The New Orleans Pelicans are sitting in the middle of the draft lottery with several options. Trading down in the NBA Draft might be the best avenue to adding talent while creating a bit more financial flexibility on an already full roster. New Orleans could add a productive rookie and find a veteran salary swap that benefits both teams while also restocking future draft assets.
The cheapest way to acquire talent with upside is the NBA Draft. It is doubtful the Pelicans trade out of the draft completely, punting on the opportunity to land a future starter. However, they could move down a few spots and still get their target. New Orleans might not see much of a difference between the players selected 5th through 7th and the talent they could scoop up in the 9th-19th spot.
Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr., Jaden Ivey, and Shaedon Sharpe will all likely be off the board before the 8th overall pick. New Orleans could nab Keegan Murray, Jalen Duren, Jeremy Sochan, Johnny Davis, AJ Griffin Jr., Dyson Daniels, or Bennedict Mathurin by standing pat but at least two will be available for the team picking 11th overall.
A case could be made for Ochai Agbaji, TyTy Washington, Ousmane Dieng, Mark Williams, Jaden Hardy, or Tari Eason as top 10 players but a few will fall out of the lottery altogether. Swooping in to scoop up that value later in the draft would be a savvy move. The question for New Orleans is whether they’d like more draft assets, affordable yet proven talent, or will take one more swing at an expensive All-Star like Bradley Beal or Dejounte Murray.
The San Antonio Spurs (9, 20, 25) and Washington Wizards (10) might pay a small price to move up a couple of spots. Prying away their franchise-leading All-Stars will take more compromising. Still, both are expected to be fringe lottery teams next season at best so their future picks are likely to retain value.
Charlotte (13,15) has two picks in the back half of the first round and New Orleans could make room for both on the roster. The Oklahoma City Thunder (12) have even more future draft capital than the Spurs and could explore a blockbuster trade around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The Pelicans could ask about Lauri Markkanen or Jarrett Allen but Cleveland (14) would offer extra lightly protected picks to keep their young, up-and-coming core together. The Spurs have more incentive to offer future draft assets and part with more accomplished talent like Jakob Poeltl.
The New York Knicks (11), Atlanta Hawks (16), Houston Rockets (17), Chicago Bulls (18), and Minnesota Timberwolves (19) could also piece together packages but it is tough to imagine the Pelicans being very impressed. The Knicks lack enticing contracts and the rest of the picks fall too late in the draft. New Orleans needs a bidding war between the Spurs, Wizards, Thunder, and Cavaliers to maximize value in any trade down.
Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum, Jaxson Hayes, and Larry Nance Jr. are all eligible for extensions that could push the team into the luxury tax. Adding pick swap options and some second-rounders in any trade would provide some value even if they were just sold for cash in future seasons. Ownership can then apply those funds to the luxury tax bill.
The Pelicans have pulled off two-for-one draft picks trades before, netting Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in 2019. Coming off of a playoff appearance, the Pelicans need to use this lottery pick wisely. It might be their last one for a while and this roster is about to get expensive.
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