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Brace yourselves for a torrent of NBA activity starting next week.
For the first time in more than nine months, teams will be able to make trades. The window to wheel and deal is expected to reopen “shortly before the NBA draft,” ESPN reported Monday. With the draft scheduled for Nov. 18 and free agency slated to begin Nov. 20, that means the Pelicans will have a window of approximately two weeks to reshape their roster before training camp opens.
The decision to tip off next season Dec. 22, which came at the urging of the NBA’s television partners, has put a massive strain on front offices. Here is a guide to the three biggest questions David Griffin, Trajan Langdon and the Pelicans’ brain trust will wrestle with.
1. Is a Jrue Holiday trade imminent?
Jrue Holiday is a coveted piece around the NBA. In October, Yahoo Sports reported that as many as 10 teams were showing interest in acquiring him. Holiday’s appeal is obvious: He’s a versatile offensive player who can play either guard spot, and on the opposite end, he’s arguably the game’s best perimeter defender. That Holiday is a beloved teammate is only icing on the cake.
Last December, Griffin pushed back hard on the notion that New Orleans was looking to deal him. Last week, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations struck a different tone when asked about the possibility of trading the Pelicans’ longest-tenured player.
“We’re trying to build a team that can be highly competitive today and build toward a sustainable future,” Griffin said. “If that means that Jrue is part of that, that’s special for us because he loves being with us and we love the way he plays. If the best way to build toward that future and the best way to put him in the best position to succeed is for him to be traded, that’s what ends up happening.”
The key phrase is “sustainable future.” Griffin has used it several times over the past few weeks. The Pelicans want to compete for a playoff spot now, but their primary goal is to build a championship contender around Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram a few years down the road. That’s why Holiday could be on the move soon.
The Nuggets are one team who’ve been in the hunt for Holiday. They could offer a package of Gary Harris, Bol Bol and Monte Morris — and potentially even a pick.
The Nets are are also rumored to be interested. Any deal between Brooklyn and New Orleans would likely involve Caris LeVert, a 6-foot-6 slashing guard who’s under contract for the next three seasons.
Two other teams to watch: Philadelphia and Atlanta. The 76ers could dangle Al Horford and Matisse Thybulle, which would would net the Pelicans a starting center for the next two seasons and a 23-year-old wing who’s already an excellent defender. A deal with the Hawks would likely include the sixth pick, which Atlanta owns the rights to, and a player on a rookie deal. Such a move would free up cap space for New Orleans, allowing it to remain financially flexible for years to come.
As soon as the results of the draft lottery were announced in May 2019, the Pelicans knew who they were picking.
2. How should New Orleans plug the hole at center?
If New Orleans wants to compete for a playoff spot next season, adding a center via trade or in free agency is a must.
Last season, the Pelicans fell to pieces any time Derrick Favors wasn’t in the lineup. When Favors played, they went 22-23. When he was unavailable, they went 6-13. Jaxson Hayes is good for at least one highlight dunk per game, but the 20-year-old still needs time to learn the basics of the game before he’s ready to take on a starting role.
Favors, who averaged 9.0 points and 9.8 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per game last season, is an unrestricted free agent. Sources told the Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate that the 10-year NBA veteran would be receptive to playing for new coach Stan Van Gundy.
Historically, Van Gundy’s teams have been among the league leaders in preventing shots at the rim. Acquiring a center who is a deterrent inside will be crucial if New Orleans wants to complete a defensive turnaround.
Aron Baynes is an intriguing name. The 34-year old was excellent for the Suns last season when DeAndre Ayton was sidelined because of a suspension. Baynes could provide interior defense and spacing. In the past two seasons, he has developed a credible 3-point shot. Plus, Van Gundy has worked with him before in Detroit.
Tristan Thompson, who has spent the first nine seasons of his career in Cleveland, is also an unrestricted free agent. Thompson is a tenacious rebounder and a solid defender. In 2016, he and Griffin won a championship together with the Cavaliers. A reunion could make sense for both parties.
3. How many former Lakers will the Pelicans extend?
Bringing back Brandon Ingram on a lucrative long-term deal is a foregone conclusion. Ingram was named an All-Star and won Most Improved Player in his first season with New Orleans. The Pelicans view him as a franchise cornerstone.
“We’re very blessed to be in this situation where they want us,” Ingram’s father, Donald, told The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate in July. “Even more blessed that he’s going in and making an impact to help the team out and the city is receiving him like it is. It’s kind of like we want each other.”
The NBA salary cap is set at just north of $109 million. If Ingram signs a max deal, he will be owed roughly $158 million over the next five seasons.
Extensions for the other two players who were acquired in the Anthony Davis trade, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball, are less certain. Last season, Hart carved out a role for himself as a hard-nosed reserve. Ball, who was thrust into the starting point guard role, showed encouraging signs before struggling during the NBA’s restart. In September, Ball signed with Klutch Sports, the agency that helped Davis force his way out of New Orleans.
If the Pelicans and Hart or Ball can’t come to an agreement on extensions, both players would go into critical contract years.