The Pelicans charted their course, and Kyrie Irving isn’t worth changing direction.

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Published: July 24, 2017

The Kyrie Irving trade demand has set the NBA ablaze, and even the newly-constructed New Orleans Pelicans have not been able to keep away from the hot stove.

This morning, ESPN’s Zach Lowe published a piece which meandered through the various options for Cleveland and Irving in a potential trade. The Pelicans weren’t mentioned until toward the end of the piece, after Lowe had listed Denver and Phoenix as far more likely candidates based on their ability to make a deal that matches Cleveland’s wishes. But check out this passage:

“I am perhaps unnaturally intrigued with pairing Irving and Anthony Davis in New Orleans. Davis is almost the ideal co-pilot for a ball-dominant point guard. He’s a pick-and-roll dance partner who can isolate and post up when Irving needs a respite, and use the threat of his jump shot to draw defenders out of the lane. He doesn’t have the ball-handling to initiate possessions, but puts his mark on them every step of the way.

He is basically a first option without all the dribbling — a trick that convinces Irving the team is his. For this to work, Cleveland would have buy DeMarcus Cousins as a Golden State bully-ball destroyer for LeBron, and a potential centerpiece who would re-sign if LeBron bolts. That leaves a lot to chance.”

The piece is clearly intended to simply give credence to all potential trade partners. As another ESPNer, Ramona Shelburne, said today on The Jump, if there are executives from any team in the league not talking to Cleveland over the next few days to at least try to get involved in these talks, they aren’t doing their job. Whether it is to collect assets, add depth or nab Irving themselves, even the Pelicans should at least be looking at this situation with proper diligence.

However, the Pelicans of today should not be looking at the Irving situation from the point of view of acquiring Irving for themselves. The Cavaliers are supposedly looking for a blue-chip young stud who could carry them into the future, along with depth pieces for today and perhaps even picks as well. This means the Pelicans have little to give. Their role players are expensive, and they have only their own picks to offer. The team traded its only blue-chipper, Buddy Hield, to get DeMarcus Cousins in February.

Lowe and any other NBA fan knows all this, and so it becomes obvious fairly quickly that the only real option for the Pelicans is a deal centered around Cousins for Irving. And that’s a really bad idea.

The Pelicans just spent six months aligning their organization around making the Cousins-Anthony Davis partnership work this season. They just paid Jrue Holiday like a desperate team has to, and a playoff appearance this season increasingly seems like a must for the current leadership group.

Irving and Davis might lead the team to the playoffs, and the point guard is under contract for one year longer than Cousins, but after forking over a nine-figure contract for Holiday, signing another point guard in Rajon Rondo and keeping Alvin Gentry in place to develop a system that will maximize the new roster, changing course now would be difficult to come back from. Training camp will start in September, meaning any significant shifts now would leave less than two months for correction. Many pointed to incohesiveness as the main issue facing New Orleans after the Cousins trade, and moving on from that plan now would just mean more confusion, in what is already the fifth summer of Davis’s career.

With Darren Erman and most key players still in tow, the Pelicans figure to hang their hat on their defense for the second straight season. Cousins can be a cinderblock when engaged, ruining lives in front of the rim. Irving, who posted a -2.3 Defensive Real Plus-Minus last year, is below-average on that end, even when fully engaged. Mostly, he is so inconsistent that he must be hidden on lesser offensive players. Holiday has four seasons of chemistry built in with Davis, whereas Irving would be starting from scratch after having never played with an athletic pick-and-roll scorer like Davis.

Signing Rondo as a table-setter and transition maestro makes sense; putting a lot of hope into Irving, an isolation beast who has never succeeded without the best player on the planet and the league’s best stretch big next to him, would be frustrating. The Pelicans need to sell tickets, win games, and keep Davis happy. Betting big on a discontented youngster at a position of no need takes the franchise off course in terms of stability and success.

Trading for Kyrie Irving makes sense for most of the teams in the league, and he is probably an upgrade over what New Orleans currently has at the guard spots. However, he is a polarizing player and a questionable fit for the Pelicans. Cousins brings a lot of those same concerns, but has the buy-in of the entire organization. The Pelicans made their choice in February. The smart play is to stick to it.

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