Trade Deadline: Buyers? Sellers? Why Not Both?

Published: January 26, 2020

With so many podcasts available these days, how is a Pelicans fan supposed to know who to believe? In the span of five days, you could download the Brian Windhorst podcast and hear him speculate about the Pelicans becoming buyers at this trade deadline or tune into the Lowe Post and hear its host imply that the Pelicans will be sellers. But what if both are right?

In most cases, a teams motivation is easy to figure out at this point of the season, but the Pelicans aren’t like most teams. Most teams don’t have a team comprised of late 20s quasi All-Star players, a 22 year old All Star, and a 19 year old future MVP. And on top of that, they are a team that can easily head into either direction in the standings over the next few weeks/months.

They are just 4 games from the 8th seed, and a healthy team that adds a small but significant piece could easily push for the playoffs as Zion’s minutes continue to increase. On the other hand, they could sell pieces and shut Zion down, and get within striking range of the third most lottery balls in the 2020 NBA draft lottery if they chose to go that route.

Analysts like it when it is simple, but there is nothing simple about figuring out the motivations of the New Orleans Pelicans. Yes, they want to win and make the playoffs but they also clearly know the present isn’t nearly as important as their future, as evidenced by how they are handling Zion. But what some fail to understand is that even if you are focused on the future, it does sometimes make sense to buy now, as an investment in the future.

To this day, David West still credits an aging, past his prime PJ Brown with teaching him how to be a pro on and off the court. Without the 36 year old Brown on that very young team, it is possible that it takes CP3 and David West a little longer to develop, a little longer to “get it.” Maybe they dont play in as many close games or win as many games in Paul’s rookie year, and those guys dont learn about playing in the clutch as often. That happens a year or two later instead, and the whole timetable gets pushed back. Maybe that magical 2007-08 season doesn’t happen.

PJ Brown wasnt on the 07-08 team, but he was a major part in building its foundation. Similarly, there could be guys kept on the roster or added to the roster over these next 2 or 3 years that lay a foundation for who the Pelicans are when they are competing for titles in years 4-10. Every young team that eventually grows up to win a title can point to that guy. Jarrett Jack was that guy, for example, for the recent Warriors dynasty.

On the other side, it does make sense to move veterans as a young team transitions. PJ Brown, himself, was moved to get a young, underachieving big man named Tyson Chandler. Whether it is trading them for a young player/picks, or maybe its just to open up minutes for a young guy already on the roster, it always makes sense for a front office to consider moving off a vet when they aren’t a contender.

So, without question, there are arguments for Griffin to consider both paths. There are also arguments for him to do absolutely nothing. He can stand pat, have bird rights on all these vets, and look into bringing them back next year. Maybe next February the path will be much more obvious, and if the team is just not ready to ascend yet, he can sell. Or, if they are ready to take off, he can buy.

But that is a year from now and nobody wants to wait that long. We need action now, and nobody wants to read an article advocating for their favorite team to do nothing. So my compromise is this: Why not buy AND sell? Why shouldn’t Griffin look at the pieces that might have more value to another team and sell them for assets, and then turn around and take future oriented pieces and move them for a player or two that can help on the court and/or in the locker room now?

The roster is overloaded at certain positions and weaker at others. On top of that, the position that is already loaded (guard) could have more added to it shortly as Didi Louzada could come over next year and the upcoming draft is loaded at guard (the Pelicans currently have 4 picks). So, moving a guard or two makes sense. There are also guys who are upcoming free agents, so conventional wisdom says to move them if you can get something now for a guy who might just walk in a few months.

Roster spots will become a valuable commodity for Griffin over the next few years. With all the young guys he has and all the picks he has in the pipeline, Griffin could see deminishing returns on young players and picks simply because he has no room on the roster or his coaches have no minutes to develop them. So, while many postulate about 3-for-1 trades in which we get something like Winslow, Herro, and Olynyk for Jrue Holiday, I push back and ask: Who else are you essentially trading away with Holiday? Not in the actual trade, but when it comes to playing time. If that trade cuts most of Josh Hart’s minutes, aren’t you effectively trading him too? And if so, is that deal as good when you look at it that way?

If anything, Griffin needs to send out more bodies than he brings back this trade deadline. The rotations are already tough for Gentry, and that is without getting guys like NAW or Melli any real minutes. In addition, he needs to consolidate draft picks. There will be no room for the players Griffin selects at 11, 35, 41, and 60 this summer. The Pelicans have 4 picks now in a bad draft, and people want to trade JJ for another one and be done? No, thank you. But what he should do is use those picks as a bundle in trades to get better picks.

This is the formula that makes sense for Griffin to follow. It’s not buy or sell, it’s looking for opportunites to do both while balancing out your roster and consolidating your books in the process. So, with all that said, what could that look like in terms of actual deals? Here are just a few examples of how Griffin could pull this offer across multiple deals.

