The trade that sent Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans to the Los Angeles Lakers was a good one. The Lakers got a superstar to pair with LeBron James, and the Pelicans got a hefty package of young players and draft picks to put toward rebuilding their roster. One of the top assets to change hands in the deal was the fourth pick in Thursday night’s draft—with New Orleans holding the top overall pick and locked into selecting Duke’s Zion Williamson, gaining control of the fourth pick put the Pelicans tantalizingly close to the chance to add Williamson’s Duke teammate, best pal, and fellow super-prospect R.J. Barrett.
But there’s been a problem. The Knicks, holding the third pick, are reportedly determined to pick Barrett. The Grizzlies, picking one slot ahead of the Knicks, are reportedly determined to select Ja Morant of Murray State. The only way for the Pelicans to draft Williamson and then get to Barrett before the Knicks is to leapfrog them in a trade with the Grizzlies, but if they were to do so, the Knicks would almost certainly pivot and select Morant, leaving the Grizzlies without a chance to grab the guy they want to replace the recently traded Mike Conley. There’s gridlock at the top of the draft, and the Pelicans cannot move up.
Since there’s nobody the Pelicans especially want with the fourth pick, and they can’t move up in the order, they’ve done the next best thing and moved down, sending the fourth pick to the Atlanta Hawks and returning a haul of later picks and salary cap relief in the process.
So the Pelicans traded the fourth pick, a late second-rounder, a future second-rounder, and Solomon Hill to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for the eighth pick, the 17th pick, and an early second-rounder. The $25 million left on Solomon Hill’s contract is viewed as carrying negative value, so being rid of him in this trade is nearly as valuable as the individual picks acquired, since by clearing him off their books the Pelicans are now set to enter free agency with room for a max-contract veteran. Here’s a clean and eye-popping way of summarizing all of what the Pelicans have done ahead of the draft, since trading Anthony Davis:
The known picks in there—numbers eight, 17, and 35 in tonight’s draft—are less sexy than the fourth overall pick, but the overall return is a huge haul of draft picks that can be used to stock the Pelicans with young prospects, or repackaged in later trades. And the Lakers picks stretched off into the future have plenty of upside potential, depending upon how LeBron ages into his late 30s and how quickly Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka learns to spell the words “salary” and “cap.”
And the Pelicans can look forward to all that while also having added a trio of young players who at least in theory should work beautifully right away alongside Zion Williamson in head coach Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo system. Nobody knows anything certain about how all this will shake out, but new Pelicans GM David Griffin has done a remarkable job of putting the Pelicans in prime position to surpass the middling success they enjoyed under comprehensively overwhelmed predecessor Dell Demps. If they can hang onto Jrue Holiday for a while, they’ve got a chance of being frisky and interesting right away and really good down the line.