New Orleans Pelicans: Pels to explore market after waiving Thornwell?

How signing Sindarius Thornwell and Wenyen Gabriel improves the New Orleans Pelicans. Mandatory Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
How signing Sindarius Thornwell and Wenyen Gabriel improves the New Orleans Pelicans. Mandatory Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports /
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The New Orleans Pelicans officially announced on Tuesday that they have waived Sindarius Thornwell.

Thornwell, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, has been with the Pelicans since last season after a two-year stint with the Los Angeles Clippers. Whereas Thornwell played over 135 games in Los Angeles, he barely featured in New Orleans. This year, he appeared in 11 games, averaging less than five minutes per contest.

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The decision to waive Thornwell will not matter on the floor for the Pelicans. The former South Carolina Gamecocks standout was not a part of Stan Van Gundy’s rotation and, in all honesty, did not have a chance to crack it.

The immediate reasoning behind the move is that the New Orleans Pelicans want flexibility both for financial and basketball reasons. Thornwell’s contract would have become guaranteed on Wednesday and the Pelicans can also remain below the luxury tax.

However, Thornwell being off the books also opens up the possibility for New Orleans to explore the market as we inch closer to the trade deadline on March 25. The Pelicans currently have 15 players after his departure, including Naji Marshall and Will Magnay on two-way contracts who are currently in the G League bubble.

Although New Orleans is currently 11th in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are very much still in the playoff hunt. Even if the Pels don’t outright qualify for the postseason, they can opt into the playoffs through the newly introduced play-in tournament. The Pelicans would have to end the regular season between seventh and tenth in order to participate in the play-in tournament.

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The Pelicans are coming off a huge win against the Boston Celtics but that momentary high should not make things murky for New Orleans’ front office. The Pelicans roster is still very much unbalanced and not a seamless fit at all.

At the beginning of the season, one would have probably found solving the Pels’ frontcourt depth urgent, but Willy Hernangómez’s emergence as the backup to Steven Adams has assuaged those concerns. The most pressing matter now is probably New Orleans’ backcourt which is filled with unanswered, pertinent questions.

First, there’s the matter of Lonzo Ball who is rapidly becoming one of the league’s most improved players. Ball will become a restricted free agent in the summer after not coming to an agreement with the Pelicans last year.

It’s hard to discuss Ball without including Eric Bledsoe. The former Milwaukee Bucks guard has disappointed since arriving at the Smoothie King Center, but he isn’t an unrestricted free agent until 2023 and is on a sizable contract. He is incompatible with Ball, first and foremost, but has generally not lived up to the possibility of replacing long-time Pels stalwart Jrue Holiday.

JJ Redick is also in the picture. The former Duke sharpshooter was not figuring in Van Gundy’s rotation at all during one point of the season. Redick’s three-point shooting is now up to 36 percent—still way below his norm but a big improvement over his early numbers—and he is a steady veteran presence. But that is also why plenty of championship-contending teams would love to have Redick. Are the Pelicans willing to part ways with him even though he is one of the only players that can consistently space the floor?

The last piece of the equation is Josh Hart. He isn’t strictly a backcourt player, but semantics aside, he is definitely one of the Pelicans’ most crucial players. Like Ball, he will become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. That means that teams can try to pry him away from New Orleans, but it’s ultimately the Pelicans who hold the cards over his future. It depends how much they are willing to pay.

There are only about four weeks left until the trade deadline and it is likely that the Pelicans will be involved. Thornwell’s departure might be the first piece of the puzzle.

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