The New Orleans Pelicans were indeed buyers at the last trade deadline. After rumored interest in a number of guards including De’Aaron Fox and Kevin Huerter, ultimately it was a trio of former Portland Trail Blazers — CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell — that wound up in the Crescent City.
Grades were widespread with Kevin Pelton of ESPN giving the Pelicans a C- while SB Nation’s own Ricky O’Donnell handed New Orleans a B+ for the deal. Let’s just say both of those grades ended up on the low end.
Instead, our staff looked at the McCollum trade and asked, was there ever a better in-season trade in franchise history?
David Griffin and Trajan Langdon ended up trading Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, the Milwaukee 2025 1st, and two seconds for C.J. McCollum, Larry Nance, and Tony Snell. Where does it rank among in-season trades in franchise history?
This is hard to gauge because an alternate timeline where DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t miss that free throw and get injured chasing the rebound could have led to something special. However, as exciting, promising and as a deadly of of mismatch that that team proposed (especially because all indications were that Dell Demps was going to trade for Mirotic even with a healthy Boogie), I have way more faith in this coaching staff and roster’s depth than that twin towers team which was assembled.
Maybe it is recency bias or just a rollover dislike of Anthony Davis and Alvin Gentry, but I do believe that I have to give the advantage to the CJ and Nance trade. Partly because of how it actually has changed the perception of the Pelicans locally and nationally. Also, because it paired a dynamic scoring guard with a dynamic wing — two things we’ve not really had and certainly have not had together while adding that versatile frontcourt defender we also needed.
This was as much about the failure of NAW as anything else — his inability to develop simply provided the accelerant to the “let’s grab a veteran guard scorer” concept. When CJ came available, it was the right type of fit. Having to give up Josh Hart hurt, but I’d take CJ in that exchange any day. Future picks and secondary parts are more expendable when you already have Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, too; (and tons of other future draft capital). I’m not sure about ranking against other trades, in-season or not, but this trade could immediately zoom to the top if the Pelicans get to the WCF soon.
This feels like it should be a tougher question. The Pels were obviously ticking up before the trade and Hart had been playing great. But NAW was in a season-long tailspin, and moving Jaxson Hayes to the 4 allowed for a more diverse lineup. Ultimately, I consider this the most successful trade in-season for New Orleans ever, by far. Our most recent examples are adding Nikola Mirotic in 2018 or DeMarcus Cousins in 2017. Both played out entirely differently.
Cousins and the team never fully gelled for their stretch run and the team found itself in the lottery again, coughing up their pick as part of the Cousins deal. Then Mirotic is acquired after Cousins has already blown his Achilles the following season which cost yet another first round pick. Mirotic’s addition was successful, but it was ultimately smoke and mirrors. The 2018 Pelicans were felled by the Durant Warriors and Anthony Davis asked for a trade not six months later.
Both CJ and Nance have been *incredible* additions to the culture in New Orleans and have provided leadership and stability for a franchise starving for it. CJ’s first major move was to put Zion on notice publicly and help change the perception of the franchise. Nance has fit like a glove and provides the kind of versatility to pair with Zion and Jonas Valanciunas that we could only dream of. All while *NOT* giving up another first round pick in the same season thanks to Laker incompetence.
It took some luck, but even going back to the days of Bonzi Wells, Carl Landry etc, this is far and away the most successful in-season trade for New Orleans and likely will end up the second most successful ever behind the Davis trade.
The only competition is the DeMarcus Cousins trade, which was ultimately ill-fated. Unlike the Cousins trade this one paid off immediately (reminder, the Pelicans missed the playoffs the season they actually traded for Cousins). Also, for as much as I loved the Cousins-Davis pairing, the team didn’t actually really take off until after Boogie went down and Nikola Mirotic was added.
The bigger piece that really makes this trade so worth it is the Lakers pick. By trading for CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. and then knocking the Lakers completely out of the play-in New Orleans snatched the Lakers pick from Memphis with those 1-10 protections. And that is why this is the greatest in-season trade in franchise history.
The answer seems straightforward: this trade with Portland should sit atop the list.
The Pelicans acquired a true lead guard and a versatile big in one fell swoop, shoring up two positions of need immediately. In addition to their positive play on the court, McCollum and Nance have said all the right things off of it, professing how great their experience has been to date and that there’s no place they would rather be than in New Orleans. And as Fisher wrote above, this trade helped push the Pelicans up the standings while the Lakers down — L.A.’s valuable 2022 first-round pick is expected to be confirmed heading to New Orleans in this month’s draft lottery.
There’s good vibes everywhere, but let’s keep in mind that McCollum and Nance have combined to appear in only 35 regular season games with the Pelicans. History says it would be wise to practice some restraint in regards to overarching evaluations because things can turn south quickly for reasons out of anyone’s control.
DeMarcus Cousins arrived in a trade from the Kings over the 2017 All-Star break. There was rampant excitement across town about the new twin tower look. Boogie and The Brow were supposed to terrorize front courts for years; however just as that union was beginning to bear fruit in the standings, tragedy struck. In the final seconds of the Pelicans’ seventh win in their last eight contests, Cousins ruptured his left Achilles tendon.
Everyone remembers that infamous game against the Rockets, but don’t overlook the positives that stemmed from Boogie’s acquisition. He was happy to be playing close to his Alabama roots and played a major role in shaping the roster. During the previous summer, Jrue Holiday signed a long-term deal and the Pelicans added Rajon Rondo in free agency. Both of those events probably wouldn’t have occurred were it not for Cousins’ presence in New Orleans.
Then after a solid 2017-18 season start, it made sense for Dell Demps to chase Nikola Mirotic, especially in light of the Cousins injury. A trade with Chicago proved to be another good midseason deal as Mirotic aided the Pelicans to match their franchise longest win steak of ten games and make plenty of noise in the 2018 playoffs.
The Pelicans, of course, didn’t maintain that level of success, but without DeMarcus Cousins landing in New Orleans, things might have gone a lot more poorly. Not only would there be no postseason memories, Holiday might have walked upon the conclusion of his second contract. David Griffin may have never had the opportunity to recoup assets from the Bucks.
The trade for McCollum and Nance has already proven many critics wrong. The duo embraced their new home like so few others who switched teams in the middle of a campaign, and the good fit alongside Brandon Ingram and the rest of the locker room is readily apparent. But I’ll be honest, let’s not overly tempt fate by proclaiming anything too loudly just yet.