What if the Pelicans don't trade Brandon Ingram?

Apr 29, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) passes
Apr 29, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) passes / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Many folks (including myself) who follow the Pelicans have already assumed a Brandon Ingram trade is a fait accompli. We've been living under the assumption that his bags are packed for the summer, and he'll unpack them in a new city as an employee for a different NBA team.

It makes sense. Ingram's poor playoff performance combined with David Griffin's pointed comments about upgrading the roster and not being complacent have Brandon Ingram as a centerpiece of the trade machine for armchair general managers.

The thought of trading Ingram makes sense. His fit with Zion Williamson is more awkward than the Pelicans originally thought it would be. Ingram has smooth jump shot mechanics, but his best work is done in the midrange area. Zion, the team's unquestioned best player, needs running mates that can stretch opposing defenses out to the three point line. Ingram is unable to do that with consistency.

Ingram shoots 36.2% from deep for his career. A solid mark, but by no means would he be considered a marksman. The Ingram and Williamson duo was the Pelicans ninth most used two-man pairing in 2023-24, but one of their least successful. They amassed a net rating of 2.0 in 1085 minutes, well below the team's season number of 4.6.

The awkward on-court fit with Zion Williamson combined with the emergence of Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones make Ingram a tough long-term fit in New Orleans. However, there is a world where the Pelicans keep their All-Star around for one last dance.

Imagine a scenario where the Pelicans flip CJ McCollum's gigantic salary, young guard Dyson Daniels, and a bevy of first-round picks for an All-Star guard like Darius Garland, Dejounte Murray, or Trae Young. In that scenario the Pelicans would spend the non-taxpayer MLE or one of their first round draft picks on a rim-protector that impacts games off the bench (think Dereck Lively's consistent impact on the Mavericks as a rookie).

New Orleans would trot out an opening night lineup of veteran guard-Ingram-Jones-Murphy-Williamson. That lineup would severely lack size, but the transition offense, pace and space potential would be tantalizing. In matchups where the Pelicans need to size up, their bench mob could replace one of the wing trio down the stretch of games to protect the rim on defense.

At this point, it's very unlikely that Ingram is back in the Big Easy. New Orleans would be prudent to move him this summer, or during the season, before he hits free agency in 2025 and leaves the Pelicans high and dry. However, if David Griffin sees a title run in 2024-25 with Ingram in the picture, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest.