The New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of a crisis. Anthony Davis is on the brink of leaving New Orleans for Los Angeles, and there is nothing general manager Dell Demps can do to stop it.
Oh, wait, that’s actually factually inaccurate. The Pelicans have won three straight, six of seven, and when Davis is healthy, the Pelicans haven’t been too shabby:
Since the disaster road trip and AD came back healthy the Pelicans have been pretty good. pic.twitter.com/cfFnrvJ1PT
— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) November 20, 2018
It’s true, the Pelicans will have to prove they can field a winner to cement the future of Anthony Davis’ best years in New Orleans for the best part of his prime. It’s also true that no player has ever turned down a supermax, and even should he do the unthinkable, the Pelicans can still field offers for him next summer.
But Kevin O’Connor, Zach Lowe, and others will have you believe the Pelicans should mortgage everything, and go all-in on the Wizards’ scrap heap of John Wall and Otto Porter. Unloading Solomon Hill, a first-round pick IN ADDITION to Nikola Mirotic and/or Julius Randle, E’Twaun Moore is their asking price. The only problem is that these three have been collectively BETTER than John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter this season, and at 1/2 or even 1/3 of the price!
I’ve chronicled E’Twaun Moore’s mind-numbing start here. Outside of Steph Curry, no backcourt player has been more efficient and the Pelicans are a ridiculous +14 per 100 possessions when Moore sees the floor.
Nikola Mirotic, so too, is putting in a modest 19 and 11 on a pretty sweet 56% eFG. Mirotic is the perfect frontcourt complement to Anthony Davis, both spacing the floor for him offensively, and banging in the paint against the big boys Davis prefers not to battle for 37 minutes every night over the course of an entire season.
And finally, Julius Randle earned flattery from both Davis and head coach Alvin Gentry following his triple-double (21/14/10) in just 25 minutes of action against the 8-8 San Antonio Spurs. Randle is managing just 18 points, nine rebounds three assists in 25.6 minutes per game. He and the other two of the Pelicans’ big three held LaMarcus Aldridge to but 2/11 shooting on the night, and put in 140 points on the other end including 78 points in the paint and 58% on the game.
So why would the Pelicans offload any of these players for the remaining two years and FIFTY-FIVE million of the same Otto Porter Jr. who averages but 11 points, five rebounds and three assists per 29 minutes and regularly loses crunch time minute to Jeff Green?
Why would the Pelicans give up what has been an unstoppable frontcourt for what will soon become the NBA’s third-highest paid player in John Wall at four years, $169 million? Even should the Pelicans resign Davis, $105 million of Wall, Holiday and Davis isn’t going anywhere. This isn’t even taking into account his complicated injury risks, weight problems, or locker room temperament that drew these responses from teammates:
“It’s f—– up what’s going on,” Markieff Morris said, according to Candace Buckner of the Washington Post. “The comments that’s coming from the locker room is f—– up. That don’t happen in sports.”
“This is embarrassing,” a person familiar with the team said. “This is crazy.”
Yeah, the Pelicans don’t need to sign up for that. Instead, they’ll sign up for this:
“It’s amazing. All these guys are my brothers,” Julius Randle told Fox Sports NOLA’s Jen Hale following the Pels’ victory over the Spurs. “We’re all extremely close. We do a lot of things outside the court together.”
Do you see the folly?
The Pelicans are rolling. Their core enjoy playing with one another, and they play well above the expectations set by their respective salaries. Forget the archaic notion that the Pelicans ‘need a wing.” They have one of the two most efficient perimeter scorers in the NBA, and what he gives up defensively, Defensive Player of the Year candidate and arguably the best help defender in the NBA makes up for and then some. Wes Johnson has also been a pleasant surprise after Demps unloaded Alexis Ajinca for him in a salary dumping move for Los Angeles, and YES YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY, DEMPS ACQUIRED A STARTING SMALL FORWARD FOR AJINCA.
With a healthy Eflrid Payton the Pelicans are at least six deep with Davis, Holiday, Moore, Niko, Randle, and Payton. Wes Johnson has been steady and the Pelicans’ defense has been eight points better per 100 possessions defensively with Darius Miller on the floor, his hesitancy on offense be damned. If Miller could find a quicker trigger finger, at 50% from three-point range, he would be the missing ingredient the Pelicans have been so desperate to find at just over a cool $2 million in salary.
Lastly, Frank Jackson has finally been given the keys to the Pelicans’ bench unit. An athletic offball scoring machine, Jackson scored 12 points in 10 minutes and that fear Miller seems to experience is not a thing for Jackson. Jackson regularly thrusts up shots without abandon, and in small sample sizes, they usually land (36% from three-point range).
The Pelicans could use a facilitator and they could use depth at the wing. Head Coach Alvin Gentry has given the reins to Randle as team’s commander in a point forward role created for Boogie, and it has seen early positive results.
— FOXSports NewOrleans (@FOXSportsNOLA) November 20, 2018
Miller is a suitable rotation player in the regular season, but in the postseason the Pelicans will need a player who is not afraid to take the tough shots when the defense rotates to Davis, Holiday and Moore. So too, Jackson may be a regular season revelation, but trusting him in the playoffs is another thing entirely. Packaging Solomon Hill and a first for an upgrade like Satoransky/Ouber, or Demarre Carroll, Trevor Ariza, and Tobias Harris could be a worthwhile gamble, but keep in mind those players carry expiring contracts. The Pelicans don’t need to take on long-term salary with the free agencies of Mirotic, Randle and Payton looming unless it’s for a bonafide star in his prime.
Beal seems to make some sense on that front, except that Moore is the better fit and at a much friendlier price. Over the past six games, Moore is averaging 21.3 points per game on 62% shooting. but yea, Pels’ should trade him.
So when you hear national pundits explain why the Pelicans need to overpay for inflated contracts, just remember that the Pelicans and their “Big Six” are actually just fine the way that they are.
For more on the Pelicans, be sure to check out our podcast, “The Bird Calls,” and thank you for reading!