3 early Pelicans trade targets in 2023 NBA offseason

The New Orleans Pelicans surely did not expect that they would be sitting from the confines of their own homes to watch the rest of the 2023 NBA playoffs unfold like the majority of fans around the world, but here we are. Four months after sitting atop the Western Conference standings, the Pelicans’ fortunes quickly turned upside down, finishing the season with a 19-26 record en route to the ninth seed and an eventual defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2023 NBA play-in tournament game.

Unlike other fringe playoff teams, however, the Pelicans’ future remains extremely bright, especially if Zion Williamson ever figures out how to remain healthy for a full season. Brandon Ingram is exactly the kind of wing scorer all teams with ambitions of making a deep playoff run need, while Trey Murphy and Herb Jones are incredible young pieces, specifically due to their marksmanship and defense, respectively. They’re still on their rookie deals as well.

Meanwhile, Jonas Valanciunas is still a bruising presence on the interior, while the Pelicans have a few potential post-hype breakout candidates on the roster with Dyson Daniels, Kira Lewis Jr., and Jaxson Hayes.

The Pelicans also have a few more first-rounders coming their way from the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks in addition to their 2023 lottery pick, so they will have plenty of assets as well to swing a huge trade should they decide to go that route.

But if they’re serious about contending amid the uncertainty surrounding Williamson’s status, they may have to acquire a third star to up their championship equity.

Here are three trade targets the Pelicans must set their sights on during the 2023 NBA offseason so they could turn things around following a disappointing 2022-23 season.

Trae Young

It’s unclear why the Atlanta Hawks would ever decide to trade Trae Young without him asking for a trade. Young has done nothing but impress since entering the league in 2018. He has averaged 25.5 points and 9.3 assists for his career, which isn’t something most 24-year old floor generals can boast of. He is exactly the kind of player a franchise would want to build their offense around — a heliocentric force who dominates the ball, can create his own shot at any time, and someone who makes life easier for his teammates.

However, Young hasn’t had the best reputation off the court. Throughout the 2022-23 season, as unwarranted as some of those rumors may be, there have been rumblings that Young clashed with former Hawks head coach Nate McMillan, which eventually led to McMillan’s resignation.

Moreover, there was a rumor, right before the Hawks’ play-in game against the Miami Heat, that Trae Young could be available for trade sooner than later.

Trae Young’s departure remains unlikely of course. It’d be daft for any franchise to give up on a 24-year old who averaged 26 points and 10 assists, especially when that player is locked into a long-term deal. But if the Hawks are dead-set on trading away Young, then the Pelicans should be the first to give them a call.

Any blockbuster trade for the Pelicans will have to include CJ McCollum for salary-matching purposes, which could put off the Hawks given how hefty McCollum’s current contract is. But the Pelicans have a ton of draft picks to deal, and they could even add Trey Murphy to the deal if that’s what it takes.

Murphy’s potential inclusion in a trade for Young should give the Pelicans pause. Murphy made the most of his opportunities during the 2022-23 season, and he seemed almost automatic from beyond the arc, especially when wide open. Every aspiring contender needs their own Trey Murphy.

However, this is Trae Young we’re talking about. Young is also only two years older than Murphy, which may be hard to believe given how accomplished he’s already been in his brief NBA career thus far.

A pick-and-roll duo of Young and Zion Williamson is the stuff of dreams, and Brandon Ingram won’t have to shoulder too heavy of a playmaking burden with Young in town. Young could also unlock another level for Jaxson Hayes, should the Pelicans decide to bring him back in free agency.

It will take a king’s ransom to pry Young away from the Hawks. But it should very well be worth it.

Damian Lillard

Trae Young may be the dream acquisition. But he’s buried deep within the Pelicans’ subconscious, as there’s simply no way the Hawks give up on Young this early. So the Pelicans may have to go up a level (Inception reference) and pursue a more realistic trade target.

Enter Damian Lillard.

The Portland Trail Blazers, as it stands, may prefer to keep Lillard in town, instead of trading him away to kickstart their rebuild. They may decide to re-sign Jerami Grant, and perhaps swing a trade for disgruntled star themselves, with Jaylen Brown atop Lillard’s wishlist.

Lillard has been more vocal as of late when it comes to needing more reinforcements, so the Blazers will have to step up their game in that regard. But if the Blazers’ fail in their star-hunting, it may be time for them to face the music and deal away one of their greatest players in franchise history.

The rationale behind the Pelicans’ interest in Damian Lillard is simple. Lillard averaged 32.2 points on 64.5 percent true shooting, and his gravity is almost unprecedented. He has also made showing up in big games a habit, Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets during the 2019 NBA playoffs notwithstanding.

There’s certainly a bit of humor if the Pelicans ended up trading CJ McCollum back to the Blazers in a deal for Lillard. But the Pelicans won’t have other avenues (other than trading away Brandon Ingram or Zion Williamson, which they won’t do) to pursue Lillard without the inclusion of McCollum’s contract.

For the Blazers’ side of things, they will be getting a plethora of future first-round picks from the Pelicans; those may be from the Lakers and Bucks, but a lot can happen in the future, so those picks could end up being some very good selections.

OG Anunoby

Yes, OG Anunoby isn’t a star unlike the first two trade targets, but he would cost a lot less too. There’s a trade package in there for the Pelicans that they could offer the Toronto Raptors without having to include CJ McCollum, since Anunoby will be making just $18.6 million for next season.

Even then, Anunoby would cost a truckload of picks, and it remains unclear that he’ll be worth the Raptors’ hefty asking price of four first-round picks for the 3 and D wing. After all, a team will prefer to acquire a game-changing presence on the offensive end for that price instead of a defensive specialist whose offensive game isn’t the most developed or well-rounded.

However, OG Anunoby is not just any defensive specialist. He’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the game, taking on the toughest matchup on the court on a nightly basis, and he usually makes life difficult for even the best players in the NBA.

Sure, Anunoby did not have the best play-in game against the Chicago Bulls. He scored just 13 points and he failed to hold Zach LaVine in check after the Bulls star exploded for 39 points.

But Anunoby’s potential synergy with other Pelicans players is tantalizing. Imagining a pesky defensive trio of Jose Alvarado, Herb Jones, and Anunoby should send shivers down ballhandlers’ spines.

Anunoby is also extremely playoff-viable, as there’s no way he’ll ever be targeted in pick-and-rolls nor ignored completely on offense, given his improvements on that end of the floor.

The post 3 early Pelicans trade targets in 2023 NBA offseason appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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