The NBA Trade Deadline is exactly one week away. After 2:00 p.m. Central on February 9th, teams will have to wait until July’s free agency to be able to freely wheel and deal.
The New Orleans Pelicans not only have several holes on the roster that probably should be addressed sooner rather than later, they’ve often been mentioned as an interested party in the rumor mill.
The Pelicans, for instance, entered the Bojan Bogdanovic sweepstakes more than two weeks ago, per a report from Shams Charania.
The Raptors, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks are among the teams registering interest in Detroit’s Bojan Bogdanović, league sources say. The Pistons have maintained that they prefer to keep Bogdanović moving forward, but as The Athletic’s James Edwards III reported, the franchise is open to conversations, and it’s believed an unprotected first-round pick can pry Bogdanović out of Detroit.
They’ve also been linked to other potential trade candidates, like John Collins, Gary Trent, OG Anunoby and Malik Beasley.
There’s no doubt that the Pelicans possess the right combination of enviable young players and good draft assets to get any deal done. The front office probably also feels more pressure to make a move considering the team is spiraling, having lost 14 of their last 17 games.
Current and Future Cap Sheet
Let’s have a look at the team’s financials first, per Spotrac.
The Pelicans are close to the luxury tax, currently sitting at $146.7 million. They aren’t expected to pass the $150.3 line until they have proven to possess a championship-level roster. Thus, when evaluating any potential deals prior to next week’s trade deadline, one should strongly factor this into the equation.
Looking beyond 2022-23, the front office appears set to continue to structure the roster around Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. both received contract extensions last summer and have shown to fit well alongside New Orleans’ two young stars.
The Pelicans also have a number of players on rookie contracts that balance out the cap sheet next to the high-priced trio of Ingram, McCollum and Williamson. Dyson Daniels, with three years remaining on his deal, should be considered untouchable. Trey Murphy and Jose Alvarado are under club control for 2+ seasons, making them highly unlikely to be included in any trades this season.
Devonte’ Graham and Jaxson Hayes, on the other hand, have consistently been in trade rumors. This isn’t shocking as they haven’t produced as well as hoped. Their time of remaining in New Orleans is limited, so making use of their salaries in any deal is probable. Garrett Temple can also be included in this grouping, as he essentially is an expiring contract with next season’s salary not guaranteed.
Interesting arguments can be made on behalf of Jonas Valanciunas, Kira Lewis Jr., Herb Jones, Naji Marshall and Willy Hernangomez. All five players will see their existing contracts come to a conclusion at the end of the 2023-24 season.
Now is the time to start pondering which of these five players make the most sense to re-sign, given their fits, future costs and production.
Jones is on pace to get paid handsomely on his second contract, but his contributions are undeniable for a team that leans heavily on his defensive abilities. The team may view him as replaceable to some degree, though, with Daniels sitting in the wings and if any player arriving via trade can vastly minimize the defensive loss.
Marshall is in the midst of a nice breakout campaign, but he may have priced himself out of future cap sheets because his re-signing cost is expected to be for far more than the veteran minimum. Paying an eighth/ninth player of the rotation around $10 million or so a year isn’t good economics.
Lewis’ talent is extremely tantalizing, more so this season than previously, but if he has little to no chance of breaking into the starting lineup — or overtaking Alvarado as the first guard off the bench — doling out much more than mid-level money may be ill-advised. See: the Devonte’ Graham experiment.
Valanciunas is a good stopgap at center for New Orleans because he is a known quantity at a team-friendly cost on the books. He can space the floor enough, his rebounding prowess and durability have been vital and he’s a big net positive to the team’s culture.
Hernangomez is a replacement-level backup center, but he has value. He’s not only added to the team’s chemistry, he’s produced in limited run. In recent months, however, he’s clearly voiced a desire for a bigger role.
Future Draft Assets
The Pelicans possess all of their future first-round picks, plus either their choice of the Lakers’ 2024 or 2025 first-round pick, Milwaukee’s 2024 first-round pick (protected 1-4), and Milwaukee’s 2027 first-round pick.
They have 2023 first-round swap rights with the Lakers and 2024 first-round swap rights with Milwaukee as well.
Regarding second-round picks, they have their own in 2023 (protected 31-45), 2024, 2028 and 2029. They also have Chicago’s 2024 second-round pick and the least favorable of their own, Portland’s and Detroits 2026 second rounder.
There exist two clear areas of need. One, the Pelicans do not have a future center on the roster, and two, the Pelicans must become more proficient from the 3-point line.
Hayes is best suited at the four and has failed to show vast improvement overall. As mentioned, Valanciunas is a stopgap and Hernangomez is a replacement-level contributor. In addition, both of these players are traditional centers, not the most ideal for today’s high-paced game — and New Orleans’ desired style of play.
Moreover, asking Williamson to someday fill a Draymond Green-like role is no longer realistic.
It would be ideal to add a true five in the mold of Nic Claxton or Daniel Gafford — unless a Victor Wembanyama miracle occurs — and another small-ball center in addition to Nance, one that can space the floor better without giving up too much size.
After ranking 27th in 3-point percentage and 24th in 3-point attempts last season, the Pelicans are still struggling from deep. They remain near the cellar in attempts (30.8 — 28th) and in the bottom half of conversion rates (35.6 3PT% — 18th).
It’s important to note that since the start of December, only six other teams have shot the ball worse from distance. They have to be markedly better during the playoffs.
The Pelicans currently have the fourth-best odds of landing in the play-in tournament at +110. Only the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers are surer bets.
That’s a far cry from New Orleans’ goal of a top-4 conference finish before the start of the season. Expectations were also significantly heightened over the first two and a half months. At the end of December, they trailed the Denver Nuggets by a single game for the Western Conference lead. Many began viewing the Pelicans as a dark horse championship contender, and while they’ve noticeably slipped in the standings, the talent remains for a special season if health stops being a major issue.
So the impetus is there to make a move, but sound decision-making is required. The team’s off-the-court chemistry has likely never been better in history. These players genuinely treat one another as family. The front office must not be careful to not rock the boat too hard as real relationships seem to spur individuals to greater performances often.
Thanks in a high number of injuries, David Griffin, Trajan Langdon, Swin Cash and Bryson Graham haven’t been able to properly evaluate all of the components. There’s a lot of talent, for sure, but the Pelicans are nearing the time when some depth must be consolidated from playing time and salary standpoints.
Two names swirling in the rumor mill stand above the rest, in my opinion. Look for in-depth looks at potential trade candidates in OG Anunoby and Bojan Bogdanovic in coming days.
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.
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 @OlehKosel.