At 20-32, no one is confusing the New Orleans Pelicans as a title contender anytime soon. Yet with days until the NBA trade deadline, the Pels are in buy mode.
New Orleans is currently occupying the 11-seed in the Western Conference, but sit a mere half-game out of a play-in round spot. The Pelicans would obviously like to make the playoffs this season, especially to reward the efforts of young stud Brandon Ingram. But there’s also a long-term motive at play. Any move for a star-caliber player could serve as the last chance to get back on Zion Williamson’s good side.
Zion Williamson’s absence has negatively impacted the Pelicans this season
In 2019, New Orleans traded franchise star Anthony Davis and drafted Williamson, signaling a new era of Pelicans basketball. However, that new era has resulted in more disgruntled stars than playoff appearances.
Zion suffered a broken foot last offseason and has yet to return to action. As he continues to receive treatments, there’s also the lingering controversy regarding his future with the franchise. A bombshell report from Christian Clark of NOLA.com last offseason detailed Williamson’s frustration with how the team handled his prior injuries.
“Throughout his rookie season, Williamson had grown increasingly frustrated with the Pelicans for the number of hoops they required him to jump through to return from the knee injury he suffered in the preseason,” Clark wrote. “The way Williamson’s return was handled caused significant tension between him and the team’s medical staff, sources said.”
With the Zion drama looming, the Pelicans haven’t been able to achieve on-court success. New Orleans enters the weekend ranked 25th in offensive rating and 23rd in defensive rating. Although in its defense, starting the season 1-12 did no favors whatsoever.
If there is a positive story in the Bayou, it’s Ingram. The 24-year-old has shouldered the load in 2021-22, averaging 22.6 points with 5.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. The Pelicans are also a palatable 18-20 when Ingram has suited up.
The Pelicans are involved with a number of big-name players
Few would’ve expected the Pelicans to be active buyers ahead of the deadline. But according to Brian Windhorst on The Hoop Collective podcast, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Windhorst stated New Orleans has been “pretty active looking to buy.” Over the last few days and weeks, the Pels have had discussions about CJ McCollum, De’Aaron Fox, Eric Gordon, and Kevin Huerter.
The first two players are two of the biggest names on the market. McCollum, who has been previously linked to New Orleans, has been a 20-point-per-game scorer for seven straight years with the Portland Trail Blazers. Best of all, Portland has made it abundantly clear it wants to make sweeping changes over the next few days.
Meanwhile, Fox has been a loyal soldier of the dysfunctional Sacramento Kings for five seasons and counting. The point guard has averaged 20 or more points three years running and would make for a huge addition to New Orleans’ backcourt. However, the Pels would have to fight off efforts from multiple teams for his services, including the New York Knicks.
Gordon and Huerter are more role players than cornerstones. Though both the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks guards offer a steady dose of three-point shooting, making them ideal acquisitions for a club that ranks 26th in three-point percentage.
An aggressive trade deadline is the Pelicans’ last attempt to make Zion happy
Going back to Zion, the 2019 top pick isn’t just upset about the way New Orleans handled his injuries. Simply put, the unique superstar wants to win.
“Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is kind of insane, so I’m not going to sit here and say we’re close,” Williamson told NOLA.com after missing the playoffs in 2021. “The reality of it is, it was very disappointing not to be a part of the play-in tournament and stuff.”
Even if Williamson isn’t currently a part of the team, the Pelicans can certainly get on his good side by proving their commitment to winning.
They’re not a great team now, but New Orleans still has some solid assets at its disposal. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jaxson Hayes, and Herbert Jones could all be moved for a player like McCollum. Additionally, the Pels have six first-round picks over the next three years.
Would going all-out for Fox or McCollum please Williamson in the short term? In a word, yes. And it might even give extra incentive for the ailing star to return to the court just in time for a playoff push. However, landing a big fish won’t be the be-all, end-all.
No matter who suits up in Nola, the wins need to follow sooner than later.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.