Pelicans Trade Market Index: Excess Wages
The NBA trade deadline is still two months away, but the unofficial start of the trade season is over. More than 70 free agents who signed with their teams in the offseason became eligible to be traded Dec. 15. A few more All-Star caliber options will be available in January. However, it would be surprising to see the new orleans pelicans rushing into a trade so early in the season.
There were only four operations completed last January. New Orleans jumped on the fence on a deal near the deadline for CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. last year, but they had to wait for the market to end. Still, the pelicans I needed to shake the list Brandon Ingram to make a playoff run and the deal with the Portland Trail Blazers worked out fabulously.
Now, the David Griffin-led front office can navigate the NBA trade market from a position of strength atop the Western Conference standings. They have more working capital and financial flexibility around the luxury tax and salary platform than the other contenders. The Pelicans not only have the better record, but they also expect Brandon Ingram to return from a setback rehabbing his toe.
Market Analysis: Trading from Strength
There is not a lot of loose cash or empty space in the trading market. New Orleans should not be outbid in any bidding war. It’s just a matter of how much they will have to overpay as a small market team with many desirable assets.
The Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs have some cap space, but will still need to negotiate relatively close salaries. Teams like Boston Celtics ($6.9 million and $5.9 million), Denver Nuggets ($9.2 million), LA Clippers ($9.8 million), Oklahoma City Thunder ($10.2 million and $4.2 million) and Utah Jazz ($9.8 million, $9.7 million and $6.8 million)) have big trade exceptions.
However, there aren’t many players who are options to fill those spots. The best teams with NBA Finals aspirations only have a limited amount of minutes available around their stars. How much would New Orleans be willing to give up just to find 12-15 minutes for a new rotation piece that might not see playoff time?
Forcing a move is against the standard operating procedure of this front office for the past several years. A change of course now would jeopardize future flexibility and the current organic family culture that permeates the building now. These Pelicans are largely a local group still learning how to play together. There’s no real pressure to crack one of the youngest cores in the NBA.
So let’s look at how the front office has found a way to reshape the organization since 2019.
Griffin has tapped into the desperation of the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland in the last three deals. The Lakers needed Anthony Davis to keep LeBron James in contention for another ring. The Bucks needed a move for Jrue Holiday to show Giannis Antetokounmpo that Milwaukee was the right place to sign a new five-year contract. Portland needed to split McCollum and Dame Lillard to start over.
Those teams were obvious options to exploit in a deal. It will be harder to find a contender looking to make an all-in move at this point. The top teams in each conference have already made moves this offseason. Play-In venues can be the place to find value. Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, and Atlanta Hawks all make sense for a number of reasons.
Sometimes it’s easier to work backwards on a problem. Find out what you’re not willing to do first to keep those issues off the table.
For example, Griffin shared during exit interviews that other teams were told Willy Hernangómez was untouchable in trade talks. Including the Eurobasket MVP in any deal was a failure. Hernangómez was too talented and had too good a contract to give it away. His character was a big part of what held the locker room together after a 1-12 start.
Without hearing it directly from the main office, it can be assumed Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, CJ McCollum and Dyson Daniels are untouchable assets. Williamson and Ingram are “partners in crime” according to Zion. Both All-Stars just signed new five-year contracts with no options to stay in New Orleans. The other four are promising draft picks from the past two summers.
Everyone else is for sale, at the right price, even Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr. The untouchables list is full of defensive options that can start the offense. Kira Lewis Jr. could be the odd man out in a roster consolidation. The Pelicans need another forward and more versatility up front.
The extremes between Nance Jr. and Valanciunas make it difficult to compete with some of the quirkier teams to have New Orleans’ number in recent years, like the Utah Jazz. However, it is not necessary to sacrifice them to change the shape of the rotations.
Naji Marshall and Devonte ‘Graham are still in good hands with Willie Green, but what they offer going forward is not only known but of limited value for a playoff run. Marshall is a tough defender and Graham is a good space shooter, but both could be replaced. Both have skills that would be welcome and given more time on other rosters.
Garrett Temple and Jaxson Hayes are barely playing as they are. Temple has an expiring contract. Hayes will soon be a cheap option in free agency. I have confirmed from multiple sources that the Atlanta Hawks have already asked about Hayes multiple times. Better to sell cheap now on a small move than get nothing for Hayes this summer.
The NBA world knows the players the Pelicans have to offer. No front office is dumb enough to think a deal for Brandon Ingram, or even Kevin Durant, is possible. It’s an open secret that the ship has sailed, and not just because the Brooklyn Nets are starting to find a rhythm.
There are good arguments for the Pelicans not to make a move. New Orleans doesn’t have to come out and make a move just to say they tried. The foundation for this core is almost set. There are some salaries above requirements, but none that will stop the team for years to come.
The city has embraced this team to the bottom of the list. For the first time since he won a championship with LeBron James in Cleveland, David Griffin can approach the trade market from a position of power at the top of the standings.