The Pelicans’ biggest mistake in 2024 NBA free agency

After watching their postseason run fall apart when it mattered most, with Brandon Ingram fading en route to a 0-4 sweep at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the New Orleans Pelicans knew they couldn’t head into the 2024-25 season with the same old roster.

Now, it’s true that some players weren’t going to be traded, with Zion Williamson still untouchable, CJ McCollum’s contract unlikely to be moved, and dynamic forward duo Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III just starting to come into their own, but that didn’t stop… David Griffin scoured the market, changed a few things, and made a pretty significant trade for DeJounte Murray without moving any of the team’s top five players.

And yet, after sending away Cody Zeller, Larry Nance Jr., EJ Liddell and Dyson Daniels in the Murray deal, allowing Naji Marshall to sign with Dallas and watching Jonas Valanciunas sign a three-year, $30 million deal with the Washington Wizards, the Pelicans find themselves with far less depth than when the offseason began and few outright replacement spots at center.

First, the Pelicans selected Yves Missi out of Baylor at No. 21 overall, a promising young prospect who could eventually develop into a New Orleans player but feels more like a long-term project than the second coming of Derek Lively. Then the team went out and signed another center in free agency, Daniel Theis, a slightly smaller power forward who split his 2023-24 season between the Indiana Pacers, where he played one game, and the Los Angeles Clippers, where he averaged 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 17.1 minutes of action per night.

Could Theis and Missi, plus Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who was upgraded from a two-way contract to a standard NBA contract last year, piece together enough minutes to keep the Pelicans alive in both the regular season and playoffs, opening up more minutes for Williams at the center spot as well? Potentially, but considering the Pelicans still have Ingram under contract, and would surely like to part ways with him before the start of the regular season, management would be wise to call one of the center-heavy teams like the Brooklyn Nets or Portland Trail Blazers to see if they can’t work out a deal and bring back a big man to round out their roster.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) dribbles against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) during the first half in Game 4 of the first round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs at Smoothie King Center.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

No more complacency for the New Orleans Pelicans

Discussing how the Pelicans have approached their free agency situation after years stuck in the middle of the Western Conference, Griffin told reporters that he had very little interest in sticking with business as usual and was instead willing to sacrifice continuity in the name of significantly improving the roster.

“In the past, we’ve always leaned toward continuity, and our bottom line has been, ‘Let’s see if this group is healthy.’ I think we’ve seen enough of that,” Griffin told reporters at the end of the regular season via The Athletic. “I want to be very, very clear: This is not going to be a summer of complacency. It’s time to get better.”

So if the Pelicans want to make a serious move and retool their roster in a major way, what does that mean for Ingram, who has become a poster child for complacency in the Big Apple? Well, Griffin mentioned that in the preseason, too, and made it clear that while Ingram would like to stay in New Orleans, he’ll do what’s best for the team moving forward, whether that’s keeping the All-Star or trading him for pieces that fit better.

“Brandon wants to stay here. He believes in what we’re building. That’s important to us,” Griffin said. “At the same time, there’s a financial reality that we’re all dealing with. I think we’re excited about Brandon. We know he’s excited about us. Usually those things pay off one way or another.”

Would it be a disaster if the Pelicans didn’t trade Ingram and had to keep him on the roster for at least the start of the 2024-25 NBA season? No, as long as New Orleans adds another center to its roster, they should be fine, but considering where Jones and Murphey could be headed in the future, the Pelicans owe it to themselves to give the duo their best chance to shine heading into their primes, which is a lot harder to do if Ingram is saturating three-quarters of a given game at one of the two small forward positions.