The Pelican’s Best Trade Right Now Doesn’t Involve AD

By guest columnist Chris Kelly.

The basketball world went wild Monday morning when Woj sent out the tweet that teams and fans alike have been eagerly awaiting for months: 

An undeniable Hall of Fame talent, Davis will be the biggest star traded in over four decades, dating back to Kareem Abdul Jabaar’s trade from the Bucks to the Lakers. The prospect of acquiring this generational talent sent front offices and their fans racing to the trade machine to determine what offer their team could make to entice Dell Demps and the New Orleans front office.

Laker fans rejoiced, confident that GM LeBron would strike a deal to get fellow Klutch Sports Client Davis in purple and gold for this year’s stretch run. However, despite Davis’ demands, the Pelicans don’t have to trade him this season. And in fact, it would behoove them not to. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other trades that New Orleans should make.

Why Trading AD Now Would Be a Mistake:

There are plenty of trades that the Pelicans could make now. The most commonly cited possibility starts with the Lakers and a package headlined by Ingram, Ball, and Kuzma. The Nuggets could start their offer with Jamal Murray and a collection of their young assets. Both those trades are interesting, but neither holds a blue chip player with certain All-NBA potential in return (I am lower on Murray – a streaky shooter and inconsistent defender – than most).

The Bulls and Knicks both have interesting packages starting with young talent – Lauri Markkanen and/or Wendell Carter from Chicago and Kristaps Porzingis and/or Kevin Knox from New York. The crown jewel of either of these offers would be a potential top pick, and the chance to select Zion Williamson – a player many have said is the best prospect since Anthony Davis in 2012.

But making such a trade now would be a massive gamble – there are no guarantees that the pick traded for would land at number one. In fact, if either team traded for Davis, they would certainly bow out of the tank race and see their odds for Zion plummet. If New Orleans has their eyes on Zion, it would be counter-intuitive to trade Davis until the draft order is set later this summer.

The Philadelphia 76ers are an enticing trade partner, with their own 6’10” stud Ben Simmons appearing to be a less than ideal fit next to Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler. But pulling the plug before that group has a chance to compete in the playoffs seems rushed for a franchise that has preached patience. Besides, Simmons’ low cap figure would mean the already thin 76ers would have to gut even more of their depth. A Davis-Simmons swap seems much more realistic this summer, after the 76ers lose in 5 games to Boston a second time and the Philly fans begin to turn on their second young star.

Speaking of Boston- much has been written about their inability to trade for Davis until the summer due to the Rose Rule. While it remains to be seen if Danny Ainge would part with him, a package this summer headlined by star in the making Jayson Tatum and a selection of assets from Ainge’s stash (Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Robert Williams, Gordon Hayward, Kings 2019 Pick, Grizzlies 2019 top 8 protected pick, Clippers 2019 Lottery Protected Pick, and all their own picks) could potentially trump any other offer on the market.

Of course, there are other franchises that offer somewhat compelling packages – Toronto, Phoenix, and Portland have promising young talent– and you can never rule out a dark horse emerging. After all, no one had Paul George going to OKC or Kawhi Leonard to Toronto in the immediate days after those star’s trade demands. But from the obvious players listed above, it seems like there are three players New Orleans could get in return that have the most star potential.

Ben Simmons, Zion Williamson (through the first overall pick), and Jayson Tatum appear to be by far the most desirable assets on the market. However, two of those (Zion and Tatum) are all but impossible to get until after the season is over, and its highly unlikely that Philly would consider parting with Simmons now.

So if there is no bonafide star coming in return until the summer, why trade Anthony Davis now? New Orleans already traded a superstar for a collection of nice, but not great assets (Chris Paul for Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Kaman, and what became the 2012 10th overall draft pick, Austin Rivers). That trade was a disaster, offering the next iteration of the Pelicans no value. The future of New Orleans Basketball is on life support – make a trade now that doesn’t return an exciting, bankable star, and New Orleans might become the new Seattle.

Besides, any trade offer that’s on the table today would likely still be there five months from now. The Lakers may threaten to pull their deal off the table after the trade deadline- but that would be simple posturing. LeBron didn’t come to LA to be the 4 seed and lose in the second round. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka certainly will feel the pressure to deliver a second and third star this summer – no matter the cost.

Holding onto Davis through the rest of the season doesn’t mean that the Pelicans should still be trying to compete. Now five and a half games out of the playoffs, and only three games from having top-6 lottery odds, they would be smart to turn their eye to the future.

That starts with figuring out what to do with Davis. As the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported yesterday, Davis is currently dealing with a thumb injury that sometimes requires surgery. As he writes:

If the finger did eventually require surgery, then shutting down Davis for the rest of the season could be beneficial to all parties. Davis would get his finger fixed; the Pelicans would help their lottery odds; and prospective suitors would get a healthy, bubble-wrapped Davis.”