Less is More, and Moore Nets Less

Trade 1: E’twaun Moore, Pelicans 2020 2nd, and Milwaukee 2020 2nd to the Sixers for Mike Scott, Shake Milton (cut), Atlanta’s 2020 2nd round pick, and the Knicks 2021 2nd round pick

Trade 2: Darius Miller, Frank Jackson and Pelicans 2021 2nd rounder for Thaddeus Young

In this set of deals, the Pelicans send out three second rounders and only get back two, but the two they get both figure to be in the low 30’s, while the ones they trade away will be in the 40s and 50s. Historically, the draft usually falls off right around 38 or 39, so this is like trading 3 lotto tickets that almost never pay out for two lotto tickets that do about 25% of the time. As for the playoffs, two guards go out and that finally opens up minutes for NAW. Although he isnt in the deal, you have to factor in NAW as an addition in these trades. The players coming from Philly probably never make an impact on this team, but Thaddeus Young is under contract for two years and can be the hard nosed player that does all the dirty work next to Ingram and Zion. On top of that, he is a first class vet and professional through and through. This set of trades both helps balance out the current roster and improves future assets, and is a perfect example of a buy AND sell mentality.

Trading Favors, Getting a Favor from New York

Trade 1: Derrick Favors, Bucks 2020 2nd rounder and Frank Jackson to the Clippers for Mo Harkless, Rodney McGruder and the Clippers 2020 1st

Trade 2: Darius Miller, Pelicans 2020 and 2021 2nd rounders for Taj Gibson

In this set of moves, the Pelicans again send off three second rounders that are unlikely to have any chance of having an impact for a quality pick. After doing these trades, the Pelicans would have their early 1st and then 2 picks in the 26-35 range that could be packaged to move up or have enough value to get the Pels a future 1st (or multiple high quality 2nds) in future years.

As for the players, Taj Gibson has a lot of the skill sets Favors brings with a little more range and toughness (though sacrificing some size). The Pels also remove Frank Jackson from Gentry’s list of options, allowing NAW some more minutes. And Harkless has a skill set that could be useful in certain spots. He also could be a guy that could be brought back as next year’s Miller, where you overpay for a trade chip. And speaking of trade chips, McGruder’s salary is that perfect little size that helps deals get completed as well. And Taj Gibson also has a team option on year two, so you can let him walk if you want cap room for some reason in the summer or you can pick up the option and have another salary to move. As a pure hypothetical, Gibson, Lonzo, McGruder and a multitude of 1st round picks for Bradley Beal would work this summer when the Wizards are able to trade him.

Young Vet In, Old Vet Out

Trade 1: JJ Redick, 2020 Pelicans 2nd rounder, and 2020 Bucks 2nd rounder to the Nets, Joe Harris to the Mavericks (using Harrison Barnes exception), Wilson Chandler, the Warriors 2020 2nd rounder, and the 2020 76ers 1st rounder to the Pelicans

Trade 2: Darius Miller, Frank Jackson, 2020 76ers 1st rounder, 2021 Cavs 2nd rounder, and 2021 Pelicans 2nd rounder for Robert Covington

The Wolves wanted a young player plus first and second round picks for Covington? Well, here you go. The Pels get essentially two first round picks for trading Redick (and some middling 2nds) and ship off one of them plus some other quality picks they got in past trades for a solid 3-and-D combo forward on a good contract.

They also cleared room in the backcourt, not only for NAW but potentially Didi and/or a top draft pick next year. The tough part with trading Redick is not only what you lose by letting him go, but the possible bad perception you could get around the league by signing a guy and selling him on being a mentor, then shipping him out for assets a few months later. That is why, if Griffin were to deal JJ, it has to look like it might be something JJ wanted.

JJ and his family live in Brooklyn, so this would work. He could go live at home and then play with a title contender once KD returns next year. The Nets like it because he is more cost controlled than Harris will be after this season and JJ likely would have a higher approval rating from KD and Kyrie.

Back to the Pels, this also helps them clear up some usage issues. Right now, there aren’t enough shots to go around and to be frank, JJ doesnt help that much when he is getting shots up. So your choices are – overpay him as a decoy or utilize him to his max, but take those opportunities away from a guy who will be here long term and needs those opportunities to grow. When you also add in the fact that you have bird rights on E’twaun, and he could give you a lot of what JJ does if you want/need that, this is a path Griffin should explore. As long as JJ is cool with the destination, that is.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

To cut to the chase, there is too much of a few things on this team and just being a seller won’t fix that. Trade away vets for more young guys and/or picks. Cool….now we have too many young guys and picks, so expect to see diminishing returns on both of those things.

Instead, the Pelicans should focus on consolidating assets while restructuring the roster in a way that optimizes the guys who will be here for the long haul. There are a ton of guys on this roster whose greatest effect on a team can only be had with the ball in their hands. Some of those guys have to go and some more (and better) versions of Kenrich Williams need to come in.

Griffin should look to both buy and sell in the upcoming weeks, as neither path alone can get the current roster and the future assets to the place they need to be. And as a bonus, we get to watch the talking heads try and figure out just what kind of voodoo magic Griffin is trying to work, as he takes the conventional wisdom this time of year and flips it on its head.

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