Dreaming of the Draft

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Published: June 17, 2015

It’s hard to argue that the Pelicans are going to trade for a draft pick. According to a source, they haven’t brought anyone in for workouts yet, and the rumor mill has been churching up nothing for the Pelicans thus far. Recent history doesn’t suggest the Pelicans will be trading into the draft either. Since drafting Anthony Davis, GM Dell Demps has traded away every pick (or player he has selected in the draft) besides center Jeff Withey (who may or may not get renewed this year.) Depending on who you ask, the New Orleans Pelicans may be as likely to trade into the NBA Draft (much less the lottery) as the Philadelphia 76ers are looking sign Dwyane Wade to a max contract. In other words, that doesn’t seem to be in their purview. At the same time, the Pelicans may want to rethink that position. In a draft that is deep, with a superstar who has hit his stride and is just 22 years old, there are some interesting factors that may lead to the Pelicans benefitting from checking out the market for draft picks.

When the Pelicans traded two first round picks for Jrue Holiday, many in the league panned the move. First round draft picks were being valued as high as ever, and the team was giving up two, without great protection. But Demps took advantage of a market inequality. He saw everyone valuing draft picks high, and how his young budding superstar didn’t have any veteran running mates to grow with, so he acquired Holiday for picks. For a team that doesn’t exactly have a history of high-profile free agent signings, the team used their cap and their picks to acquire an All-Star. The market dictated the value of the Pelicans’ picks and Demps cashed it in.

This year, some teams in the lottery (or who just sneaked into the playoffs) seem to feel they are all just a veteran away from reaching their goal next season. Teams as high in the draft as the New York Knicks (No. 4) and the Detroit Pistons (No.8) have been rumored to be looking to trade their pick. While neither team is linked to the Pelicans, these teams show how certain franchises (no matter their records or rosters) have an inordinate amount of hope in regards to what they can accomplish next season. It also shows how teams with aging stars, or coaches with nefarious cap situations, are hoping to cement some sort of the oncourt success before the cap explodes in 2016. In other words, there is a market for teams looking to trade out of the draft.

But looking at the best teams of the last few years, and player movement, it makes some sense for the Pelicans to look into picking up a draft pick this season. Superstars don’t want to be the youngest guy on their roster. While the Pelicans aren’t exactly the 2001 Portland Trailblazers, they don’t have a single player younger than Davis, or within two years of Davis, that is clearly a long-term fit. When the Pelicans first completed the trade for Holiday, and subsequent trade to acquire Tyreke Evans, it made a lot of sense. The team wanted some young veteran ball handlers that can help provide Davis with enough space so that he can develop his offense. But the Pelicans don’t need that kind of player anymore; Davis is a monster unto himself. And with a new coach in Alvin Gentry, he can probably use some younger players who are eager to learn. The idea of getting a younger running mate for Anthony Davis would also be huge. Sprite commercials aside, LeBron James isn’t going back to Cleveland without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Every Kevin Durant to Washington story starts with him coming home, but is validated by John Wall and Bradley Beal. If the Pelicans want to keep Davis long-term, and contend long-term, getting a star younger player is paramount.

This may be the best opportunity for the Pelicans to dip into the draft. Their picks will only lower and lower as they win more and more games (a byproduct of having one of the best players in the league at the tender age of 22). And the Pelicans proved last year that they can overcome the loss of nearly any player not named Davis by winning despite injuries to essentially everyone. Trading a vet now doesn’t necessarily mean the Pelicans will be taking a step back. Having Davis essentially means the Pelicans have a foolproof fallback. If some teams are undervaluing their picks for instant gratification, the Pelicans can strike now and land a potential star and running mate for Davis, at an economical rate, that depending on the contract they send ;over will enable the Pelicans to have the cap space in 2016 to cement the Pelicans as a championship contender.

Whether it’s a Willie Cauley-Stein, which would pair Davis up with his Kentucky brethren and potentially make the Pelicans the best defensive team in the league in five years (I personally think he is a perfect fit for Darren Erman’s defense.) Kelly Oubre, who is a prototypical 3 and D player, being 6’7 with a 7’2 wingspan, can score off the dribble drive and has range from three. Or Frank Kaminsky, who could be a bigger stronger Ryan Anderson that can play center so Davis can stay at the power forward position, the Pelicans would have options for having a young cheap player grow alongside Davis and learn the system. One of the undervalued (and underused) benefits of having a young superstar, is that his work ethic is contagious. Players aren’t going to watch a young superstar work out every day and ignore him. They will follow suit. If the Pelicans are still in love with the San Antonio Spurs model, look at how Tim Duncan helped Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili improve, and how the three of them got Kawhi Leonard to ascend to a level no one expected. None of the latter three players were drafted any higher than Leonard at 15. Getting a young star to pair up with Davis is a good bet, because he is going to help carry that player to his ultimate potential.

Hell, depending on the move, the Pelicans can make these moves without (or maybe helping) clear cap space next year, in order to make room for a certain you know who.

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