Scooting Towards A Deal
A dump of my thoughts on everything related to a potential trade for Scoot Henderson
It happened. I was knee deep in work stuff for my day job, music blaring in the headphones. Sometimes you catch a groove ya know? My phone was set on Do Not Disturb so I had no idea a dozen people had texted me. The first text I saw was my podcast partner’s - Mason.
“you see the shams report”
No punctuation, no capitalization - clearly sent in a rush. No - I hadn’t seen the Shams report. I quickly logged onto twitter and found what Mason was referring to.
“The Pelicans are expected to pursue a top pick, 2 or 3, with their eyes set on Scoot Henderson”
Oh boy. My afternoon was shot. There was no chance I would get anything productive done the rest of the day. How do the Pels get him? Are they seriously putting Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram on the table? What would the trade even look like? My phone was buzzing with questions as I struggled to wrap my head around the news release. Naturally I was excited that the Pelicans were now publicly linked to Scoot by one of the biggest news breakers in the business.
Followers of the substack and my twitter feed know that I have been discussing Scoot for some time now. I laid out a detailed financial case for the Pelicans blowing up their “big 3” , but I think this situation calls for a little more nuance than just following the money. I don’t really know of a great way to tackle this so here is a catalog of my thoughts.
Once the initial excitement settled, my first thought was that this is a leak from either Charlotte or Portland. It makes no strategic sense for the Pelicans to leak their interest in a top pick because it would indirectly be leaking their intention to move one of their stars. Draft season is peak disinformation season. Teams hold their cards closely to the chest while trying to determine the actions of their rivals.
It’s no secret that Portland is interested in adding win now talent to supplement Damian Lillard. What remains unclear is Charlotte’s true motivations. Reporters appear to be converging on Brandon Miller as Charlotte’s preferred selection at 2. Yet we all saw how quickly these things can change when word got out Orlando was honing in on Paolo Banchero instead of assumed number one pick, Jabari Smith, just minutes before the draft.
The only way to guarantee the ability to select Scoot Henderson is to make a deal with Charlotte. Dealing with Portland leaves the door open for Charlotte to simply select Scoot or for another team to woo them. Any Portland deal would have to be done on draft night AFTER Charlotte has selected someone else. This carries risk as well, because an unknown suitor may go above and beyond in their offer to Portland. So yeah, the ONLY guaranteed way is to deal with Charlotte. And the only way they are moving off the number 2 pick is if the Pelicans are sending out one of Zion or Ingram. There almost does not exist a precedent in the modern NBA where a team outside of the top 3 was able to trade into the top 3 without including all-star level talent. This is what it will take.
A small aside here for a moment - there exists a small possibility where a three team trade is worked out between Portland, Charlotte, and New Orleans that sends the 3rd pick to Charlotte with some small assets, a star to Portland, and the 2nd pick with salary to New Orleans. This is the only way I can see Portland getting involved in a pre-draft deal.
Okay back to the main course.
Trading The Stars
Woof. The thought of trading one of Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram is a daunting one. This will be the prevailing discourse among Pelicans fans before a trade either happens or doesn’t. Now I’ve already covered pretty thoroughly the case for trading either in a previous post, so I wanted to take some time to touch on the difficulty of the situation and what my interpretation of the what is the core choice the Pelicans are facing.
Zion and Brandon appear to be almost character foils of each other. Both are products of Duke, with Zion going number one in the draft, and Brandon going two a few years earlier. Where Zion’s game is the essence of force and power, Ingram slithers around the court at a buttery smooth pace. Where Zion has lacked the consistent discipline in taking care of his body, Ingram has worked tirelessly in the shadow trying to improve every aspect of his game.
Ingram’s low maintenance nature is easy to root for. It should be no surprise that he has big fans in the front office. David Griffin frequently mentions the quality of humans on the roster and recently referred to Ingram as the “leader” of the team in an interview with the Pelicans’ broadcast duo. I’m a bit skeptical on the leadership qualities of Ingram (and Zion for that matter) given the number of resources the Pelicans have invested on “leadership” over the past four years, but that’s a separate article. What matters is that from appearances, Ingram embodies the fabric of what Griffin would like to build around much more than Zion ever has. There is something to be said to about building around guys who are about the “right stuff”. I think the Pelicans would greatly appreciate freedom from the stress that has come with Zion.
But does the “right stuff” win you games? Will it win you a championship? This is a question the front office needs to answer with all emotion removed. In my eyes the “right stuff” is just a poor approximation of true leadership. If the Pelicans had a true organizing talent that players rallied behind on and off the court, they wouldn’t need to continually fill the roster with guys about the “right stuff”. They would simply trust their infrastructure and bring in guys that moved the needle towards winning. The appetite for baggage is much larger when there is a LeBron, a Jimmy Butler, a Giannis, or even a Chris Paul on the roster. The Pelicans don’t have a single player who can emulate those qualities both as a person and a player.
