The New Orleans Pelicans almost drafted this rising star

Cameron Johnson, Phoenix Suns. CJ McCollum, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Cameron Johnson, Phoenix Suns. CJ McCollum, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

After being shipped out of town in order for the Phoenix Suns to acquire Kevin Durant, Cameron Johnson appears to have found a home with the Brooklyn Nets. Just recently, the soon-to-be fifth-year forward signed a 4-year, 94.5 million dollar contract that will keep him gainfully employed through the 2026-27 season.

At 6’8 with a 6’10 wingspan and a career 39.3% 3-point percentage, Johnson is the ideal blend of length and shooting that the Pelicans often try to go after (hence their drafting Jordan Hawkins with the 14th overall pick). And guess what? It turns out that he almost was a member of the Pelicans.

On a recent episode of the Run Your Race podcast, Johnson detailed how worked out for the Pelicans prior to the 2019 NBA Draft and, in his eyes, was thoroughly impressive during his session.

"“Okay, so New Orleans. The draft is June 20th. I land in Pittsburgh on June 17th. … I take my phone off airplane mode. And the moment I take my phone off of airplane mode, my agent is calling me. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I just need to chill.'”“I’m like, ‘What’s up?’ He’s like, ‘I’m sending you to New Orleans for a workout.’ And I’m like, ‘Hold up, what? They have the fourth pick. They are telling you to go get me with the fourth pick?’ [And my agent responds,] ‘No, no, no, there is speculation that they may trade back. I just talked to the GM, and he wants to trade back.’ So I’m like, ‘So we’re banking on them trading for that pick and then picking me with that pick?'”"

Despite his initial trepidation to work out for the Pelicans, Johnson put on what he believes to be the best performance of his pre-draft resume.

And guess what? The Pelicans did trade back in the draft. However, with their new pick (the eighth overall pick), they selected big man Jaxson Hayes. Meanwhile, Johnson didn’t come off the board until three spots later when he was drafted with the eleventh overall pick.

So how did that decision to draft Hayes over Johnson work out for the Pelicans? We mentioned earlier the large contract Johnson just signed with the Nets. Well, the Pelicans decided not to extend the qualifying offer to Hayes this off-season, and he ended up signing a 2-year, 4.6-million dollar contract. So, it looks like (in hindsight) the Pelicans made the wrong decision.

Now, there are probably hundreds of pre-draft stories just like this one. What happened to Johnson is far from a rarity. But, given all that has happened since that decision, it is still fun to wonder how different things would have been for the organization had they selected Johnson over Hayes in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Next. Whose development should the Pelicans prioritize?. dark