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Should the Pelicans Keep Brandon Ingram?

When Sam Hinkie began his ambitious plan known as “The Process” some people thought he was crazy.  Well, after a few years of being terrible it resulted in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, quality supporting players, and LOTS of draft capital.  The Sixers have been loaded with extra first round picks and pick swaps over the last few years and it feels like every year they have three second round picks in the 30s.  Hinkie resigned shortly before the Sixers drafted Ben Simmons and he never got to see the fruits of his labor.  

The Pelicans need to embrace the process.  Well, their own version of it.  They are already light-years ahead because they have the best decision maker, who also happens to be the best at winning the lottery ever, in David Griffin.  Because of their most recent lottery win, the Pelicans already have the most important piece, Zion Williamson — the star you can build around.  Plus, they are set up for a top 8ish (probably better) pick again this year and will immediately get another important piece to their core. They also don’t have to bottom out, Zion + their next lottery pick + whatever veterans they retain should be enough to fight for the playoffs when they are healthy.  

Zion can very easily be a generational player.  He is of the Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Pascal Siakam breed; the two-way point-forward who would flourish even more in an open system that allows them to wreak havoc in the paint.  

The Bucks finally got the right management in place and built a system and roster directly around Giannis and it has worked incredibly.  They run a 4-5 out system with shooters surrounding Giannis. The Raptors have plenty of shooting and high IQ players that surround Siakam and it’s worked out great.

The Sixers are essentially the control group here, they just bet on talent and not fit around Simmons. This is mostly due to Embiid being the superior player, but Simmons has some clear limitations that are amplified due to the system fit.  Imagine if Simmons had an Embiid-level player that was a much cleaner fit and a little bit more shooting, that team would be unstoppable, and people would probably view Simmons as a top-10 player.   

The Pelicans still have assets from the Anthony Davis trade, great trade chips right now, and Zion will be under his rookie-scale deal for three more years after this season.  That’s what makes the Pelicans situation so beautiful, they do not have pay Zion for four years. They have four years to use their draft assets, cash in their current veterans, and use ample cap space before they must extend Zion.

The alternative would be to keep all the veterans, give Brandon Ingram a max this summer, and then make decent moves on the margins between free agency and the draft.  The team will basically lose all their significant cap space if they give Ingram the max, they will have to trust the core of aging Jrue Holiday, Ingram, and Zion. And so, in the first part of this series, we ask the important question:

Should the Pelicans keep Brandon Ingram? 

The Pelicans are 6-21 through the first quarter of the season.  Brandon Ingram is averaging right around 25 points per game and has a true shooting percentage of 60.7%.  He has shown his performance at the end of last season could be the new normal. He has also really excelled in his three-point shooting this year, knocking down over 41% on around six attempts a night.  While the shooting is great, he’s never done it anywhere near this volume or efficiency before. Due to that lack of track record, it is impossible to know if his shooting is real. 

Ingram is also a very ball-dominant player who does not necessarily make his teammates better.  These are the type of players to be wary of. If you’re betting on this type of player to be your best player, history has proved there is a pretty hard ceiling.  If you’re betting on this player to be your second-best, history has shown either the fit has to be perfect, and/or players 2-6ish are all quality players –the Mike Budenholzer Bucks have been an example of both of those scenarios.  

The Pelicans chose not extend Brandon Ingram this summer.  That was the correct move. Ingram was likely requesting the full-max, he had yet to play a game as a Pelican and has an injury history.  Plus, he had not proved he was anywhere close to a max player through the extension deadline. That would have also made him very difficult to trade during the season due to the poison pill provision.  

With his play so far this year, teams like Atlanta, Cleveland, and Memphis projected to have significant money this year, and the weak free agency class, Ingram is for sure getting a max this summer.  

So the Pelicans have to ask themselves: should we overpay for a ball-dominant player who does not make his teammates better, could very easily see his shooting drop off, and is not an ideal fit next to the most important building block of the franchise, or should we sell high on him while his value is likely at its peak to get players who fit better around the future of our team?  Or basically: What would Hinkie do? I think I know what Hinkie would do here, he would trade Brandon Ingram, the right decision. In our next installment, we will explore some potential trades for Brandon Ingram.

