In a surprising move to kick off the NBA’s trade deadline, the New orleans Pelicans made a move to acquire CJ McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers. Although this seemed to signal that the latter would be tearing it all down, they are apparently still committed to putting a winning product around superstar Damian Lillard.
Whether that tall order comes to pass remains to be seen, but for now, the Pelicans have McCollum, and fans are rightly excited. In a vacuum, this is an excellent move, especially when you consider that they gave up Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Walker-Alexander, Didi Louzada, a protected 2022 first-round pick, and two second-round picks. Outside of Hart, that’s a win.
But a much larger question that will come into focus very quickly is why the New Orleans Pelicans felt that now was the time to acquire veteran CJ McCollum?
We do have to look at the asking price. A team would be foolish not to give that away in exchange for not only a borderline All-Star in CJ McCollum, but also Larry Nance Jr.
Nance was a player being talked about as someone who could fix some of the Trail Blazers’ woes heading into this season. That did not really happen, but he can be a superb option off the bench in the right scenario.
Back to the bigger picture, does it not feel like we’ve been here before with Anthony Davis? The Pelicans drafted him and immediately tried to cut corners in an attempt to cook up a contending roster and keep Davis happy. Outside of sweeping, of all teams, the Trail Blazers in a playoff series, that did not happen.
There’s no doubt McCollum brings elite-level offensive play to their backcourt. But in the last two years, the Pelicans have traded away Jrue Holiday and let Lonzo Ball walk as well. Could you make the case that Holiday is a better player than McCollum? You certainly could. But it was felt that the Pelicans were going to go younger and build around Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
Only they quickly pivoted from that logic, watching as Ball, who was in the same age bracket as his co-stars, went to the Bulls and immediately started to play well. During this period, they also signed Devonte ‘Graham to a sizeable deal, and although he can play alongside McCollum, they are far from the perfectly balanced duo.
With Williamson still out and Ingram under contract, why did the franchise feel that now was the time to go for it? Could they not have waited until the offseason to assess their options? There are only two reasons that make sense. The first is that, and it has been said already, they did not give up a lot of meaningful assets to get McCollum.
Come the offseason other, more desperate, organizations could have surely come in with better offers for McCollum. The other is that the Pelicans could make the play-in tournament, and securing McCollum means that they most likely will. Is going all in now in order to make the play-in really the right move, though?
This all seems very negative, and that is probably because the Pelicans still aren’t at contender status, have a star player with a worrying injury history already, and have a bad recent history of drafting players (other than first-overall picks). But the flip side is that in two years we could be looking at this McCollum deal as the moment everything changed.
Williamson will return. Ingram is an All-Star-level talent who is criminally overlooked because he plays in New Orleans. The early Kevin Durant comparisons always felt lazy, but he is already an accomplished scorer. The hope now is that, with a more competitive roster around him, Ingram will become more engaged.
Even the drafting has improved, with Herbert Jones being one of the steals of this year’s class. He is exactly the kind of player their roster needed, and the organization needed a win badly with a lower pick in the draft.
McCollum showed in Portland that he was more than comfortable running the show as their point guard when needed, but he will also be comfortable playing off Williamson as a second star.
At this point, he’s probably cool with being a third option if it means winning on a larger scale. Center Jonas Valanciunas has to be happy as well, as there is potential for a nifty two-man game with him and McCollum.
Yet the overriding feeling is still one of curiosity. The Pelicans have been here before, trying to appease a young player who really hasn’t done much of anything yet. If he can stay healthy, Williamson most certainly will be great, and New Orleans is not exactly a basketball hotbed, so keeping him happy will be massively important.
This just felt like a rushed move to try and prove that they are for real. The Pelicans could very well make the postseason, and when they get bounced early, it will require everybody buying in to get next season right.
That is the best way to describe the deal for CJ McCollum. The price was right, but they lost a life in the video game that is the NBA in the process.