The New Orleans Pelicans need to avoid past mistakes.
After the New Orleans Pelicans were blessed by the lottery Gods with the first overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft in the wake of the Chris Paul trade, it seemed like the franchise would be back to competing for the playoffs right away.
Anthony Davis was viewed as the franchise savior, the strongest foundation to build a team around.
After a strong rookie year during which Davis averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks, the team kicked off their plan of trading draft picks for “young veterans” (goodish young players whose value was still high) who would surround Davis as complementary players.
In the 2013 draft, the now Pelicans traded the sixth overall pick, Nerlens Noel, and the teams 2014 first-round picks to Philadelphia for Jrue Holiday and Pierre Jackson’s draft rights.
This trade may have used all the Pels’ good luck, as the first trade was also the only trade to work for New Orleans.
I think if the Jrue Holiday trade didn’t work out, the Dell Demps regime would have been over sooner and the team would have abandoned the targeting of young vets.
I’m not wishing that Holiday didn’t have the career he’s had so far, he’s one of the best people to ever play sports in New Orleans, but had he not been so good the Pelicans may have built long- term around Davis.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ history of draft mistakes.
With Holiday blooming in New Orleans next to Davis, the Pelicans traded their 2015 first-round pick to Houston for… (let me double-check my notes) Omer Asik? To play at center next to AD? In a league that was starting to trend toward the three-ball?
I grew up outside Chicago and started really watching the game around the time Derrick Rose came up, I remember the signs that Asik showed as a rim protector but never would I have thought he’d go for a first-rounder.
For those keeping score at home that’s three drafts in a row that the Pelicans didn’t have a first-round selection. That’s three years without adding young cost-controlled players, and the team never got the chance to build a young core around Davis.
In 2016 it seemed like management was finally learning from their mistakes by drafting Buddy Hield, an outside shooter who can light it up from distance on any given night. Hield was the perfect complement to Davis and Holiday, as his 41% career three-point percentage is everything you’d ask for in a third option.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see much of Hield with Davis and Holiday. Just eight months later the Pelicans traded Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and their 2017 first-rounder to Sacramento for DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi.
At the time this trade was viewed more like a win for New Orleans but time tends to change how we view things.
The Pelicans with Cousins were an interesting team but still finished outside the playoffs. Part of our no longer rose-tinted glasses view of this trade was the Achilles tear that Cousins suffered nearly a year later.
To add to this, Davis really took off when he was the only big surrounded by shooters. The other part is that Hield has played nearly every possible game of his career while shooting the lights out from deep.
The 2017 first-round pick that New Orleans gave up in the Cousins trade was the tenth selection, that’s four times since 2013 that the Pelicans didn’t draft in the first round. Why were we surprised that AD wanted out?
In 2018 the Pels included their first-round pick in a deal with Chicago that allowed New Orleans to get Asik off the books.
That’s two first-round picks that New Orleans had to part with because of Asik. Now that pick was ultimately 22nd overall but it again underlines the failure of Demps to add pieces around Davis.
After all that Gayle Benson finally decided to let Demps go and create a competent front office under David Griffin. Griffin was brought in in part to find the best possible package for an AD trade, while there were only two real suitors, the Lakers, and Celtics, he was still able to get the pieces that created a nucleus to start a new chapter in the teams’ history.
Now that the draft lottery is complete and the Pelicans have been slotted in at 13th overall, Griffin will need to learn from the past mistakes of the franchise and add the right pieces around Zion, Brandon Ingram, Holiday, and Lonzo Ball.
He needs to resist the urge to trade draft picks for mediocre players or the Pelicans will end up driving Zion away just as they did Davis.