The Pelicans have the chance to spend the next four years building the perfect team for Zion.  To help their chances, they need to trade Brandon Ingram before the deadline while his value is the highest it will ever be.  

Yes, he is still tradable on a max, but he will never again be on a rookie-scale deal again and this could end up being the peak of his career.  I know that sounds aggressive to say about a 22-year-old, but if his anomaly shooting season drops off closer to his career average he is significantly worse.  He will probably end up making a few All-Star games, but he is still a ball-dominant player who does not necessarily make his teammates better. His fit next to Zion will be clunky, they’ll be fine together, but not optimal.  So why not trade him while his value is high and get pieces that will fit better with the end-goal for this team?  

Brandon Ingram will definitely have a trade market, fringe playoff teams will see him as enough to get them to the next level and they’ll want to get his free agency rights, and young rebuilding teams will likely see him as a quality piece in a rebuild.  It might be tough to get young teams to offer much because they can just pursue him in free agency this summer, however New Orleans can always give off the impression they’ll match any offer since he will be a restricted free agent. 

 Some potential trades for Brandon Ingram would look like:

Trade 1:

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In this trade scenario, the point is to swap out Brandon Ingram for a similar-level player that fits perfect with the future of this team.  Myles Turner can be the Brook Lopez to Zion’s Giannis. He can stretch the floor next to Zion by giving him the space to work in the paint and he can protect the rim while Zion uses his out-of-this-world athleticism to be a free safety on defense.  With Turner being the outside threat and Zion being the paint presence, teams will be forced to cross-match a lot which should lead to more advantages for New Orleans.  

Trade 2:

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The theory behind this trade is similar to the last, swapping Brandon Ingram for another similarly skilled player that fits the future team better.  D’Angelo Russell would be an excellent lead ball handler in the New Orleans system and for a Zion-led team. Throwing it back to his Ohio State days, he was known for his elite court-vision and excelling in look ahead passes, Zion will eat off those.  He is also a great pick and roll partner for Zion, while also being a good enough scorer and shooter to draw attention away from him.    

Trade 3:

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I think this might be my favorite trade so far.  The Pelicans receive that prototype center mentioned in the first trade, while also getting a forward who can play along Zion as the three or be the power forward when Zion is at center.  Aaron Gordon isn’t the perfect fit but he’s on a declining contract, he is very good on the defensive end, and I would predict him to get better in a more open system, especially considering he’d be surrounded by more ball-handlers than in years past.  Mo Bamba certainly has his critics, but this is 100% the type of risk the Pelicans should take. Three to five years down the line, Bamba and Zion could make the best defensive frontcourt in the league — add Aaron Gordon, maybe post-prime Jrue Holiday and whatever they cashed the remainder of their Anthony Davis assets in for and that is a sure-fire contender.  

Trade 4:

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This trade is a little more out-there and is contingent on the New Orleans front office seeing potential in Michael Porter Jr.  Porter has not showed that much this year, but he is on a very good team and has not played basketball in basically three years, I would not expect much for the next year or two.  But if New Orleans likes the flashes they’ve seen, that makes this deal more interesting. They get their centerpiece of the trade in MPJ, the restricted free agency rights to Malik Beasley who is in Coach Michael Malone’s dog house right now (and is also an intriguing young shooter who 100% makes sense on this team), and they swap out one of their two-way contracts for Bol Bol’s two-way contract (think whatever you want about him, he is intriguing as hell on a $50,000 guaranteed contract), and lastly New Orleans gets two more second round picks due to the potential of this trade return being weak with bust potential of MPJ and Bol.  

In our next installment, we’ll examine what the Pelicans can do with veteran Jrue Holiday.

Chandler Harper
Former college basketball player at LaGrange College. NBA writer and basketball trainer.

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