The New Orleans Pelicans are coming off a disappointing 2020-21 season in which they failed to make the playoffs, which is stirring trade rumors, and now, head coach Stan Van Gundy is out after posting a 31-41 record.
Let’s take a closer look at the latest surrounding a critical offseason for the Pels as they try to build a legitimate contender around young superstar Zion Williamson.
New Orleans Pelicans rumors: Kyle Lowry may replace Lonzo Ball in Chris Paul-type role
Since the Pelicans seem reluctant to match any sizable offer sheet for restricted free agent Lonzo Ball, they might have their eyes on a more experienced point guard to team up with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.
Substack’s Marc Stein reported that New Orleans “plans to enter the race” for Kyle Lowry in free agency:
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst later reported Pelicans EVP of basketball operations David Griffin envisions Lowry providing a similar spark to what Chris Paul did for the Phoenix Suns in leading them to the NBA Finals.
Lowry was the heart and soul of the Raptors’ championship team, but they’ve declined over the past two seasons. They also had the good fortune of landing the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, which could fundamentally alter their future plans.
Based on how the draft figures to break, Toronto probably won’t want to spend an outlandish amount of money to keep the aging Lowry. The concept of joining Lowry with a couple young, rising superstars in Ingram and Williamson could entice the Pelicans to pay him more than any other team is willing to.
The good news with Lowry, too, is that he won’t be a max contract player. Thus, New Orleans should still have room for Zion’s eventual max extension, and can still fill out the roster with solid depth while also improving its consistency and leadership at such a key position.
New Orleans Pelicans rumors: Front-runner emerges for head coach vacancy
According to NOLA.com’s Christian Clark, Jacque Vaughn and Charles Lee were two main finalists to take over as Pelicans head coach earlier on in the search. Vaughn is on the Brooklyn Nets’ staff as an assistant, while Lee is still with the Milwaukee Bucks through their playoff run.
The New York Times‘ Marc Stein confirmed the Pels’ serious interest in those two candidates but threw a third name into the ring. Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green, a former NBA guard who was on the Golden State Warriors’ staff starting in 2016 before spending the past two seasons with the Suns, is drawing heavy interest:
Now, ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Green is, in fact, the heavy favorite to be the Pelicans’ next head coach.
It probably won’t be long until the Pelicans hire someone new. They must get it right, because this will be Zion Williamson’s third different coach in as many NBA seasons.
New Orleans Pelicans rumors: Team could trade 10th overall pick for established player
The Athletic‘s Zach Harper reported that the Pels “already have so many young guys, and people around the NBA are expecting them to move this pick for some veteran help, according to league sources.”
That’s a fair point. What New Orleans really needs is strong leadership. Obviously, Stan Van Gundy wasn’t the right voice in the locker room, but beyond the coaching vacancy, the roster could use some veteran mentors as well.
After trading away JJ Redick during last season, there aren’t many outside of Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe on the current roster who could serve that valuable role. It’d be worth getting another star before Zion’s max contract extension, and doing so could also guard against the possibility that Lonzo Ball leaves as a restricted free agent.
New Orleans Pelicans rumors: Zion’s family wants him to be traded
A voluminous, unflattering Pelicans report in The Athletic from Thursday reads, in part, as follows:
“Multiple sources have told The Athletic that certain family members want Williamson on another team. For months, sources from all NBA corners have pointed to the Pelicans as a heap of dysfunction.”
That’s not a great look. And the only way for Zion Williamson to get out of New Orleans is via trade, which is virtually impossible.
Consider that Williamson is under contract for three more years, directly under the Pelicans’ control. A trade would mean another young star who wants out from a dysfunctional team would need to go to New Orleans to make it all work.
But why would said other young star OK a trade to somewhere else that’s also dysfunctional? Make no sense.
We could see something unprecedented, yet Williamson doesn’t come across as a demanding diva type of personality. That report from The Athletic also cites people close to Williamson who assert that he “remains focused on basketball and helping New Orleans win next season.”
Welp, the Pelicans really need to nail that coaching hire.
New Orleans Pelicans rumors: Top candidates to replace Stan Van Gundy as coach emerge
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted out a list of front-runners to succeed Van Gundy, including longtime NBA superstar Jason Kidd:
The New York Times‘ Marc Stein reported Teresa Weatherspoon is a “serious” candidate, which would mark the first hiring of a female coach in NBA history.
Weatherspoon and San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon should both have legitimate chances to be head coaches very soon. Who the Pelicans hire will likely make or break whether or not Williamson remains in New Orleans for the long haul.
New Orleans Pelicans Trade scenarios for 2021 NBA offseason
Lonzo Ball sign-and-trade a real possibility
Per RealGM, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on his podcast that Lonzo Ball to the Chicago Bulls is one match in particular to watch for on the NBA trade market this summer.
Ball is a restricted free agent, and will command a hefty salary. It comes down to whether he’s a good enough basketball fit in New Orleans and if the Pelicans can even afford him, especially with Zion’s eventual max contract on the horizon.
Van Gundy getting fired throws a whole other wrench into the Ball saga, too.
Teams that are more ideally situated from a cap standpoint are likely to make a strong bid for Ball. New Orleans is bound to match any offer sheet that Ball signs, but that complicates the framework of a prospective sign-and-trade scenario.
If the Bulls really do want Ball, he’d be a nice fit in the backcourt alongside Zach LaVine. However, they’d have to be patient, and would likely do a sign-and-trade of their own with Lauri Markkanen.
The New York Knicks are another team to watch for in a Ball sign-and-trade, as they could offer the Pelicans a decent number of young assets in a deal that’d be mutually beneficial for two franchises trying to take the next step.
Eric Bledsoe must be traded for team-building purposes
Because Eric Bledsoe continues to disappoint and underachieve, there’s no reason New Orleans should hang onto him into next season. He’s an inefficient scorer, more of a ‘tweener than dynamic combo guard and isn’t exactly the most reliable perimeter defender.
Retaining the likes of Ball and Josh Hart means the Pelicans will need to find a Bledsoe suitor. That may prove difficult, because he’s due over $18 million next season and hits free agency again in 2023.
While that’s not a prohibitive cost, teams might find two capable contributors at that combined cost rather than overpaying for Bledsoe. That’s what the Pelicans are certainly hoping for in a potential deal. They would need defensive help and shooting in a Bledsoe trade to execute an ideal offseason plan.
The Los Angeles Lakers stand out as a potential Bledsoe destination, because he shares an agent with LeBron James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. KCP’s salary is a near match for Bledsoe, and the Lakers could send back a role player as part of the package.
Top New Orleans Pelicans trade targets for 2021 NBA offseason
- Kentavious Caldwell Pope, guard, Los Angeles Lakers
- Buddy Hield, guard, Sacramento Kings
- Kevin Love, forward, Cleveland Cavaliers