For the second time in the span of eight years, the New Orleans Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery and will have the top overall selection in a draft that features a generational talent. In 2012, the Pelicans drafted Anthony Davis and it appears they’ll draft Zion Williamson this time around. Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that Davis and Williamson will ever wear a NOLA jersey at the same time.
Davis made a trade request in the middle of the 18-19 season. Davis felt his time with the Pelicans had run its course and he wanted to go to a contender. After some well-publicized negotiations with the Los Angeles Lakers ended without a deal, Davis awkwardly finished the season with the Pelicans. After the NBA let the Pelicans know they would fine them should the team sit a perfectly healthy Davis, New Orleans began giving Davis cameo appearances for the remainder of the regular season.
This awkwardness carried throughout the rest of the season into the offseason. The Pelicans fired Dell Demps as general manager shortly after the trade deadline. The Pelicans eventually hired David Griffin, the architect of the Cleveland Cavaliers teams that reached four consecutive NBA Finals. Griffin was given full control over basketball operations and the task of getting things back on track in New Orleans.
While the specter of trading Davis loomed over Griffin’s initial days with the club, the first order of business was the draft lottery. The Pelicans jumped from the seventh spot all the way up to the first overall spot. Speaking after the lottery, Griffin stopped short of guaranteeing the team would draft Williamson, but all indications are that is the plan. Griffin did reiterate that the team’s first priority is to try and find a workable solution to keep Davis in New Orleans.
Some have speculated that adding Williamson to the mix might be enough to keep Davis with the only NBA team he’s ever played for. But almost immediately after the lottery, there were multiple reports that Davis remains committed to playing elsewhere next season. Griffin will likely try one more time to pitch his superstar, but he’s also prudent enough to know when to move on.
With Williamson seemingly a lock to be in the fold, it’s now paramount that Griffin find a trade for Davis that adds assets to build around Williamson, unlike the Pelicans failure to do so around Davis. Davis is one of the NBA’s best players and he’ll only turn 27 midway through the upcoming season. Griffin should be able to return a package of young talent and draft picks to hasten his rebuilding efforts.
While all of the other 29 NBA teams will make a call to New Orleans, only a few have the assets to trade for Davis, while also having a chance to convince him stay when he’s a free agent in 2020. The prime suitors are expected to be the Lakers once again, the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks. The Lakers can offer a package of young players and the fourth overall pick this season. The Celtics can offer a package of young players and a bundle of draft picks for the Pelicans to choose from. And the Knicks have the third overall selection in this year’s draft, while also having a handful of young players they can send to New Orleans.
No matter what, Griffin is going to have a nice base to build around with Williamson and a whole bunch of assets. What’s almost as important is what happens after Davis is traded.
If the Pelicans are starting a full rebuild, there is little reason to keep veteran guard Jrue Holiday. Now that Holiday is over the injury issues that plagued him for years, he’s the type of two-way player that contenders covet. He’d be one of the best point guards available this summer and there are a handful of teams looking for help at that spot. Trading Holiday could net New Orleans even more assets.
Ideally, the Pelicans would like to dump the final season of Solomon Hill’s contract in a Davis or Holiday trade, but they won’t lessen their return by insisting on it. They can also move on from E’Twaun Moore, who could net a decent return, as teams are always looking for wing shooters.
It seems likely that New Orleans will guarantee the contracts for Kenrich Williams, Frank Jackson and Christian Wood. Williams became a starter by midseason and is a steal on a minimum deal. Jackson finally got past some injuries and showed enough to be back. And Wood was dominant when he finally got minutes at the end of the season.
The Pelicans could also exercise their team option for Jahlil Okafor, who seemed to find a role as a backup center. He played his best basketball since his rookie season. Okafor looks healthy again and like he could be a contributor as a second unit scorer for years to come.
Cheick Diallo, who has flashed at times, will likely get a qualifying offer with a chance to return. He’s a developing player as a backup big, and won’t impede the progress of any of the team’s other options.
Beyond that, the rest of the free agents are probably tied to team direction. If the Pelicans are kicking off a teardown, players like Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Ian Clark and Darius Miller are probably headed elsewhere. Stanley Johnson hasn’t shown enough to garner much of a contract offer as a restricted free agent. He could be back if his market doesn’t develop and New Orleans has a need on the wing.
In reality though, none of the free agents and partial/non-guaranteed players really matter all that much. It’s all about finding trades for Davis and, to a lesser-degree, Holiday. It’s Zion time in New Orleans and the Pelicans have to maximize their talent around him, or they could be looking at Davis 2.0 in a matter of years. They got the guy to do just that in David Griffin and winning the draft lottery has things off to a great start.
Guaranteed Contracts (4): Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts (4): Dairis Bertans, Frank Jackson, Kenrich Williams, Christian Wood
Potential Free Agents (8): Trevon Bluiett (RFA – Two-Way), Ian Clark (UFA), Cheick Diallo (RFA), Stanley Johnson (RFA), Darius Miller (UFA), Jahlil Okafor (UFA – Team Option), Elfrid Payton (UFA), Julius Randle (UFA – Player Option)
“Dead” Money on Cap ($0): None
First Round Draft Pick(s): Pick #1
Maximum Cap Space: $26.6 million
Projected Cap Space: $15.2 million