I think both Brandon and Zion have had their moments in which the organization and team have rallied behind them. Brandon notably has been prominent in the Pelicans post-season push for two years in a row now. It’s tough to discount Ingram’s play down the stretch of both those years and I think it has earned him the respect of his teammates. However, that stretch in December where Zion was dominating everything in his path was something else. That is not something I have experienced as an observer of the team, ever. The atmosphere was electric and every game it felt like I was about to witness something I had never seen before. In this time, the 11-8 Pelicans surged to 18-8 after Ingram went down. Vibes on the team were at an all-time high, and no one was thinking about how Zion had missed the entire previous season.
A 7 game sample is a too tiny of one to make any kind of objective decision on, and unfortunately for the Pelicans, all samples involving their team are small. But in those 7 games I saw for the first time in years what a true galvanizing talent might look like in New Orleans. Zion wanted all the smoke and his teammates were happy to follow him into war.
If you’re the Pelicans, why wouldn’t you be trying everything humanly possible to recreate THAT? Especially when you have THAT on a 5 year contract? There was a years long power struggle between Zion (and his people) and the Pelicans training staff, and now that staff is finally being restructured. I personally would want to see if the changes are enough to spur change in Zion’s health and habits.
Now if the Pelicans have decided that they are not comfortable with Zion’s long term health outlook - that is a valid reason to move on. While some folks have suggested Zion’s recent appearance in headlines is reason to end the partnership, I do not believe any of his baby mama drama should be taken into consideration. It’s the 114 games in four seasons played that is an enormous reason to part ways. Spare me the moral high horse of the “right stuff” unless you truly feel Zion is irredeemable. It would be extremely difficult being the team that gave up on Zion because they were not patient enough to let a young man figure it out. But you’d be quite savvy if you moved off a player that never gets healthy. This is the decision the Pelicans have to weigh.
All of the above discussion presupposes the Pelicans have an actual choice in the matter. There is a very real possibility Charlotte (Or Portland I guess) puts their foot down on ONE of the Pelicans two stars. In that event, I think the Pelicans should comply and trade the preferred player. I personally would be asking for more in return if Zion was in the trade than Ingram given the skill gap and contract situations, but I would still go through with the trade. Scoot is going to be special and the flexibility gained by breaking the “big 3” will pay dividends later.
Charlotte almost assuredly will want to dump Terry Rozier’s contract. Rozier has three years and over $73 million left on his contract and just had his least efficient year in a four year span. The last thing the Pelicans need is long term money tied yet another small and aging guard. If Charlotte insists Rozier must be included in the deal, the Pelicans need additional draft compensation.
Nevertheless, it will be imperative for the Pelicans to get off as money as possible, or avoid taking in more. Gordon Hayward is an expiring contract that the Pelicans should be pushing for - even if the goal is to re-route him for other pieces at a later date (or as part of an extended trade). This is really the only key ask I have for this trade. I trust the Pelicans to figure out whatever edge pieces and assets are necessary to complete the deal. Flexibility is a MUST.
Building Around Scoot
There is a lot of concern among Pelicans fans that the team will take a step backwards by trading for a rookie. I am not convinced that is the case for a few reasons. Firstly, if Zion is not involved in the trade (or the trade doesn’t happen at all), then this team will be as good as Zion’s health. If Zion is healthy - they should be a very good team given what we saw last year. If Zion is not, then this team will be mediocre, trade or not.
Secondly, even if Zion is involved, the Pelicans would not be done dealing. Depending on the trade return, they would have the ability to pursue upgrades at the center position, as well as depth. For example - flipping Hayward’s expiring and future draft compensation for Kristaps Porzingis (also an expiring). Likewise, attaching draft capital to JV and pursuing Myles Turner or someone similar. There’s also smaller trades the Pelicans can do to shore up depth. One of my favorite uses of the 14th pick is to cobble together some salary (Kira and Naji) for Royce O’Neal and the 21st and 22nd pick from Brooklyn. The possibilities are countless, and if the Pelicans play their card rights right, they will walk away with a deeper roster in addition to Scoot.
Lastly, I want to go back to the leadership stuff. I think Scoot has it in him to be THAT guy. By all accounts he is about the “right stuff” the Pelicans are looking for in a professional. If he is hitting his ceiling as an All-NBA guy with that kind of passion, he can be the galvanizing talent the Pelicans have so desperately been searching for. And if the Pelicans share the belief that Scoot will be THAT guy, then the key will be to surround him with as much talent (and shooting) as possible. Trust that he will develop the right way and be able to hold others accountable in a way Zion and Brandon never could. Who knows, maybe acquiring Scoot forces whichever star remains to kick into the next gear, lest they be left behind by the young phenom.
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