Independent of whether they shutdown Davis, the Pelicans should begin to look to trade off their complementary pieces. While Davis often claimed to be playing alone, the Pelicans have several complementary pieces that would be better served playing for a playoff contender than a team destined for the lottery. Starting to trade these pieces now would help kickstart their rebuild, fetching the Pelicans a solid foundation to add to this summer when they cash in Davis. 

Lets start with the obvious:

Nikola Mirotic

Averaging 16.7 points on 45% shooting from the field and 37% from three, Nikola Mirotic is having yet another solid season as a floor spacing big that can snatch up rebounds (8.3 per game). In the modern NBA, players with Mirotic’s skill set are vital. In the final year of a deal that pays him 12.5 million a year, Mirotic is a prime candidate to be moved before he walks this season.

A team that was linked to him at last years deadline, the Utah Jazz offer a natural fit. Mirotic would give the Jazz another perimeter threat to space the floor for Donovan Mitchell-Rudy Gobert pick and rolls, pushing Jae Crowder to the bench.

New Orleans: Nikola Mirotic and Ian Clark

Utah: Derrick Favors and Grayson Allen

A trade built around Derrick Favors and Grayson Allen offers the Pelicans a shot at Favors, a former top 5 pick who is only 27. Favors has never been in an ideal situation, spending most of hist time playing in two big man line ups that limit his opportunity.

Currently averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds in only 23 minutes per game, Favors could thrive in a new opportunity in New Orleans. And while Grayson Allen hasn’t wowed thus far in his rookie campaign, he’s the type of young talent that the Pelicans should be targeting as they start a rebuild.

Another team likely to be interested in Mirotic is Portland, who is always in a hunt to improve their depth beyond the Lillard-McCollum paring. A lineup of Lillard, McCollum, Aminu, Mirotic, and Nurkic raises the Trailblazer’s ceiling and gives them the offensive firepower to matchup with any non-Warriors team in the west.

New Orleans: Nikola Mirotic

Portland: Myers Leonard, Caleb Swanigan, 2019 2nd round pick

Meanwhile, New Orleans would receive Leonard’s contract which turns into an expiring next year, and could be flipped at the 2020 deadline for additional assets. Caleb Swanigan has shown flashes of potential over the past year and a half, and a 2nd round pick is another asset as New Orleans builds for the future.

Other teams will undoubtedly come calling for Mirotic, such as Philadelphia (Wilson Chandler’s expiring and a young asset like Landry Shamet) or San Antonio (Paul Gasol’s contract and the 2019 Raptors 1st round pick). New Orleans would be wise to listen.

E’twaun Moore

A former second round pick, Moore has carved out a nice role for himself as a sharpshooting two-guard averaging 12 ppg while shooting 48% from the field and 42% from three. He’s not a player who will win games on his own, but rather one that helps stretch the court and give the players next to him a better opportunity to thrive.

At with a year and a half at 8 million per left on his contract, Moore isn’t a player that the Pelicans have to trade now. But he offers far more value to a competing team than a rebuilding one, and teams could certainly use his shooting.

Moore is exactly the kind of player that the Oklahoma City Thunder should be targeting. Their two-guard position has been a revolving door of poor shooters and defenders since they traded James Harden in 2012 (yikes). Moore could step in and give the Thunder a playoff proven floor spacer that they desperately need; hopefully replacing a couple of the five threes Russell Westbrook jacks up a night at 25%.

New Orleans: E’Twaun Moore and Chicago’s 2019 2nd round pick

Oklahoma City: Alex Abrines, Terrence Ferguson, and OKC’s 2019 2nd round pick.

Giving up Terrence Ferguson stings, but with Westbrook in his age 30 season and Paul George not far behind, the Thunder need to make serious efforts at surrounding their core with the best fit talent. Swapping 2nd round picks might seem minor at first glance – but Chicago’s pick will fall in the 30-35 range, a full 20 picks earlier than OKC’s pick.

For New Orleans, Terrence Ferguson is a raw but high-potential young guard just a year removed from being a top-20 pick. He has some kinks to work out, but he could conceivably grow into a solid starter role for the next competing Pelicans team.

If New Orleans is more interested in gathering draft capital, the Pistons present an equally interesting trade partner. After missing on most of their draft picks since 2012, the Pistons are starving for depth and shooting around their “big three” of Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond.

Griffin is having his best year since he finished as a top-3 MVP candidate in 2014 but the Pistons still find themselves 3 games outside of the playoff picture. Should the standings hold, this would be the ninth time in the past ten years that Detroit has missed the playoffs. Trading for Moore would give the Pistons a boost over their current guard rotation, helping fuel a playoff push.

New Orleans: E’twaun Moore

Detroit: Jon Leuer and Luke Kennard

New Orleans swallows the contract of Jon Leurer – which becomes an expiring after this year – and adds a young player to their rebuilding efforts.

