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Pelicans trade Devonte’ Graham, second-round picks to Spurs for Josh Richardson

Potential help for the roster now and on next season’s salary cap sheet

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San Antonio Spurs v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans made a minor deal before today’s deadline, trading Devonte’ Graham and four second-round picks to the San Antonio Spurs for Josh Richardson.

A number of big names have changed teams in the last few days, but the Pelicans made a prudent move, settling for an upgrade to their bench while keeping next season clearly in mind.

Graham’s career never took off as intended with the Pelicans. While he was a great locker room presence, his per game numbers dipped to 9.2 points and 3.3 assists in New Orleans after averages of 13.3 points and 5.4 assists in Charlotte.

He was initially brought in to provide necessary floor-spacing next to Zion Williamson, but his shooting proficiency also worsened during his time in New Orleans, with his 3-point percentage falling from 36.4% to 34.3%.

That’s not only abysmal production, Willie Green has better options to choose from among the smaller guards on the team in CJ McCollum, Jose Alvarado and Kira Lewis Jr.

Adding to the team’s burden, Graham’s contract would have put the Pelicans into the tax next season if no other changes are made to the roster during the upcoming free agency period.

Graham has two more years left on his current deal. While the 2024-25 season is only guaranteed for $2.85 million, utilizing his salary as filler this upcoming summer or before the next deadline could have been just as problematic. He’s likely to remain being viewed as a negative asset because there are no expectations he’ll receive playing time to rehabilitate his image.

Moreover, the Pelicans have moveable salary on the books for next season, as Jonas Valanciunas will be on an expiring contract and the final year of Garrett Temple’s contract could be guaranteed, if the front office chooses to do so before June 30, 2023. That’s over $20 million right there, which should open the door to a number of opportunities.

Richardson, meanwhile, is on the last year of a deal that was extended by the Celtics during the summer of 2021, so he’ll be off New Orleans’ cap sheet before the next free agency period.

In addition, the journeyman, who previously spent time with the Heat, 76ers, Mavericks, Celtics and Spurs, offers Green more versatility off the bench, given his greater size and abilities as a 3-and-D wing.

Richardson posted averages of 11.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals in San Antonio this season. He also shot the deep ball (35.7 3PT%) better than Graham.

It’s interesting to note that Richardson drew some interest from the Lakers in October.

The Lakers have also held preliminary discussions with the Spurs in recent weeks, sources said, showing interest in three-and-D wing Josh Richardson. The 6-foot-5 Richardson has averaged nearly 13 points to start the season, shooting 47.1 percent on 5.67 three-point attempts per game.

For what it’s worth, Graham ranks 247th by the Dunks And Threes website via their Estimated Plus-Minus metric, while Richardson sits 175th.

As for the four second-round draft picks that were included in today’s trade, realize that the Pelicans possess a cache of more valuable draft assets, including all of their own future first-round picks. For a team loaded with good young depth, it’s going to be impossible to utilize all the draft picks over the next several years.

Some may be underwhelmed by New Orleans’ lack of activity before the deadline. However, it may be too soon to go all in like some other teams around the league, especially at the asking prices of some GMs. Plus, the front office really likes their core of players.

While there have been some very positive glimpses, it’s hard to believe that the championship window has fully opened yet in New Orleans. The requisite experience isn’t there. Zion Williamson has appeared in less than 120 regular season games. Brandon Ingram has only one playoff series under his belt.

Due to the high number of injuries, the front office hasn’t been able to properly evaluate the entire roster to see how all the pieces best fit. Can Valanciunas and Williamson co-exist well, especially defensively? Who among Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy, Herb Jones and Dyson Daniels are truly untouchable? How important are Naji Marshall and Kira Lewis Jr. to the long-term outlook?

The front office is also cognizant of not wanting to rock the boat unnecessarily as many believe the chemistry in the New Orleans locker room has never been higher. That’s important because much of the roster remains in development mode, where individual improvement should be cheered and not discouraged at every turn.

Lastly, the asking prices for several enviable trade targets were seemingly too high (OG Anunoby, Bojan Bogdanovic) or some players like Mikal Bridges were reportedly not available. So, why not wait for the player that you want above all else, perhaps at a better price point?

The Pelicans were not able to land a Kevin Durant or a Kyrie Irving before the deadline, but nearly all avenues remain open. There will be more opportunities over the summer. Plus, don’t forget, there’s still so much to look forward to — this team is brimming with some of the best collective talent in the NBA.

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.