Not only do the Pelicans not have a selection to make Thursday, they already have a head start on being pickless in 2015.
Yahoo Sports reported late Wednesday that the locals had traded a future draft pick, presumably their No. 1 for next year, to Houston for center Omer Asik.
Considering their otherwise limited options, it was the way to go.
The deal gives the Pelicans a player they have supposedly coveted since last summer when the Rockets acquired Dwight Howard — pushing Asik, a 7-foot-0, 255-pounder who started every game in 2012-13, into a backup role.
In exchange, the Pelicans gave up an unknown value for a year from now.
If things fall together for the Pelicans, it won’t be a lottery pick. And if it is, well, the guys who made the deal, General Manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams may not be around to deal with the consequences.
Still, going without a first-rounder for three straight years feels a little odd.
Especially since the Pelicans hit paydirt in 2012 when the lottery balls fell their way and they wound up Anthony Davis at No. 1, not to mention Austin Rivers in a residual from the Chris Paul trade.
At least everybody knew this night was coming since a year ago. That was when the Pelicans took Nerlens Noel with the No. 6 pick but seemingly within seconds had shipped him and 2014’s No. 1 to Philadelphia for guard Jrue Holiday and the rights to Sixers’ second-rounder Pierre Jackson.
No doubt the Pelicans checked into moving into first round, or perhaps even somewhere early in the second (there were reports of talks with Sacramento about No. 8). But apparently there were no takers for the players they were willing to part with (Yes, we mean you, Eric Gordon) and there were few assets others wanted they were willing to part with (Ryan Anderson), so they made Wednesday’s deal, shoring up a position of need.
To ex-Portland Trailblazers executive Tom Penn, now with ESPN, the Pels did exactly the right thing.
Speaking earlier Wednesday in a teleconference before anything was known about the Asik deal, Penn pointed out that there are seven other teams without first-round picks and four others without one in either round, meaning any of them would have to pay premium prices — $3 million plus whatever sweeteners they’re willing to part with — to get into the first round.
Penn said that wasn’t worth it for the Pelicans.
“It’s more of a macro picture with the Pelicans in terms of getting their core players healthy,” he said. “Every decision they make has to complement Anthony Davis, building around that brilliance and the emergence of a player who is on track to be an MVP-type of talent.
“The damage that Dell Demps is going to be able to do is via trades and free agency probably more so than in the draft. With the cost to get into the draft very high this year, as the Pelicans organically try to grow their youth, I think their best opportunities come in those other aspects.”
Penn was also prescient about what the Pelicans specifically needed.
“The Pelicans would be smart to find some bulk to go around Anthony Davis,” he said. “A player who can complement by banging around a little bit and taking the pressure off.”
So now, unless the team brings in Asik on Thursday, it promises to be a quiet night around Pelicans’ headquarters on Airline Drive in Metairie.
On draft night, that can be frustrating to fans. But despite this being considered the deepest draft in several years, the number of players capable of being true difference-makers as rookies is limited.
When you’re in a playoff or bust mode, development projects are a luxury.
And maybe the draft’s overrated.
Yeah, you can get a Davis or Paul, but it’s still a crapshoot, especially when 13 of the top 30 players in this year’s draft are still in their teens.
The San Antonio Spurs have one lottery pick on their roster: Tim Duncan in 1997. They’ve managed to do pretty well despite that.
And while Holiday’s missing most of the season with a stress fracture made dealing what became two lottery picks for him a trade whose value is yet to be determined, remember that Noel missed the entire season rehabbing his knee while his team went 19-63.
At this point, the Pelicans, who would have been picking 10th if they still had their pick, still have the upper hand in the exchange.
To stay that way depends on Holiday’s return to his all-star level that made him worth two No. 1s to the Pelicans.
There’s no reason to think he won’t. And at age 24, Holiday is just hitting his prime.
But acquiring Asik doesn’t put the Pelicans into playoff position in the rugged Western Conference.
Phoenix, which just missed a playoff spot, has three first-round picks. Utah and Denver are in position to get better, and the Lakers aren’t going to stay down for long.
And that’s just getting the team in contention for the seventh or eighth seed.
Houston made the trade with the Pelicans to help free up cap space for a run at LeBron or Carmelo Anthony. The Clippers also are in a go-for-it mode.
Nobody stands still in the NBA, even the Spurs.
For the Pelicans, that’s a scenario for patience, something Demps and Williams can only hope owner Tom Benson continues to have.