It’s nigh-impossible for a team to go from sad irrelevancy to completely fascinating in one night, and yet, thanks to the Sacramento Kings, the New Orleans Pelicans somehow pulled that off. A front office that’s been panned all season for half-heartedly trying and completely failing to bring any sort of help to The Big Easy for Anthony Davis and, many thought, were at risk of losing their lone star once his contract expired in 2021, now hold a fascinating mix of circumstance and possibility. And all it took for them was an even more inept front office to cut a deal – how poetic!
We could look at this from Sacramento’s perspective, but even non-Kings fans understand what a terrible, no good, very bad trade this is. Sending DeMarcus Cousins for one player who has yet to live up to any of the hype he generated prior to last year’s draft, salary fodder, and maybe a first-round draft pick this year is beyond baffling, considering he’s one of the best big men in the league. But rather than think of the further levels of torment Kings fans must now endure, I’d rather pay attention to the impact this trade should and could have on the Pelicans, who are incredibly interesting to think about now.
Pairing Anthony Davis with Boogie allows for arguably the two best big men in the league to coexist on one roster. While in the current era of today’s game this would seem like a problem, because of the way that these two stars have learned to play in the modern age, it won’t. Despite being second in the league in post-up possessions, Cousins is a league-average three-point shooter who can score outside of the paint. Couple that with Davis, who is one of the best midrange shooters in the league and a force inside the paint, and this should create mismatch hell for any opposing team.
Futhermore, this shouldn’t hurt the Pelicans defensively either. Before Boogie, the Pelicans were a top ten unit defensively in the NBA, and that shouldn’t change much with him on the floor. The common fear with coupling two bigs in a lineup in today’s game will allow for small ball teams to kill them defensively. But Cousins plays good enough defense that this usually won’t be a liability, and even against elite offensive teams, the mismatches that the Pelicans will create on the offensive side of the ball should more than make up for it. And without having to carry the offensive load anymore, Cousins might actually be able to focus a little more on the defensive end, especially while playing alongside the very defensively versatile Davis.
But while imaging the Pelicans sliding into the eight-seed in the west and giving the Warriors hell in the first round of the playoffs is a lot of fun, thinking that this change alone makes them instant contenders to go deep in the West is a long shot at best. The problem isn’t having Cousins and Davis on the same unit, but having practically nobody else alongside them. It seems ludicrous, but in the era of the super team, having two stars isn’t typically enough to compete for titles. So, what can the Pelicans do to take the next step and seriously compete with the upper-tier teams out West?
The most obvious choice is to go after a proven perimeter player, either in trade talks or via free agency. But it’s hard to imagine that any team is going to wheel-and-deal a solid guard to a team that just landed one of the biggest trades of the last decade, especially at a time when point guards in the NBA are at a premium. So, with trading for a perimeter player likely out of the equation, who could New Orleans viably get in free agency this coming offseason?
Steph Curry is fun to think about here, if only because I imagine the scenario being something like the Pelicans upsetting the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, the Warriors front office totally bungling Steph’s contract negotiations, and Curry responding by doing something that no player on the Warriors roster has done in the last calendar year, don’t look that up, it’s true I checked. But Curry isn’t going anywhere, which leaves the Pelicans with some interesting choices.
The first name that sticks out is J.J. Redick, who has redesigned his game around three-point shooting and defense. Having a perimeter defender who can keep defense from clogging the lane for your bigs is an oft overlooked commodity in today’s game, and Redick has thrived doing just that in L.A. with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. The main difference though, is that Jrue Holiday is no Chris Paul, and whether or not Redick could thrive in a likely expanded role remains to be seen.
However, another interesting name to think about is Jeff Teague, who’s quietly having a strong year for the floundering Pacers. Teague can score, but more importantly, he can pass – he averages 8.1 assists per game this season. Pairing Teague with Holiday, who they would also have to re-sign this offseason, could put together a solid perimeter unit that could distribute and score enough to allow Davis and Cousins to demolish teams inside. And that’s a lot of fun to think about.
There’s also the chance the New Orleans gets even luckier in all of this, somehow. Remember earlier when I said that the Kings only might get the Pelicans first-round pick in this year’s draft? Well that pick is top-three protected, so if the Pelicans land a top-three pick in what’s being called one of the deepest drafts in a long time, the could reel in another young star to play alongside their two developed ones. What’s more, this draft is very point guard heavy, with most mock drafts projecting four or five players of that position going in the top ten. If New Orleans lands at number three, the worst they could come away with is N.C. State point guard Dennis Smith. Taking Smith at number three might be a bit high, but even his major weakness (outside shooting) isn’t something the Pelicans would demand of him right away.
Of course, the real price for New Orleans would be to land either Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball. While virtually every mock draft has Fultz going as the top pick, I think Ball would be the better fit in New Orleans. Fultz is a more complete scorer, but Ball plays better defense and isn’t as concerned with being a scorer, and even welcomes teammates taking shots. With Cousins and Davis likely taking up a ton of the offensive volume, having a point guard that’s willing to distribute and play solid defense is a big deal.
Any of these scenarios happening would almost surely make New Orleans a contender, and while the new-look Pelicans will be fun to watch in the immediate future, the long-term is, in many ways, even more enticing to think about.