Pels’ Bright Future in the Post-Zion Apocalypse

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Updated: April 25, 2022
New Orleans Pelicans v Philadelphia 76ers

If a single play could encompass the essence of a season, it was an undrafted rookie Jose Alvarado full-court press 90 feet from the basket that forced an 8-second backcourt violation on the Point-God. With a dumbfounded look across Chris Paul’s face, his Bookerless Suns will migrate back West to meet the Pels’ young length and defensive intensity in a 7-game series now tied 2 to 2. After the play-in tournament had solidified the 1-8 matchups, this particular series was one of the few that was highlighted by Vegas as a probable clean sweep in 4. Unfortunately for the “best team in basketball,” Booker’s absence in combination with Brandon Ingram & Kevin Durant swapping bodies has made Game 5 in Phoenix the must-see Blockbuster event of Round I.

Rewind the tape on the New Orleans’ national media coverage and outside a handful of geeky fixations on the Herb Jones defensive prowess, the only talk surrounding the Pelicans orbited around the planet-sized power forward, Zion Williamson.

Will Zion be the first rookie contract lottery selection to opt for his qualifying offer and manifest his freedom outside of restricted free agency? 

No one following the league expected B.I, C.J, and the Pels to take CP3 and D-Book 6 games let alone blow the Suns off the floor in New Orleans, but here we are. All truths in the association are subject to not only be altered but obliterated. Now the narrative that most including myself subscribed to that the Pelicans were one the worst franchises in the NBA must be reevaluated. It is not only a couple of victories in the post-season but the how’s and who’s that are producing these W’s on the floor. With their ownership of all the Lakers’ picks for the foreseeable future and the majority of draft capital curtesy of Milwaukee, many had asked, and so what? What will all these late 1st rounders actually accumulate to? As if every player selected from 20 down is destinated to be Payton Pritchard.

Herb Jones, selected at 35, is a bonified problem that is now being broadcasted across the airwaves for the world to see. Not only his defensive length and unexpected rookie impact in the playoffs against a 1-seed but the value of having a surplus of picks and the flexibility it creates when having the luxury of gambling on the young. Their surplus of 1sts not only allows them to play Russian Roulette on draft night but also creates opportunities to gamble on vets at the deadline as they did in their mid-season acquisitions of C.J McCollum and Larry Nance Jr.

Full disclosure, it was a move that had everyone’s head shaking with a barrage of question marks of what exactly this franchise was and will be. However, it appears we all were wrong. Not only has Brandon Ingram’s evolution made them at the very least a dangerous post-season out moving forward, they appear to have had a cultural shift in the addition of these two vets at the deadline.

It is a culture based on defensive buy-in and the next man-up mentality that has no place for a prima donna 300-pound monstrosity of an unmerited Max-contract waiting to happen. With all the noise out of Zion’s camp about his desire to be the big-market box office star, paired with his inability to stay on the floor or stay in shape, this offseason has only 1 logical option for New Orleans’ future: Trade Zion Williamson.

 

Zion to New York

Most trade discussions surrounding the Williamson exchange have linked a swap of R.J Barrett and Williamson. However, the allure of reuniting the Duke-duo of Barret and Zion may be the recipe for an offseason trade that would entice New York to overpay in assets for the potential of a Big City star. Instead of receiving another non-shooter who needs the ball in R.J, New Orleans would hand over the keys to the Cadillac for the potential of young Cam Reddish, Immanuel Quickly, and even more draft capital.

With regards to value, the exchange is quite transparent for both sides: Reddish and Quickly would be lucky to ever be top 40 players, whereas, Zion has already shown flashes of being a tier 1 All-NBA weapon. The question is if he will ever stay healthy? If not for the off-court chatter from Williamson’s camp regarding his fixation with big-market glamour, gambling on his future and the chance of him blossoming would be the only option. Ironically though, with his injury-prone nature well-documented, not only through these years but even before the draft, this all may be a blessing in disguise.

Cam Reddish has yet to establish himself as a solid rotation player, but his length, in combination with his two-way potential simply cannot be taught. With the flashes shown this season by young Immanuel Quickly, many Knickerbocker fans surely will be hesitant to part with his offensive burst on the trade block. But if not Quickly the deal would need to include Barett and the future tandem of Zion and R.J is the cocktail that would presumably not only keep Williamson happy but intoxicate the New York crowd.

Undoubtedly, if Zion was placed on the open market at least half a dozen franchises would move heaven and earth to acquire him. The fact of the matter is, when healthy, Zion removes grown-men defenders from the paint like a semi-truck running through traffic cones. His ceiling is the stars and it comes with a steep price if one were to pry him away from the franchise that drafted him. There will be those who feel Reddish, Quickly, + picks is too little, others will feel with Zion’s health it’s too much for New York to give up. But with this unexpected turn of events with the Pels’ success in the playoffs, even if it ends in a game 6 at home, it inevitably must lead to an offseason exchange with the Knicks.

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