Trade Season is Coming and the Pelicans Need to Be Aggressive

Published: December 12, 2019

After an offseason full of collecting assets and quality players, inspiring press conferences, an exciting summer league, and a perfect preseason, David Griffin had a 100% approval rating. Even national media members were drooling over the prospects of the Pelicans future, and Pelicans fans were flying high. Cut to less than 8 weeks later, and the roster looks like a dumpster fire that gets more gasoline added to it daily. Lucky for Griffin and the Pelicans, trade season is here.

Every year, the NBA trade season seems to get shorter and shorter. Years ago, there would be a trade or two by the time the calendar rolled over to December. But now, trades are almost impossible before December 15th because there is so much roster turnover in the offseason. Nearly 40% of the players on current rosters can’t be traded until December 15th this year. Meanwhile, the trade deadline has been pushed up every year, with a focus on it happening before the All Star break so that it won’t be a distraction during the NBA’s showcase. This year, the trade deadline is the earliest it has ever been – February 6th.

So, that is Griffin’s window to work the edges, and perhaps even the middle of the roster in an effort to get things back on the right path again. What is clear is that this team needs to achieve some objectives both short term and long. Short term, they need to find guys who actually communicate and lead in tangible ways. Currently, this team has a bunch of ‘nice guys’ who are content trying to lead by example, but don’t even bark (let alone bite) when things are heading in the wrong direction.

Long term, they need to determine what their core is, and what type of players fit next to those core pieces. They also need to accept some sunk costs, grab additional future assets, and clear the runway for some of their younger players to get playing time so they can take their lumps now.

NBA fans pose simple questions like, ‘Should we trade Jrue Holiday?’ but that is not the framework an NBA general manager works inside of this time of year. Every player has a price, and could be traded. The questions are two fold:

  1. What is the price for the player?
  2. Do we actively seek out a trade on this player, or just listen if we are offered?

For the purpose of this piece, I am not going to try to get inside the head of David Griffin, nor am I going to try to be Macstradamous and predict the future. Instead, I will do what I rarely do and imagine myself as President of Basketball Operations and talk solely about what I would do. There are guys I would be aggressive in moving, and others who would only be moved if another team called and offered above market value for their rights. And that delineation is as follows…

Actively Seeking Out Trade

Lonzo Ball

Millions of words have been written about people’s inability to accept sunk cost, and my gut is that thousands of words will be written in the future about Griffin holding on to Lonzo Ball too long because of his inability to accept a sunk cost. I would accept it…now.

Look, I get all the arguments in favor of hanging onto Ball – he hasn’t played with Zion yet, he just turned 22, his shot is improving, etc. I get that we all love potential, and the thought of giving up on a key part of the AD trade this early, as the Lakers look like title contenders, is just a bridge too far. But you can’t factor in how a player was acquired to justify giving them a longer leash than you would if you acquired them in some other manner. We saw this error bite Demps time and time again, and I will be beyond frustrated to see Griffin make the same mistake.

With Lonzo, we have to work backwards. We have to look at all of the realistic outcomes, with the summers of 2021 and/or 2022 as the finish line. Take what you have seen so far, both from Lonzo Ball and from NBA history, and then project what the summers of 2021 and 2022 look like for the Pelicans and Ball if they stand pat and don’t move him. I have contended for a while that the biggest obstacle to overcome for Ball is his pedigree. Being drafted #2 overall is as harmful to Lonzo’s chances of being with the Pelicans long term as his inability to get into the paint and make a positive play.

As the #2 overall pick, Lonzo’s salary is higher, his internal and external expectations are set much higher, and the likelihood that a team or teams in the league will overpay for his pedigree is also much higher. All of these factors make it almost impossible to forsee a situation in which Lonzo’s current contract comes up and he takes a reasonable deal from the Pelicans to play a supporting role. That would be possible if he were a second round pick like Josh Richardson was when he signed an extension with the Heat. Or undrafted like Fred Van Vleet when he signed his second contract, or even a late first round pick Dejonte Murray, who had similar injury issues to Lonzo, but showed flashes with the Spurs before signing a reasonable extension.

But top two picks do not sign reasonable extensions. Unless they are just an outright disaster like Anthony Bennett, teams continue to believe in them because of their pedigree and overpay them until they can no longer justify it. And then, by team four or five, they are properly paid and accepting of any role that will keep them in the league. But that does not happen with team number two, at the end of contract number one.

