2. Continue on with the same patterns
Over the last four years, it has pretty much been the same story over and over again. Williamson got hurt, didn’t play, and the team fell apart. Something has to be done about that. This season, especially, the Pelicans didn’t have an offensive identity outside of running in transition. Yes, it is difficult to find that identity when your star(s) are never available, but it is time for the Pelicans to find that identity outside of Williamson and make him adapt to it.
Right now, this team goes as far as Williamson and Ingram take it. That can range from a play in loss all the way to a deep playoff run, depending on how healthy they are. There has been talk of trading Williamson, but the time for that hasn’t come yet. The answer is building a better support system. Williamson’s health is the Pelicans’ Achilles’ heel, and no one player will be able to replace his impact, but maybe they can at least form a safety net. Of course, that safety net only works if Williamson only misses games occasionally (instead of large portions of the season), but it is their best bet for now.
The Pelicans need rim protection, shooting, rebounding, and bench scoring. This season, they ranked last in field goal percentage allowed at the rim, 29th in three-point attempts per game. and had a bottom-10 offense. Luckily, they have the assets to make moves. It might not be a gigantic move because of their finances, but there are options to tweak the roster out there.
Seeing the Pelicans part ways with Jonas Valanciunas would not be a big shock if they can find a suitable replacement or decide to go smaller in the future. Jaxson Hayes, Kira Lewis Jr., and Garrett Temple are some other players that the Pelicans could let go of to free up room for some fresh energy. Unfortunately, there are not many interesting and affordable free agents out there for the Pelicans to sign, so trades are really the only option to get some valuable additions that fit their needs.
Some realistic names floating around on the trade market include guys like Kristaps Porzingis, John Collins, Jordan Clarkson, Alex Caruso, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Gary Trent Jr. These moves would all require ownership to pay the luxury tax. And while none of these players fill all the Pelicans’ needs at once, it could be worth it to address at least some of those issues.
Some of the names don’t sound like they would make a big difference, but Jordan Clarkson, for example, is a great sixth man who could provide shooting and scoring to take some load off whichever starter is playing alongside the bench unit. Alex Caruso would be a similar addition. He is not a big-time difference maker but could provide some solid shooting and ballhandling to help out McCollum while forcing a ton of turnovers to help bolster their defense. Caruso’s game would be a great fit with the Pelicans’ style (they are very aggressive in forcing turnovers).
The tricky thing here is that the Pelicans have a delicate balancing act to do. They need to win now, but since their core is still young, they also want to be good in the long run. So, first of all, they need to decide which of their most pressing needs is an absolute priority and then find an affordable player who can fill that need now (and ideally in the long run too).
Whatever the Pelicans eventually decide to do, they have to do it right and produce a successful season. Otherwise, they are running the risk of being just another story of what could have been.