2019-20 Previews: New Orleans Pelicans

Losses: Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, Julius Randle, Stanley Johnson, Elfrid Payton, Cheick Diallo, Ian Clark, Christian Wood.

Additions: Derrick Favors, J.J. Redick, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Nicolo Melli, Josh Hart, ZION WILLIAMSON, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

Likely Starters
Guard: Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball (hard to imagine Redick coming off the bench, but...)
Wing: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram
Big: Derrick Favors

Predicted Record: 41–41 | 18th in NBA | 11th in West

This summer, the Pelicans leveraged the desperation of the Lakers into an historical haul for Anthony Davis, a player who was likely going to leave after another wasted season anyway. In return, the Pels received a kind of Rebuild Your Team Home Kit. They got elite second draft guys in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. They got a solid, young contributor in Josh Hart. They got whatever they wanted of the Lakers’ draft assets for the foreseeable future. So, like, that was one of the summers the Pels had this summer.

This summer, the Pelicans had cap space. They used that space not to sign one elite free agent but more creatively. They used cap space to acquire Derrick Favors from the Jazz for two second-round picks (originally belonging to the Warriors). They used cap space to sign J.J. Redick (he got $26.5M over two seasons). They signed Italian forward Nicolo Melli with their room exception (since they were operating under the cap). That was another summer the Pels had this summer.

This summer, the Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery and acquired the first overall pick in what many experts considered a draft with exactly one future superstar: Zion Williamson. The Pelicans also got back the fourth overall pick from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade. They spun that pick into the eighth, 17th, and 35th picks (plus a future, heavily-protected first round pick). With those picks, respectively, they drafted Jaxson Hayes (incredibly athletic center), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (big guard, had a great summer league in Vegas), and Marcos Louzada Silva, a wing from Brazil. All together, the Pelicans brought in a ton of talent through the draft. That was another summer the Pels had this summer.

If you were counting, that was three (3) summers. The Pelicans acquired a ton of young talent, but they also picked up veterans who fit well together. They managed to work towards building around Jrue Holiday while also putting together a young core that can grow around Zion. They have an outside chance to make the playoffs while developing tons of talent. All things considered, there is a lot of optimism around the Pels at the moment.

That said, it is instructive to think about how we got here. After all, when this team won the 2012 lottery, it seemed like they had hit a huge jackpot in getting Anthony Davis, so even when you get a surefire superstar, the issue isn’t exactly decided. The Pelicans over the duration of AD’s career have been a case-study in rushing a rebuild. They panicked into acquiring mediocre talent, or they misread the present and mortgaged the future in service to it.

Jrue Holiday, for example, is awesome, but the assets they gave up to get him and the timing of his acquisition made the transaction, back in the summer of 2013, the first disaster. More followed. Solomon Hill. Omer Asik. E’Twaun Moore. Again and again, the Pelicans devoted major assets to players worth less than those assets. Individual moves were often more or less defensible, but in the NBA you have to maximize everything, and then you have to get lucky even beyond that.

It’s such a human problem, isn’t it? We imagine that our greatest successes are the result of our careful planning and hard work, but most of the time they had just as much to do with the whims of the wind. We try to learn from our successes, but they are just as likely to steer us wrong. See, the problem is time. We are always older, always different, always incorrect somehow, someway.

For these reasons, I find myself optimistic about the Pelicans, who had a summer steering away from conventional wisdom. They traded down from a top-5 draft pick. They resisted the urge to trade Jrue Holiday for a more extreme rebuild. They eschewed big money free agents for quality veterans like Redick and Favors. Still, it worries me that everyone seems to be praising them. They seem to have a plan, and for now it feels like a smart one, but plans are always formed in the ever-disappearing present. Could we have missed some important detail? I wonder.

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