So, if it is highly unlikely that Lonzo Ball will be accepting of a long term role as a glue guy/role player type on a reasonable contract by the summer of 2021 or 2022, you have to ask — Can he be a star or well on his way to being a star player by that time, so we can justify giving him the contract his pedigree will acquire? And the answer to that should be clear to any human being with a set of eyeballs. Heck, you don’t even need a set. Nick Fury could see it clearly.

If you start at the end point with Ball and work backward, it is easy to see that it will not play out well. He won’t be a Pelican in 2022, and if he is, he will be vastly overpaid because of his pedigree, not his production. When you start there, it makes sense to move him now, in order to get something in return and to open up opportunities for guys who could be here long term. Chasing Lonzo’s long term potential will just set the Pelicans back even further, so parting ways as soon as possible is what makes the most sense for all parties.

As for what I would look for in a Lonzo trade – it would be a solid, but unspectacular vet and perhaps a future lottery protected pick. But the veteran would be the priority. A trade like Lonzo for Tomas Satoransky and a second round pick or two would be plenty for me. Lonzo and either Miller or Moore for Patty Mills and Demarre Carroll would be a blessing. Or take all three of those guys for Gorgui Dieng and Robert Covington.

I want some veterans to balance out all the young guys I will be developing and adding next year (Didi, our first round pick and possibly two more high second rounders are coming). Moving Lonzo also opens up opportunities to develop NAW and give him the minutes moving forward off the bench. Whatever it takes, I find the team or teams that still believe in Lonzo Ball and I take one or two veterans under contract for a few years off their hands so I can move forward.

E’twaun Moore and Darius Miller’s Expiring Contracts

Expiring Contracts have value on the trade market, but there is obviously a ticking clock on those contracts, and the value of Moore and Miller’s contracts will expire on February 6th. Originally, Miller was re-signed to be a sort of human trade exception to make a deal work in January or February. Griffin, obviously optimistic about his summer, was likely anticipating a situation in which the Pelicans could be buyers and needed extra salary to go get a quality player.

That situation has not come to fruition, but it could as early as next year. I believe the prudent play with Moore and/or Miller is to basically kick the can forward and swap their deals for players who expire after next season, possibly picking up an asset or simply a better player in the process. For example, the aforementioned Gorgui Dieng is an albatross on the Timberwolves books and prevent them from being a player next summer when other big contracts like Jeff Teague come off their books. Swapping Miller and Moore for Dieng would clear $17.3 million from their cap sheet and could allow them to add a significant player via free agency or through an uneven trade. Meanwhile, it basically rolls over what Miller and Moore provided as a trade exception this year while also taking up one less roster spot to do so.

And for the Pelicans troubles, they would be well within their rights to ask for a quality asset or two to make this swap. Jaylen Nowell and a couple of 2nds or even a heavily protected 1st wouldn’t be out of the question. A similar deal with Charlotte, where they can get out of Batum’s final year could make some sense as well, or Detroit can clear Tony Snell off their books so they can pay Drummond this summer and add to their core. Miami is an ideal candidate for this as well, as a Moore for Dion Waiters swap could both help them this year while helping their books both this season and next. It could be significant enough to produce a return on a KZ Okpala and/or a 1st rounder way out in 2025 or 2026.

The point is that if the Pelicans just let these guys expire, they will have lost their true value. Add to that, the Pelicans don’t really need cap room next offseason, and it makes sense to turn these contracts into contracts that can be used at the deadline next year if and when the Pels finally get their shit together.

Not Seeking, But Listening

Jrue Holiday

Just this summer, David Griffin was talking up Jrue Holiday as a dark horse MVP candidate. Heck, just 8 weeks ago Jrue was on cloud nine and seemed to be in love with this roster and its young core. A half dozen injuries and nearly two dozen losses later and it would be reasonable to see a very near future in which Jrue Holiday informs the team that he will not be staying long term, much like Anthony Davis did with one and a half years left on his deal.

In that scenario, I ask Jrue to be open to any and all teams and agree that in return, I will be active in moving him before the deadline. But if Jrue does not come to me with that respectful request, I would probably only move him if I were blown away by a deal. The reasoning for this is because I think that it is possible that we can turn it around with a few other moves and the return of Zion. While playoffs might be a long shot, finishing the season 23-10 is not out of the realm of possibility and then you take that momentum into the following season and build something great off of that.

