Pelicans signing Daniel Theis raises two main questions immediately

Daniel Theis's signing with the Pelicans strengthens an area of need. But his signing raises questions.
Daniel Theis (pictured) against New Orleans Pelicans
Daniel Theis (pictured) against New Orleans Pelicans / Sean Gardner/GettyImages

Monday morning news broke for the Pelicans, when reports announced an agreement with former Clippers center Daniel Theis. Theis played in 60 games this season, 59 with Los Angeles after reaching a buyout with Indiana. He averaged six points, four rebounds, one assist, and one block per game. In 17 minutes per game, Theis shot 53 percent from the field. His efficiency continued outside of the paint, shooting 36 percent from three and 76 percent on free throws.

While a signing of this magnitude appears minor, New Orleans could benefit tremendously from having Theis on their roster. When acquiring Dejounte Murray, the Pelicans dealt backup bigs Larry Nance Jr. and Cody Zeller to Atlanta for Murray. Additionally, they lost starting center Jonas Valanciunas to the Washington Wizards in free agency. New Orleans eventually turned the Valanciunas signing into a sign-and-trade with the Wizards.

The Pelicans drafted Baylor center Yves Missi with their first-round pick. Before Theis, Missi was the sole addition to the New Orleans frontcourt alongside Zion Williamson. With several minutes left to play and a young, rookie center, Theis could play big minutes for New Orleans. That exact expectation leaves questions needing to be answered for the Pelicans. Soon-to-be 31 years old, Theis shouldn't be relied upon as a starter, but the same can be said for Missi. So, what's next for New Orleans?

Is New Orleans set to acquire a big in a Brandon Ingram trade?

The big elephant in the room for New Orleans remains. Brandom Ingram rumors have dominated the NBA offseason. With Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, Mikal Bridges, and Klay Thompson all on the move, many of the top, big names have saturated the market for high-level upgrades. However, as free agency wanes, two big names, Lauri Markkanen and Brandon Ingram, have become the primary offseason topics. But, the Pelicans' big question may have some answers.

The Pelicans have explored trading Brandon Ingram all offseason long. However, there's a growing belief of a return to New Orleans after next season. If New Orleans elects to move on from Ingram, the trade package could be an opportunity to resolve a huge need on the Pelicans roster. New Orleans has Dejounte Murray, CJ McCollum, and Jose Alvarado in their backcourt. On the wing, Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III are big-minute players alongside Brandon Ingram. But the frontcourt needs help.

With several teams shopping their centers (Brook Lopez in Milwaukee, Nikola Vucevic in Chicago, Deandre Ayton in Portland, and Clint Capela in Atlanta), the Pelicans have several options to replace Ingram, retooling their roster for contention for next season in the process. Outside of Zion at forward, the Pelicans would be playing rookie first-rounder Yves Missi and newly signed Daniel Theis at center. Are more transactions awaiting in New Orleans, or are they prepared to play small ball?

Will Zion Williamson start next season at center?

The small ball predicament only means one thing: Zion Williamson playing heavy center minutes. The franchise centerpiece has struggled to stay healthy through his first five seasons. A move to center could prove costly to his health. The physicality against bigger players like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, and several others could leave Williamson more prone to injuries. However, play Williamson as a center opens up more floor spacing for him offensively, surrounded by shooters.

This is the dilemma New Orleans faces as the 2024-25 NBA season nears. Moving Ingram could play a huge role in the status of Williamson use this season. Yet, Williamson could be playing a new position regardless, with or without Ingram. Acquiring a shooting big like Brook Lopez or Nikola Vucevic could protect Zion's health defensively, while operating as floor spacers. Since Ingram is the best player in nearly any trade, New Orleans would be acquiring a need, depth, and likely draft assets.

A new role for Zion at center gives him an opportunity to increase his playmaking, taking advantage of the shooting around him, with the ability to blow past slower, bigger defenders. Brandon Ingram's status as a Pelican could weigh heavily on what happens with Zion and the Pelicans play style, but Daniel Theis is a much-needed signing for an unsure frontcourt.