The first time he spoke publicly after being named senior manager of basketball for the New Orleans Pelicans, David Griffin said, “You’re either all in or all out. There is no middle ground.”
This proclamation was made about Anthony Davis.
Outwardly, Griffin maintained that the team’s relationship with the disgruntled star could be repaired. But privately, Griffin understood that Davis would never play another game for the Pelicans again — not after how uncomfortable he had made the situation for everyone in the organization.
On June 15, 2019 – 33 days after being hired – Griffin sold Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Pelicans picked up three players (Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball) and three first-round picks.
Wednesday marked the third anniversary of the trade, which has been bountiful for New Orleans, and looks set to be for years to come.
New Orleans’ biggest advantage in the trade has been Ingram, who has become a franchise cornerstone. He earned an All-Star appearance in his first season with New Orleans. Although he hasn’t returned since, many in the organization believe he reached new heights as an all-around player last season.
Ingram posted career-best assists. He seemed comfortable in coach Willie Green’s offensive system, one of the basic elements of which is quick decision-making. By playing a little faster in the half court, Ingram became harder to stop.
The numbers supported the theory that Ingram has never had such an impact. When he played, the Pelicans went 29-26. When he sat down, they were 7-20.
Of the three players who came from Los Angeles to New Orleans, only Ingram remains. The Pelicans weren’t interested in giving Ball a lot of money last summer, so he ended up with the Chicago Bulls on an $85 million deal. Hart was in the middle of a career year when he was sent to the Portland Trail Blazers in February as the centerpiece of a trade to acquire CJ McCollum.
The addition of McCollum was the boost the Pelicans needed to become a playoff team. Stepping out of Damian Lillard’s shadow, the 30-year-old has thrived at primary guard, where he averaged 24.3 points and 5.8 assists in 26 games.
McCollum had 32 points in the Pelicans’ tournament win over the San Antonio Spurs, and he scored 32 points in the team’s April 1 road win over the Lakers, which not only increased the Pelicans’ chances in the playoffs, but also boosted their chances of retaining the Lakers’ first-round pick in this summer’s draft.
The Pelicans could only keep the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick if he made the top 10 (the result of a trade they completed with the Memphis Grizzlies in August). The pick, indeed, conveyed. They hold the No. 8 selection in Thursday’s draft.
For the next two years at least, the Pelicans and Lakers will continue to be intertwined. The Pelicans have the option to trade first-round picks with the Lakers in 2023. Then in 2024 or 2025 — depending on which year the Pelicans prefer — the Lakers will have to fork out a final first-round pick, their final payout. on Davis.
The NBA landscape is changing rapidly, but the Lakers’ outlook is not rosy.
LeBron James is entering his 20th season and he’s only under contract for one more year. Russell Westbrook owes $47 million next season, a figure that will make him difficult to trade without also giving up a first-round pick. Then there’s Davis, who should be at the peak of his career but has only played 76 of a possible 144 games over the past two seasons due to injuries.
The Pelicans are in a much better position than they were three years ago when Davis’ time with the team was coming to an end. They ended a three-year playoff drought despite not getting a single minute from Zion Williamson, who was recovering from a broken right foot. Williamson is eligible to sign a five-year extension beginning July 1.
Over the next few seasons, New Orleans’ cap could hinge on Williamson’s health and whether he wants to become a face of the franchise. If he goes all the way, a franchise that has never made it past the second round of the playoffs can reach unprecedented heights. If he’s not, then by Griffin’s definition, that can only mean one thing: he’s completely out.
As Griffin said three years ago at the start of this rebuild, there is no middle man.