Getting full return on a disgruntled superstar is nearly impossible in the NBA but the Pelicans have put themselves in quite an intriguing situation after sending Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a potentially substantial haul of talent.
The New Orleans Pelicans closed the book on the Anthony Davis saga—and era, really—on Saturday, executing a much-anticipated blockbuster deal that sent Davis to his long-desired destination, the Los Angeles Lakers. An awkward, extended separation, in the end, gave everyone what they wanted. The Pelicans acquired Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick in the 2019 draft and two other first-rounders, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, New Orleans also has multiple, extended years of pick swap rights coming, although those details haven’t been made public as of this moment.
From the Pelicans’ perspective, it’s not only the haul that matters—although it appears to be substantial—but also the opportunity for a fresh start, with Thursday’s draft fast approaching and Zion Williamson incoming. The value of having the Davis divorce in the rearview as the franchise’s new face arrives is massive from a franchise optics perspective. The New Orleans organization has massively reoriented itself over the past couple months under David Griffin and with redoubled support from ownership. What the Pelicans have done via trading Davis is ensured themselves the strongest possible asset base moving forward.
At the end of the day, no team is ever getting full return for its dollar in a deal involving a star as gifted as Davis, who was headed toward free agency in the middle of his prime at 26, and barring some major turn of events appears happy to re-sign with the Lakers. For New Orleans, the imperative was, above all else—past bad blood included—loading up on asset value. It’s probably wise to treat the entire situation, save for Williamson and Jrue Holiday, who is on board long-term, as highly fluid. Ingram and Ball are former high-lottery selections sorely in need of new situations, and whose value can certainly be rehabilitated on some level. Both are attractive buy-lows that make sense with the shape of the roster. Hart is a solid role player who also fits with Williamson. And whatever future draft assets the Pelicans got, as well as any pick swap options, only strengthen the franchise’s position, particularly given that the Lakers sustaining long-term success is no layup at the moment.
This all brings us to the No. 4 pick, which is the short-term asset capable of providing the most additional value for New Orleans, and is the only concrete thing worth discussing at the moment. What we do know right now is that there are multiple teams angling to move up in the draft, including the Atlanta Hawks (who hold picks 8, 10 and 17 in the first round), according to league sources. There’s not a clear best fit at No. 4 for the Pelicans, whose backcourt appears set for now with Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday, limiting the need for Coby White and Darius Garland. Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver would be a feasible choice, but his presently average outside shooting makes him a tricky fit around Williamson, who will be best maximized with as much three-point spacing as possible around him. The Hawks and Phoenix Suns, who hold pick No. 6, are among the teams who covet Culver, according to sources, and they may need to move up to get him.
Assessing and cultivating the market for that pick is the next step for New Orleans, who despite being unable to find a third team as part of the Lakers framework can now shop what they’ve landed as they see fit. The fourth pick by itself may not be massively valuable, but within the context of demand around the league, it’s eminently movable. Whatever the Pelicans decide to do with it is the cherry on top. The best course of action was always going to be building the best and most flexible asset base moving forward, and New Orleans did just that. Without getting any further ahead of ourselves, watching what they do over the next few days should be no less interesting.