With last Monday’s announcement of the New Orleans Pelicans signing Izaiah Brockington to a two-way contract, the move left many fans perplexed as to what it might mean for E.J. Liddell’s place within the organization. There exist no obvious openings on the playing roster, with 15 guaranteed contracts and both two-way slots now occupied.
Before tearing the ACL in his right knee during summer league action, there was a strong expectation that Liddell was destined for the two-way vacancy. One slot was quickly filled by Dereon Seabron immediately after June’s draft, with the Pelicans making that signing official last week.
So, does Liddell sit on the outside looking in? Nope, not at all.
Let’s first completely dismiss the idea that the Pelicans will part ways with Liddell. New Orleans utilized an important future asset, the 41st selection of the 2022 NBA draft, to select him, and secondly, Trajan Langdon stated publicly how highly the organization values Liddell, a prospect that was expected to be drafted in the first round by many experts.
Teams certainly don’t sour mightily on young players after an injury, much less toss good talent out the door after the first hiccup.
Looking through the correct lens, the Pelicans appear to be in the process of making a forward-thinking move. Liddell is likely to miss most or all of next season. Brockington is slated to miss significant time as well due to his ACL injury. However, an importance difference exists: the Pelicans only have exclusivity with Liddell.
By signing Brockington instead of Liddell to the two-way contract, the Pelicans can gain control over two players instead of one for the upcoming season. They can effectively gamble on another prospect’s potential.
Subsequently, expect for Liddell to receive a G League contract and serve as a sort of draft-and-stash on the Birmingham Squadron for this upcoming season.
The “draft rights player“ rule provides a way for a franchise’s draft selection to play for their G League affiliate. This process, in turn with meeting all the requirements of the CBA’s required tender provision, would allow for Liddell to play/rehab in Birmingham.
The Pelicans can still sign Liddell to either a two-way or standard contract at any point between now and the start of next season. This is important to note because it should act as a tantalizing carrot for Liddell to work hard in solidifying a greater payday.
Had Liddell not gotten injured, he was poised to sign a two-way contract for the upcoming season, earning him $508,891. In now likely signing a G League contract, he’ll only get paid $37,000.
(As an aside, I hope the next collective bargaining agreement includes language that allows NBA teams to pay a “draft rights player” a lot more than a regular G League salary. The addition of several two-way slots are nice, but more flexibility is needed for teams that want to gamble on young talent.)
Why would Liddell agree to such a massive pay cut? Because there’s no practical alternatives. And he’ll be rewarded at a later date for playing ball with the front office.
With the Pelicans owning his draft rights for several years (he was an early entry player), Liddell can’t sign with another NBA team. Moreover, I’m sure the Pelicans have promised him behind closed doors to make up for the change of plans by taking care of him down the road. Once there’s an opening on the roster, the spot will be his, say whether an unbalanced trade occurs sometime this season or a player leaves next summer.
This line of thinking corroborates Christian Clark’s assessment of Liddell’s situation.
Izaiah Brockington got injured in a workout with the Pelicans over the summer, as @_Andrew_Lopez first reported. Pelicans have long-term interest in him.— Christian Clark (@cclark_13) September 12, 2022
Although both two-way spots are currently occupied, I still anticipate E.J. Liddell being part of the roster this season.
The path of a drafted player getting signed to a G League first isn’t an entirely unusual event for prospects. Some players must refine their games. Others must go through a lengthy rehab process. The latter was the case for both Vit Krejci and Chuma Okeke.
Krejci (37th pick of 2020 NBA draft) and Okeke (16th pick of 2019 NBA draft) signed G League contracts first before receiving standard multi-year deals from their respective teams.
Coming off ACL injuries, both players focused exclusively on rehab during their stays in the G League. This pathway really seems ideal for Liddell too. These type of knee injuries normally require in the neighborhood of nine months for recovery, and he’s not even two months removed from surgery.
The number one priority is for Liddell to get healthy. Thus, he should take all the time that is needed to get right over the next 12 months. In the meantime, the Pelicans can somewhat minimize the effect of the injury on the roster by utilizing the rules and gaining control of another young prospect — as they appear to have done with Brockington.
So, don’t fret about E.J. Liddell’s place with the New Orleans Pelicans. An unfortunate injury merely opened the door for adjustments. Expect to learn soon that he’s still very much in longer term plans.