By Shawn Dennis
Going into the 2020-2021 season, the New Orleans Pelicans had much higher expectations in comparison to last season. When the Bubble came, Alvin Gentry couldn’t get his team to make the playoffs, as they ended with a disappointing 2-6 record and fired Gentry in the process. Moving Jrue Holiday to the Bucks in the offseason to provide Lonzo Ball with more minutes, as well as getting Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe in return, was arguably the best decision to make with the options lined up on the table for Holiday. This starting lineup is quite scary in size with Zion Williamson and Adams controlling the front court, but that doesn’t make up for being ranked 23rd in team defense with a defensive rating of 110.7. To add to their lack of defense, the Pelicans are second in total opponent rebounds, allowing an average of 48.5 rebounds per game.
The Western Conference in the NBA has been the tougher of the two to win in for, some may say, the last two decades, aside from the two teams LeBron James had played for. Yet most NBA insiders and analysts didn’t count out the Pelicans from being playoff contenders with the freakishly athletic Zion and the offensive capabilities that the former Los Angeles Laker Brandon Ingram has. New Orleans, through their last ten games, has a dismal 2-8 record and is 14th in the Western Conference.
Bringing in Stan Van Gundy, who has 12 seasons of not just coaching experience, but coaching teams with a younger roster, was an apt move for the Pelicans. Except GM Trajan Langdon didn’t account for one crucial aspect. Van Gundy had never coached in the Western Conference before. Of course this shouldn’t have hampered Van Gundy’s impressive 529-394 record for becoming the Pelicans coach, but now he is playing teams that he didn’t see more than a couple times a year when coaching in the East.
Now, two things must be said before we take a look at a few players that will inevitably be traded to get some of the rookies playing minutes. First, the blame isn’t exactly on Stan Van Gundy for where the team is currently. It takes longer than 16 games to get a feel for a team and develop chemistry, but that doesn’t mean trades shouldn’t be made. Second, the Pelicans are still amid their rebuild since the departure of Anthony Davis and shouldn’t be anywhere near the panic button unless this losing streak continues after the All-Star break.
Lonzo Ball, JJ Reddick, Josh Hart, Eric Bledsoe, and possibly Steven Adams (depending on what they can get in return for him), I believe, are all on the trade block. After seeing Lonzo’s younger brother LaMelo Ball be able to shoot without that funky form and the ceiling that he has in comparison to Lonzo, LaMelo’s now living in the shadows both mentally and physically of his brother. Josh Hart has been shooting a poor 42% from the field this season and that’s even worse considering he only takes six shots a game. JJ Reddick is shooting the worst three-point percentage he’s shot in his career thus far and is lucky to get anymore than 20 minutes in a game. Eric Bledsoe is another guy who should be shooting in the mid 50’s and averaging at least 18-20 points per game, but is underperforming to say the least with 13 a game coming off 44% from the field. It goes without saying that the Pelicans need shooters and the guards that they have, aside from the young guys, have all but reached their peaks.
A team that comes to mind for a worthwhile trade and would make the most sense for New Orleans is the Charlotte Hornets. Terry Rozier may not play as good of defense as Eric Bledsoe, but they are very similar players with similar contracts aside from being 5-years apart. Charlotte doesn’t need to keep all their guards they currently have and they are extremely weak in the front court, but Rozier would offer New Orleans more options on offense than Bledsoe. The Hornets already have one pair of brothers on their team, I don’t think Michael Jordan would turn down seeing both the Ball brothers in Charlotte with the ratings that would come.
Here’s a three team trade that has been run through ESPN’s Trade Machine that more than likely won’t happen, but should.
New Orleans receives: Terry Rozier
Charlotte receives: JJ Reddick, Lonzo Ball, PJ Tucker
Houston receives: Malik Monk, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin
I love this trade for each team, as they all acquire players that make sense for their needs and have all been discussed in trade rumors. Houston gets better in their front court offense with Malik Monk, who deserves more playing time than what he’s getting. New Orleans has the option to keep Bledsoe or Rozier or trade either of them or away for another guard. Charlotte gains two established veterans that can shoot the ball, along with a new brother tandem that ESPN would eat up.
Another trade scenario that could occur is with the Orlando Magic. Van Gundy has a familiarity with the organization and may be able to pursue a shooter and a big. Here’s another trade that’s been approved by the Trade Machine.
New Orleans receives: Terrence Ross, Mo Bamba or Al-Farouq Aminu
Orlando Magic receives: Eric Bledsoe, Josh Hart
I don’t think this would make a huge difference for either team, but Ross would provide more three-point shooting and Bledsoe would make a great leader for the up and coming Cole Anthony.
Lastly, this is a trade that I see happening the most, as rumors have already been swirling between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Pelicans.
New Orleans receives: Patrick Beverley, Luke Kennard, Mfiondu Kabengele
Los Angeles receives: Eric Bledsoe, Josh Hart
The point guard swap would be beneficial for both teams in this situation, depending on if Bledsoe can start scoring more and if Beverley could accept a role coming off the bench, if necessary. Luke Kennard has always been an above-average shooter and Josh Hart would fit better in the Ty Lue-run offense in my opinion.
Whatever ends up happening, it’s going to happen soon. The Pelicans can definitely still grab one of the bottom seeds in the West if the cards are played right and Zion stays healthy. Regardless, I think a trade is the best way of making it possible and bringing in one more veteran wouldn’t hurt as long, as they can still create minutes for their rookie point guard Kira Lewis Jr.