Jrue Holiday

Finally, we come to the most interesting player on the Pelicans besides Davis- Jrue Holiday. Having an excellent year averaging 21 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds per game on 54% and 33% shooting while playing lockdown defense, Holiday is on the bubble to make his second all star game. Still only 28 years old, Holiday’s contract pays him 25 million per year for three more seasons, locking him up through the rest of his prime.

Recent comments by Holiday that Davis was “like 90 percent” of the reason why he resigned in New Orleans indicate that he would have no interest in sticking around on a rebuilding Pelicans squad. And nor should he. Holiday is an incredibly effective player who can help win playoff series – just ask Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Holiday can run an offense or shift off-ball, in addition to guarding the opponent’s best backcourt player. That makes him an ideal partner for any team looking to shake up their backcourt. In fact, Holiday’s unique abilities would make him the perfect partner for a team with a point-forward as their main ball handler.

Take for example, Ben Simmons. Holiday could slide off ball and spot up next to Simmons while guarding the opponent’s best guard on the other end, freeing Simmons or Jimmy Butler from having to chase around quicker guards like Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, or Kemba Walker.  When Simmons hits the bench, Holiday could run the offense and initiate pick and rolls with Embiid  – just as he has been doing all season long with Davis.

New Orleans: Jrue Holiday, Darius Miller

Philadelphia: Wilson Chandler, Markelle Fultz, Justin Patton, and Miami’s 2021 First Round Pick.

Trading for Holiday would create an expensive core of Holiday, Reddick, Butler, Simmons, and Embiid core for the foreseeable future. As such, acquiring Holiday would remove Philadelphia from this summer’s free agency sweepstakes. But memories of coming up empty handed last year and slim chances of signing a player better than Holiday this summer should convince Philly that this is the right move.

Should they want to get back into the Anthony Davis sweepstakes this summer, there’s nothing keeping Philadelphia from repackaging Holiday’s remaining three years to another contender and using those assets and Simmons to swing a trade. Meanwhile, Darius Miller is a solid three-point shooting wing that can help improve the Sixers’ bench lineups, and provide more value than Chandler currently is.

For New Orleans, this trade would kick off their rebuild in a big way – starting with improving their draft pick this year. Fultz is still an enigma, but there’s a reason he went first overall 18 months ago. As DeAngelo Russell is proving in Brooklyn right now, point guards need time to develop. Often times a change of scenery is just what they need – something which is undeniably true for Fultz. Taken in the same draft as Fultz, Justin Patton has also been injured for almost all of his first year and half in the league. But he’s an exciting big man with unicorn potential that many said was a steal at 16th pick.

These two players are gambles – they could very well bust. But there’s the chance that one or both realize their potential in turn into all-stars. To do so, they need playing time and a low-pressure environment- something which New Orleans can provide. Facing down the beginning of a rebuild, New Orleans needs to make bets on high-variance players. 

The same logic that applies to a Holiday-Simmons pairing also fits with the league’s other young and exciting point forward – Dallas’ Luka Doncic.

Dallas was previously linked to the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley, but that became a messy fit for a couple of reasons. Conley would take the ball out of Doncic’s hands – and at 31 years old, the Mavs would be paying for the downside of his career. On the other hand, Holiday could play off Doncic and at only 28 years old, fits their timeline better. Upgrading from the discontented Dennis Smith Jr. to Holiday would raise Dallas’ floor, positioning them for a push into the playoffs this year in and in the future.

Of course, Dallas might pause and consider the cautionary tale presented by how the Pelicans approached Davis’ early years. Having a young star come in and exceed can make their front office feel pressure to accelerate their timeline and deliver immediately – as the Pelicans did with trades for Holiday and Tyreke Evans after Davis’ rookie year. Doing so can surround the star with talent good enough to make the playoffs, but not progress any further. However, never one for a rebuild, and not owning their first round pick this year, Mark Cuban’s tendencies would favor this trade. 

New Orleans: Jrue Holiday

Dallas: Dennis Smith Jr., Wes Matthews, and Dallas’ unprotected 2021 first round pick.

New Orleans gets their new point guard of their future – and an exciting one at that. The first round pick likely wont be incredibly valuable, but is yet another asset for a rebuilding team.

Matthew’s contract expires after this year, giving the Pelicans flexibility to pursue free agents. But the wiser move might be to pivot and move Matthews’ contract to a team looking to shed bad contracts in advance of free agency – like the Knicks – and pick up extra draft capital in the process.

The Pelicans are at a crossroads right now. They’ll have to trade Anthony Davis – but when they do pull the trigger, they need to make sure they’re getting legitimate star power in return.

Waiting until the summer – when more assets will be available-  gives them the best chance at doing so. But they shouldn’t sit idly by until then. Moving Mirotic, Moore, and Holiday helps kickstart their rebuild, and are the best bet to prepare for a post-Davis world.