The Grizzlies and Pelicans have executed the first major trade of NBA Draft week.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday that Memphis is sending Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks in this year’s draft to New Orleans in exchange for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks in this year’s draft and a 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected). There are a lot of moving parts here, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of this trade is how it impacts a player who is not even part of the deal.
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By moving off the Adams and Bledsoe contracts, the Pelicans could create up to $36 million in cap space, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks. That would mean not keeping restricted free agents Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, though it’s currently unclear how they plan to approach negotiations with each player. (If Hart stays but Ball leaves, that number drops to $25 million.)
So why would the Pelicans entertain the possibility of losing one or two talented pieces of their backcourt rotation? Because they could land Kyle Lowry. The Raptors star will enter unrestricted free agency this summer, and there is “rising buzz” that New Orleans is expected to be among the teams that pursue him, according to Marc Stein.
It’s not hard to see why the Pelicans would want to sign Lowry. He fills an area of need as a veteran point guard, and he is still capable of being highly productive and providing great leadership for a team that has not reached the postseason since 2018. Lowry would also be a great fit next to Zion Williamson, who is coming off his first All-Star season and should only grow as a franchise cornerstone.
But New Orleans couldn’t have gotten into the race without cap space. Barry Jackson and Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald reported Monday that Lowry wants a “guaranteed three-year deal, averaging $30 million per season.” Even if Lowry falls short of that $30 million expectation, it likely won’t be by much. Now the Pelicans can make a realistic offer.
There will be other suitors, of course. The Heat, Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks and Sixers could all get involved. But this trade certainly turns the Pelicans into a more serious threat to win the Lowry sweepstakes.