If your favorite NBA team wasn’t a title contender, it was likely leaving tributes at the base of Mt. Zion (Williamson). Thirteen franchises all sit under the stoplight that is the 2019 NBA Draft. TSFJ gives each team a reason to speed through, take caution and even hit the brakes hard before making a wrong turn. We continue this series with the New Orleans Pelicans, who acquired the fourth overall pick from the Los Angeles Lakers to go along with the presumptive number one pick in Williamson.
How We Got Here
One part of the outcome of great draft lottery fortune – amid equally great controversy — and another part being the return from the resolution of said controversy. The Pelicans defied the odds, realizing just a 6% chance at landing the draft’s pick and making it become a reality. That long-shot ping pong ball victory gifted them the chance at landing a new prodigy… just as they were set to lose a former one.
The Pelicans’ year-long battle with Anthony Davis had cast a shadow over the future of the team, as they went back-and-forth with how to best leverage a return on the nearly-unmatchable value of their soured star. The Lakers infamously tried and failed to work an in-season deal out, a collapse so significant and embarrassing it cost both Dell Demps his GM post in NOLA and played a huge part in Magic Johnson’s resignation in L.A. The Celtics, Knicks, Nets and Clippers subsequently hovered over the bones of the deal, all while the Lakers (and most prominently Davis’ and LeBron James’ agent Rich Paul) continued to stoke the flames of a deal to bring The Brow to Hollywood.
On Saturday afternoon, the previously broken deal was made whole when the Pelicans and Lakers consumated a deal that sent Davis to the Lakers, while Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and a heap of first round picks head to New Orleans. The most immediate return of that deal will not have to wait until the fall for its impact to be felt, as it is the Lakers’ fourth overall pick in Thursday’s draft.
Now the situation ahead of the Pelicans is not just that of the multi-pick variety the likes of the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics are facing, with a splattering of picks throughout the first round. No, the Pels have two of the top five picks, thus possessing the highest leverage of any team on draft night. With the choice at number one a no-brainer, things get interesting at number four, where newly-minted team president David Griffin gets to take the controls and begin steering the organization with the most upside of any in the Association.
With that, let’s have a look at how the dawn of the new age in New Orleans basketball could take shape.
Green Light: Zion and a second trade
Williamson, college basketball’s biggest sensation of the last quarter century, has been down on the page in ink and blood as the draft’s top pick regardless of who was awarded the slot. He’s the type of generational talent that you make room for on roster, and adjust from there. Lucky enough for the Pelicans, they had a front court void that needed immediately filling and have now gotten the only player that had the type of talent-upon-arrival in the NBA to rival Davis’ impact for his now former team.
But there is no shortage on Zion coverage leading into the draft (most of which just reiterates the obviousness of the Pelicans’ decision), so I’ll forgo anymore dissection of that. Instead, lets look at where the draft intrigue truly kicks off, with the Pels newly-acquired fourth overall pick. The additions of Ball, Ingram and Hart, alongside the Jrue Holiday gives the Pelicans one of the best outlooks of any team that has owned multiple top picks in decades. It also gives them the opportunity to be creative with addressing existing needs… as well as a lot of guys that work really well around Zion.
But the most greatest value the newly-acquired Lakers pick holds is that of possibility, which there are no shortage of surrounding it. Could they move the pick for even more future draft assets, setting up the type of pick portfolio that makes even Danny Ainge uncomfortable with excitement? Could they opt to move back in this year’s draft, dangling the pick ahead of the Hawks or Celtics, who could look to consolidate picks and rise? Or could they include the pick as a part of yet another trade, aimed at adding size and shot blocking to a front court that could need it? The young veteran presence of an Andre Drummond, Myles Turner or Clint Capela could be a very alluring move to make as well.
Zion insures that the draft night will be a success in any regard, but what Griffin and company does with the next pick could determine if they win the summer outright. Adding a big name via trade could seal that deal.
Yellow Light: Use the fourth pick on Darius Garland
There is always the option in play of taking the best player available and figuring out the rest as you go. Garland represents that and the presence of Ball, Hart and Holiday should not dissuade them from going after the shoot-first, ask questions later talents of Garland. He represents the type a particular type of player they do not currently have on-board and could easily fit in next any of the current guards in their stock hold. If nothing else, he’s a talent that opens up future maneuvers that could be made, either by staying put or being part of future deal.
Red Light: Drafting Jaxon Hayes at number four
This is no slight against Hayes as a player, as he is the top frontcourt big on the board. But this more against drafting purely for fit too early in the draft. The Pelicans need to get bigger in the frontcourt, as the trade of Davis and forthcoming free agencies of Julius Randle and Jahlil Okafor leaving them as one of the smallest teams in the league.
Although the need is clear, the fourth pick is not where to address it at. Garland, DeAndre Hunter or Jarrett Culver all hold much more significant value here if keeping and using the pick is the decision. If getting bigger through the draft is the goal, moving later in the lottery still gives a chance to land Hayes, Bol Bol, Brandon Clarke or foreign big man Goga Bitdaze still, in addition to landing another pick and a veteran presence to use immediately.
I’m a firm believer that the closest I’ve gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I’ll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’.