The Pelicans landed a huge haul from the Lakers in exchange for Anthony Davis. Will it be enough to catapult them through a rebuild?
By now, you already know how this went down. In exchange for sending Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, the New Orleans Pelicans received the following:
– Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart
– No. 4 pick in 2019
– 8-30 protected pick in 2021 (unprotected in 2022)
– Pick swap rights in 2023
– Unprotected pick in 2024 with the right to defer to 2025
That is, as they say in the business, a massive haul, and it’s notable that the Pelicans appear ready to build around Zion Williamson in a far different fashion than they did Davis. After selecting Davis at No. 1 and Austin Rivers at No. 10 in 2012, New Orleans traded away its first-round picks in 2013, 2014, and 2015, then sent 2016 first-rounder Buddy Hield and their 2017 pick to the Kings in the DeMarcus Cousins deal, and their 2018 first-round pick to the Bulls to acquire Nikola Mirotic after Cousins tore his Achilles. In other words, they surrounded Davis with essentially zero fellow first-round picks during his growth stage. It’s safe to say that won’t be the case with Williamson.
The Pelicans added a whole lot to their coffers here, so let’s dig in on the value and potential value of these assets.
It’s difficult to imagine Ball landing in a better situation than the one he’ll find in New Orleans. Not only will he get to run the floor with Williamson and put the best parts of his skill set to their best possible use; he may have also been paired his platonic ideal backcourt partner in Jrue Holiday.
Like Ball, Holiday has excellent size and can guard either backcourt position. Like Ball, Holiday can work either on or off the ball and is likely best suited to work as part of a burden-sharing arrangement in the backcourt. The duo will likely be counted on to anchor New Orleans’ defense along with Williamson, and it’s likely that trio will be extremely aggressive in hounding ball-handlers and jumping passing lanes in order to create turnovers and get out on the break — both to take advantage of their gifts in the open floor and to minimize the amount of time they have to play in the half-court, where they should be expected to see some (relative) struggles.
If the Pelicans decide Ball is either not a fit or simply not worth their time, he should still have value around the league as a former No. 2 overall pick who, while he has had tremendous struggles both staying healthy and shooting when he’s actually been on the floor, has shown great potential defensively and is known as a potentially transformational passer. Young teams in need of a point guard like the Suns, Bulls, or Magic would do well to come calling over the next few days and see if David Griffin is willing to redirect Ball their way. If he does, that could generate even more future draft value for the Pelicans.
Ingram is perhaps the most controversial asset the Pelicans received, which is really saying something when Ball is also involved in the trade. Ingram struggled badly as a rookie but has been far better each of the past two years, but he also developed almost no chemistry with LeBron James last season and looked uncomfortable transitioning back to more of an off-ball role.
He doesn’t turn 22 years old until September, but the “his body will fill out” crowd seems to be thinning by the day. Ingram might just be one of those guys that stays super lanky forever. He has learned how to occasionally leverage the tremendous length he has with extendo-layup finishes at the rim and canny passes over the top of smaller defenders (especially on the break), but it’s safe to say that it has not quite all come together yet for him. (He’s still a poor shooter and his effort on defense tends to wax and wane.) That means there’s still upside to tapped within his skill set, but it also means that extending him for big money comes with a good deal of risk. New Orleans has clean books beyond next season and can afford to take the risk if it wants, but it also would not be surprising if they elected to let him play out the season and prove his worth — especially given that he is coming off the deep venous thrombosis that ended his 2019 season.
Hart is one of those guys who can fit on essentially any team. He has proven himself extremely versatile on both sides of the ball, working as everything from a corner shooter to a post defender against opposing big men. He doesn’t have nearly the ceiling of the two teammates he’s heading to New Orleans with, but there is also far more certainty about what he actually is as an NBA player, and that can often be comforting — especially on rebuilding(-ish) teams. If he can split the difference between his rookie and sophomore year 3-point percentages, he’s a valuable role player.
Given the questions surrounding each of those young players, the Lakers essentially had to splash the pot with draft picks in order to get their man. And that’s where the real potential for incredible value from New Orleans’ perspective comes.
While there is widespread belief that this is a so-called “three-player draft” and the Pelicans now own the fourth pick, they have plenty of options available to them at that spot. They can stay put and take someone like Jarrett Culver, De’Andre Hunter, or Darius Garland. They can call the Knicks or Grizzlies and see if there’s any possibility they can move up to grab Ja Morant or R.J. Barrett. They can try moving the pick — either by itself or as part of a package — for a young player who has fallen out of favor or doesn’t fit well with his current team, for a strong veteran who would accentuate Williamson’s strengths and augment his weaknesses as he grows into whatever he’s going to be, or for even more picks later in the draft. (The Hawks have been widely rumored to be interested in moving up and own the No. 8, 10, and 17 selections.)
The picks further into the future provide even more potential value. The 2021 selection will either be in the top half of the lottery or else deferred to 2022, which is shaping up to be the “double draft” when high school seniors are eligible to declare for the first time since 2005. The Lakers are not guaranteed to have either James or Davis on their roster for 2021-22 season due to their respective player options, so it’s possible that pick could be quite good. (Even if LeBron picks up his player option for that season, it will be his age-37 campaign.) James may be retired by 2023, when the Pelicans own swap rights. By the time the Pelicans have the right to choose between the Lakers’ 2024 and 2025 picks, Davis’ potential max contract will be winding down and he’ll be entering his early 30s.
It’s tempting to say that the Pelicans are making a big bet on the Lakers somehow managing to screw this up; but the future picks should yield good value for them even if the Lakers are good. Having extra picks to throw into trades as additional assets is always valuable. The ability to bring in young, cost-controlled players who should improve over the course of their contacts is always a desirable thing to have next to a star player like Williamson — especially when you’re working in a market that has historically not been a free-agent destination. And of course, it helps to have someone like Griffin running the show. The Pelicans are set up fairly well to maximize the Williamson era with all these assets, but the key will be managing not to squander them like they did during the Davis era.