The NBA Off-Season is a wonderous time. Teams bad and good dream of how they can take the next step. For the New Orleans Pelicans that step is one of the most difficult, going from plucky upstart to consistent playoff team and dark horse championship contender. Luckily for them, unlike every other team that made the playoffs, the Pelicans also have a top ten pick coming their way. (Thank you, Los Angeles Lakers.)
That’s right. Not only will the Pelicans add Zion Williamson to America’s Favorite NBA Team, they’ll also have another highly touted prospect to cheer for in Las Vegas this July. If they’re really lucky? A 26% chance at a top four pick and one of Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero, or Jaden Ivey.
Funny enough, I did this just a couple months ago when I advocated the Pelicans chase Collin Sexton of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I was wrong in my assessment of CJ McCollum, he’s far better than I hoped. Also, just days after I published the piece it was announced Klutch Sports now represents Sexton.
No thank you.
Instead, I’ll go back to dreaming about the Pelicans moving up in the lottery.
The last time I did that I had the Pelicans jumping up to #2 and drafting Ja Morant. Let’s try that again, this time drafting Jabari Smith Jr. from Auburn.
If you were going to build a big man to pair with Zion Williamson in a lab the result would come out looking very similar to Jabari Smith Jr. He shot 42% behind the arc and 80% at the foul line as a freshman at Auburn. He scores is a multitude of ways. Pick and pop. Spot up. Pull ups in transition. Close out hard, and he’s by you and dunking on some poor soul. Offensively his highlight tape is a fever dream.
It is not all about offense with Jabari Smith Jr. The son of former LSU star Jabari Smith Sr can also slide his feet on switches and maintain verticality to protect the rim. Start the below video at 9:30 and prepare to be amazed.
Just picture it. CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jabari Smith, Zion Williamson as Willie Green’s closing lineup. There’s everything you need. Shot creation, shooting, defensive versatility. Jabari Smith standing 6’10” with a 7’1”+ wingspan, that shot, and defensive motor that runs hot? Like I said, he’s what you’d create in a lab to pair with Zion Williamson.
In a related move, prior to the draft Garrett Temple announces he is retiring and moving to the Pelicans coaching staff full time. His announcement wipes his contract off the Pelicans books.
On July 1st Adrian Wojnarowski sends a tweet at 5:01PM. Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans have agreed to a five year extension with All-NBA stipulations and injury protections similar to Joel Embiid’s first contract extension with the Philadelphia Sixers. Details TBD. The sound you hear is the national media scrapping their intended talking points for New Orleans and trying to re-write them for LaMelo Ball leaving Charlotte.
Larry Nance Jr. agrees to a 2 year, $20.8M extension with the Pelicans soon afterwards.
With Jabari Smith in the fold it makes Jaxson Hayes future in the Crescent City very cloudy. He was a token starter in the playoffs and the Pelicans performed much better when he went to the bench. Jabari Smith already does the things Pelican fans hope Jaxson Hayes can one day do, and Smith has four years on a rookie deal with Zion, Jonas Valanciunas, and Larry Nance to protect him from the biggest bodies in the league.
It’s essentially a two-part trade. New Orleans trades Jaxson Hayes to Indiana for the 2023 Cleveland 1st the Pacers received in the Caris LeVert trade. That pick is heavily protected. If it lands in the lottery next year it converts into two second round picks (2025 CLE and 2026 LAL). Indiana is doing this because Jaxson Hayes might be a really good fit at PF with Myles Turner. Since Turner is prone to floating on the perimeter it opens the lane for Hayes to be a rim running pick and roll partner for Tyrese Haliburton and Malcolm Brogdon.
New Orleans then flips that pick to Atlanta with Devonte’ Graham for Kevin Huerter. Atlanta gets an asset (the pick) and shaves off some of their massive pending luxury tax bill in 2022-23.
Why Huerter for New Orleans? Before the CJ McCollum trade the Pelicans had reported interest in trading for the 6’7” wing. The playoffs were a low point for Devonte’ Graham’s stay in New Orleans, and his tenuous fit with CJ McCollum was on display. If anything you could make the argument Atlanta would ask for more from New Orleans. My argument would be the fit with Huerter is so good the Pelicans should be willing to overpay to make it happen. Yes, to include pitching in a very lightly protected first round pick on top of the Cleveland 1st they hypothetically obtain from Indiana.
Huerter is 23 years old (turns 24 in August), already locked into a rookie extension for the next four years, a good defender, and a career 38% shooter behind the arc.
SALARY CAP TABLE
This season the Pelicans are $7 million under the luxury tax with two open roster spots and a rock solid rotation.
Starters: CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Jonas Valanciunas
2nd Line: Jose Alvarado, Kevin Huerter, Trey Murphy III, Jabari Smith Jr., Larry Nance Jr.
Deep Bench/Vibes: Kira Lewis, Naji Marshall, Willy Hernangomez
That’s the roster of a team that expects to win 50+ games in 2022-23 and make some noise in the post season.
Let’s make it happen.