The primary reason for keeping him, however, is that I think you are more likely to get a premium return in the offseason. While it is true he will have less time on his contract, the offseason is also the time where optimism and desperation run rampant, and there won’t be many high level free agents or trade targets on the market. Instead, what you will have are 5-10 teams who think they are really close, but have very few options to put them over the top. While Jrue would have been the 8th or 9th best guy who switched teams if he had switched in the 2019 offseason, there is a scenario where he could be the best player to switch teams in 2020 and that could come with a hefty price tag.

So, unless Jrue asks to be moved sooner rather than later, I hold onto him unless I am overpaid for his services. And what would overpaid look like? Boston giving me Jaylen Brown and either Smart or that Memphis pick would be an overpayment. The Heat giving me Herro, Winslow and Dragic plus multiple future swap rights would be an overpayment. Phoenix giving me Tyler Johnson, Bridges, Cam Johnson, and multiple future 1st round picks would be overpayment.

Offers like that, I would seriously consider in this two month window. Other than that, I am holding on to Holiday and moving on from some other pieces in hopes of putting together a better fitting roster around he, Ingram, and Zion.

JJ Redick

In a vacuum, most would call it a no brainer to seek out trades for a 35 year old veteran with a vast amount of playoff experience if you are a young team heading nowhere this season. But I see holding onto him having more benefits in the Pelicans specific situation than the alternative of trading him right now for yet another future middling asset.

The line of logic goes something like this – First of all, isn’t it entirely likely that Redick will fetch a similar haul next trade deadline as he will this year? In fact, there could be a scenario where he is even more highly sought after because not only will he be an asset on the court, but he will be an expiring deal as many teams try to clear their books for the summer of 2021.

Second, if we are talking about realistic returns, we are talking about young players like a Zhaire Smith or lottery protected first round picks. And while assets like that can boom, the much, much more likely outcome is they are just another middling player like Josh Hart or a do little to nothing player like Frank Jackson. The Pels have enough guys like that, and are likely to grab a few more over the years with all of the late 1st/early 2nd round picks they will have from the Lakers and Bucks trades.

Finally, on a team devoid of leadership, Redick appears to be the most vocal in the locker room and even stated on several podcasts this summer that a big part of choosing the Pelicans this summer was a desire to become a mentor at the latter stage of his career. Clearing this team full of vets and loading it with more young guys and assets with no names could be a recipe for an even bigger disaster.

Not only should the Pelicans keep Redick, but as I have advocated for in this piece, they should add a few more vets with multiple years on their contract to help build the culture. Now, if Redick comes to me and asks for a trade to a team he can win with, I would listen. But I would tell him that I would only do it if it makes sense for the team and in return, I would expect him to be a leader and professional while he was here and to continue to try and turn this around while I explored moving other guys first.

To move Redick this season, I would need more than just a lotto protected first and some filler – because I can get that next year. I would need a stable vet or two in the deal to replace him in the locker room, and preferably at least one of those guys would have to have multiple years on his deal so the players didn’t just see him as a rental who they don’t have to listen to. To give an example – Trevor Ariza and some future picks would work for me, as would Steven Adams and a pick/assets for JJ and Favors. Tim Hardaway Jr, the Warriors 2nd rounder, and Jalen Brunson for JJ and Moore or Miller would work. But outside of something like that, in combination with a request of JJ, I would rather hold onto him for at least another season.

The Others

Zion and Ingram – You want to offer me an MVP or a future MVP candidate like Luka or Giannis, then we can talk. Otherwise, scram.

Derrick Favors – Hard for me to see him fetching more than an early to mid 2nd rounder, and in that event I’d rather keep him and hold onto his bird rights.

Josh Hart – Another guy who could be more valuable to a revamped, healthy Pelicans roster than he would be on the open market right now. Even for a late 1st, I’d probably say no since the Pels will have so many young guys on the roster next year anyway.

Kenrich Williams – There is no world in which another team values him half as much as the Pels should. The exact kind of piece they should hold on to, and frankly, acquire more of.

Frank Jackson – It would be great to swap Frank for a similar underused player with potential at another position. Go take a flyer on a guy like Wesley Iwundu or Chandler Hutchinson and see if it is a better fit for all parties involved. Moving him forces the coaches hand to give NAW more minutes, even if he is struggling.

NAW and Jaxson Hayes – Again, they have more value to the Pels right now than they would have around the league. Need time to see what they are first, and time to play with Zion (and hopefully for a new coach).

Nicolo Melli – Keep him around and see if he gets more comfortable with the NBA game. If anything, his trade value will be higher a year from now when he is an expiring.


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