Biggest Winners and Losers from Pelicans-Grizzlies NBA Draft Week Trade
In a deal that kicks off NBA draft week, the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies agreed to a trade that will benefit both clubs, albeit at different times.
The Pelicans traded Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 overall picks in the 2021 draft and a 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected, via the Los Angeles Lakers) to the Grizzlies for Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 overall picks in 2021, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. As Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports noted, Bledsoe is not expected to stay in Memphis.
The trade clears up cap space for New Orleans while adding the best player in the deal in Valanciunas, who is now the team's starting center next to Zion Williamson.
Memphis takes on money but gets to jump up to 10th overall in the draft while adding another first-rounder in 2022.
As the dust settles, here are the winners and losers of the Grizzlies-Pelicans trade.
Winner: Zion Williamson
Williamson has become one of the best interior forces in basketball, and now he finally gets some room to operate.
Jonas Valanciunas is the best player, and the best fit, Williamson has ever shared a frontcourt with.
Derrick Favors (with the Pelicans in 2019-20) and Steven Adams (2020-21) are both good NBA players, but neither offered any sort of spacing around Williamson. In two years, the pair combined to hit exactly one three-pointer and only attempted 10. Valanciunas, on the other hand, was 21-of-57 (36.8 percent) this past season for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Last season, 22.7 percent of Williamson's shot attempts were taken against very tight defense (defenders within two feet). Giannis Antetokounmpo, another physically dominant power forward who does most of his work in the paint, only saw 10.4 percent of his shots taken against very tight defense, thanks in part to having floor-spacing center Brook Lopez next to him.
Serving as a pick-and-roll ball-handler or roll man, Williamson can dominate individual matchups with his size, quickness and strength even more now with fewer bodies around him.
Loser: Grizzlies' Immediate Future
Memphis has seemingly exceeded its rebuild, making the playoffs this past season over the Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs, franchises with far more veterans or who are trying to win now.
By trading Valanciunas (their starting center, leading rebounder and third-leading scorer) to move up in the draft and pick up a 2022 first-round pick, the Grizzlies are signaling that they're OK sacrificing the present for an even better future.
Memphis still has most of its core on rookie contracts (Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman Sr., Grayson Allen, etc.), so there's no immediate rush to go all-in for a championship.
Still, the front office has to hope this doesn't send the wrong message to the players, as Valanciunas was such a huge part of the team's success and a bridge between eras as the main return from the Marc Gasol trade.
This deal makes the Grizzlies worse in 2021-22 and helps the Pelicans potentially jump them in the standings, but Memphis may be better in a year or two because of it.
Winner(s): Kira Lewis Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker
With Eric Bledsoe now gone (and Lonzo Ball's future with the team very much in question), Lewis and Alexander-Walker should see more shots and playing time in 2021-22.
Bledsoe served as the team's starting shooting guard in 70 of his 71 games, ranking fourth on the Pelicans in minutes per game (29.7) and shot attempts (10.3). He was another ball-handler on a team already featuring Ball and Zion Williamson, leaving little room for Lewis, the 13th overall pick in 2020, to grow.
Even if Ball returns in the starting role, Lewis should see his minutes increase from the 16.7 he averaged as a rookie.
Moving Bledsoe also means the starting shooting guard job should now go to Alexander-Walker, who averaged 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 steals and shot 41.2 percent from three in his 13 starts this past season. The 22-year-old has excellent size at 6'6" and should be an upgrade over Bledsoe next year.
Trading Bledsoe not only frees up cap space but also gives the Pelicans' young guards more room to develop.
Loser: Justise WInslow
The big financial loser of the trade? Winslow, whose $13 million team option will now be declined to facilitate the trade.
"Because of the salary involved with all three players, this is the type of trade that cannot be finalized until August 6," ESPN's Bobby Marks wrote. "The Grizzlies would need to decline the team option of Justise Winslow to make the money work and take Adams and Bledsoe back into room."
Winslow finally made his Grizzlies debut in February this season after struggling with hip injuries following a February 2020 trade with the Miami Heat. He averaged 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 0.6 steals and shot just 35.2 percent overall and 18.5 percent from three in 19.5 minutes over 26 games.
The 25-year-old forward flashed his potential in his final regular-season game, putting up 25 points, 14 rebounds and four assists and went 4-of-6 from deep in a win over the Sacramento Kings.
There was a chance Memphis would have brought him back on the $13 million team option while trying to rehab his value (or at least use the contract as a salary matcher in a future deal) before the trade with the Pelicans happened.
Winslow likely won't get anywhere close to $13 million on the open market and will likely have to sign a one-year, prove-it deal somewhere at a much lower number.
Winner: New Orleans' Cap Space
By swapping the contracts of Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe for Jonas Valanciunas, the Pelicans have opened up over $20 million in salary-cap space right before free agency.
With Zion Williamson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker coming off their rookie contracts in 2023 and Lonzo Ball needing a new deal this offseason, this will likely be New Orleans' last chance to have significant money to spend.
ESPN's Bobby Marks wrote that the Pelicans could open up to $36 million in cap space if they renounce restricted free agents Ball and Josh Hart, and could still have $25 million and keep Hart.
This now opens the door to land unrestricted free agent point guard Kyle Lowry after The Athletic's Shams Charania named the Pelicans a "top suitor" for the six-time All-Star. Chris Paul, Mike Conley Jr., Dennis Schroder and Spencer Dinwiddie can all become free agents as well.
If the Pelicans can't land an upgrade like Lowry, they can always bring back Ball on a new deal now without any fear of dipping into the luxury tax.