The New Orleans Pelicans swapped first-rounders with the Memphis Grizzlies in a deal that saw Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, and their contracts go to Memphis in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas. The fallout of this trade has yet to be seen as many players could still be on the move, including those in this deal.
These movements will determine just how far back each team will fall in their development plans. Do not get me wrong, there is a definite upside if the elaborate plans of these organizations come to fruition, but given their histories, it is difficult to see it playing out the way they imagine. Let us review the prospective plans for both teams.
New Orleans Pelicans: Receive Jonas Valanciunas, 17th pick and 51st pick in the 2021 NBA Draft
The Pelicans essentially replaced Steven Adams with Valanciunas, getting an upgrade at the five spot with a younger, more talented player who can grow alongside Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. In the process, they have created enough cap space to chase a star in free agency, supposing they do not match offers for restricted free agent Lonzo Ball. GM David Griffin has a master plan, and rumor has it that Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is the prime target. The opportunity New Orleans will offer is similar to that of Chris Paul's role in Phoenix, taking a talented core of young players to the next level and teaching them how to win.
Lowry fits that role perfectly, as he is a champion and long-been one of the most respected players in the NBA. His journey to NBA stardom is a testament to his hard work, tenacity, and winning mentality, all things that the Pelicans need to instill in their culture sooner than later. The problem is, will Lowry want to take a chance on the Pelicans' young core, even with Valanciunas? I'm afraid not.
The fundamental spacing issue that New Orleans had faced with Adams is still going to be an issue with Valanciunas on the floor. He has the touch to become a decent shooter from the perimeter, but Jonas is just far from being a stretch-big even right now, even for short stretches in games. Valanciunas shot 36.8% from beyond the arc last season but only took one attempt per game; that is far from a big enough sample size to make opponents think twice about leaving him open to collapse on Zion or Ingram.
The alternative is to match offers for Lonzo Ball, which is not a bad option but does not make you significantly better than last year. The expectation is that there will be teams willing to offer Lonzo a significant raise this offseason, so paying that much for a player that does not bring you any closer to championship contention is just not going to be ideal. In the process, the Pelicans would be saying goodbye to Josh Hart, another reliable role player that is consistently effective on both sides of the ball.
Memphis Grizzlies: Receive Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe, 10th pick and 40th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
The trade gets even more peculiar for Memphis, whose prerogative is to move up in the draft to select a young player to compliment their young trio of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Jaren Jackson Jr. while adding some veteran leadership to a team that struggled in their first playoff appearance with its core group. Don't get me wrong, Steven Adams is a solid piece to add and can be effective when healthy, but why deal a young talent in Valanciunas to move a few spots up in the draft while taking on a big man that also clogs the paint?
Ja Morant is a great young point guard with an all-around offensive arsenal, but Ja lives in the paint, similar to Zion Williamson. If parting with Valanciunas was purely to move up to 10th, then that is fine, but taking on Adams and Bledsoe's contracts when they do not help you improve much immediately seems like an odd decision to make.
Jackson Jr. may be thrilled at the idea of not having to play inside as much, but to maximize Ja's effectiveness, the paint needs to be clear, and Adams is a player that absolutely lives in the shaded area. The only reason why Memphis would be happy to take back these contracts is to make a big splash in free agency once they expire, which then gives you less time to build a contender around Ja Morant before he can decide to go elsewhere.
The alternative is to look to package Adams and Bledsoe with the hopes of prying a disgruntled young star from a team that is looking at a much longer rebuilding horizon like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sam Presti might be looking for picks at the moment, but he may also be interested in potential expiring contracts that could be dealt to a team with lofty aspirations in future free agency markets such as the Knicks. This is also not a bad scenario for the Grizzlies, but given the current value of Adams and Bledsoe, they would be hard-pressed to find a suitable deal for the two that catapults them to the status of a consistent playoff team.
If this trade is an indication of one thing, it is that the offseason has officially begun and that the presence of a super team in Brooklyn is causing many franchises to evaluate their plans. Because of this, we could be in for a summer of significant movements in the league drumming up much excitement for what the NBA hopes to be its first full season with fans in the stands since the Covid-19 pandemic grounded the league to a halt. Get ready, as this offseason promises to be an interesting one with many potential winners and, therefore, several potential losers as well.