While Zion Williamson stole spotlight toward the back end of the Pelicans’ season, Brandon Ingram was the team’s breakout star through most of the year. The fourth-year pro was averaging a career-best 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game when play was suspended. Ingram earned his first All-Star nod for his efforts, significantly changing his style of play and looking like the crown jewel of New Orleans’ trade return for Anthony Davis. But will his 56-game run be enough for David Griffin to commit to Ingram as one of his foundational pieces?
The Pelicans did not sign Ingram to a rookie extension before the season, which means he’ll be a free agent whenever the offseason arrives. It’s incredibly difficult to predict his market. On one hand, there aren’t a lot of stars predicted to hit free agency this year. On the other, the cap could decrease due to the revenue shortfall, drying up the market for the few teams that were projected to have space. In a normal summer, it wouldn’t have been too shocking to see a team like Atlanta or Detroit throw Ingram a max offer to lure him away from the Bayou. Assuming things somehow stay relatively normal, will the Pelicans be prepared to throw Ingram a max deal, whatever version of a max deal exists on the other side of the pandemic?
A 22-year-old All-Star who put up the numbers Ingram did this year is almost always going to command the max. And while the Pelicans are probably particularly sensitive after the Davis departure, their instinct to keep young talent must also be balanced with making the right roster decisions around Zion. If Williamson is indeed a foundational superstar (and he sure as hell looked like one), then giving out hefty contracts to the wrong pieces could end up backfiring. Ingram is going to serve as somewhat of an early inflection point for the Zion era, and it’s a shame both we and the Pelicans have not gotten to see them play together for enough time. (I’m also not sure whatever comes back of the NBA season will be particularly useful for evaluations.)
The Pelicans could certainly be in a worse spot. And Ingram has long flashed the potential of being the kind of player he was this season. Signing him long-term is in no way guaranteed disaster. But his fit with Zion is still a little bit of a guess, which means whatever New Orleans and Ingram decide to do this summer could have a significant impact on the trajectory of the Pelicans.