpay, things are going to get dark on the Pelicans Twitter timeline very quickly. Fingers crossed Griffin and Langdon have some aces up their sleeves to surprise us with more exciting new additions.

And no, Kemba Walker was not considered for this exercise — unless Shai Gilgeous-Alexander arrives from OKC in tow.

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 @CWGthe2nd.