The New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings both pulled off
major blockbuster deals in which they acquired two inarguably
franchise-changing pieces. CJ McCollum enters the Bayou as a strong
scoring complement to Brandon Ingram, and a hopefully-soon-to-be
healthy Zion Williamson. Two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis helps
form an intriguing one-two punch with De’Aaron Fox. However,
Sacramento moved out arguably its best player this season in Tyrese
Haliburton to make the tandem happen.
When the NBA implemented the play-in tournament, some were
skeptical of how this would make a real impact. Well, based off
Tuesday's moves alone, the play-in is proving to be a game changer
for playoff-hungry organizations.
Both New Orleans and Sacramento aren’t even in the discussion
for a top-eight seed in the reloaded Western Conference. Where it
gets interesting is that a team only needs to finish with at least
the No. 10 seed to technically make the “playoffs” for a
winner-take-all bout. The Pelicans and Kings are right in the thick
of the play-in-palooza.
The race for No. 10 in the West is officially on. Three
and-a-half games behind the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans is
staking its claim with a measly 22-32 record. Only three games
behind the Pelicans, Sacramento checks in at 20-36.
Sandwiched between New Orleans and Sacramento, the Portland
Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs have another 24 hours to decide
if they’re in or out as well for this faux playoff sprint.
(Portland trading away multiple pieces strongly suggests a team
that's leaning toward losing in the short-term, although they have been linked to Jerami
Grant so we'll see.)
During this trade-deadline period, the Pelicans and Kings
decided to push the chips in. Is this the new normal within the
NBA, where double-digit teams in each conference believe a 10-seed
is the new barrier to break?
Pressure at the top was the main theme for Tuesday’s terrific
There’s no doubt about the pressure being applied on Pelicans
EVP David Griffin to steer the ship in a winning direction for New
Orleans. Zion Williamson’s future is murkier than expected due to
injuries — that's another element to take into consideration.
Sacramento is experiencing a historically-long postseason
drought. Any potential drop of water to chase in the desert that is
the team's small playoff probability, you better believe Sacramento
is going after it. That’s exactly why Sabonis is now a foundational
building block with Fox in Sacramento. The timeline for the Kings
to reach the postseason is now, which might explain why Haliburton
was shockingly sent to Indiana. Kings management is hoping, for
their own job security, that Fox and Sabonis instantly bring
magical chemistry to ignite an above-.500 stretch of winning
Both trades seem to show opposite sides of the coin for how
short-term gain could have long-term ramifications. I’m high on McCollum’s fit in New
Orleans, as he provides a much-needed veteran presence who can
provide multiple assets to assist the team's inconsistent offensive
attack. Brandon Ingram and Williamson will finally have someone who
can bring aboard winning habits. Also, Larry Nance Jr. is an
underrated piece in the trade for the Pelicans, providing an
athletic big who’s versatile enough to make an impact on both
In Sacramento, Sabonis and Fox might bring a fake playoff berth
and potentially even a real seed within the next three seasons, as
well as bring dynamic offensive firepower. But was it worth it in
the end? Again, for a playoff-starved organization like Sacramento,
maybe a drastically-judged jaw-dropping deal could be what they see
as the key to the team's most realistic immediate jump. Haliburton
has All-Star upside, which he’s shown throughout his first two
seasons. On the other side of the deal, now the Pacers have one of the Association’s best
assets and overall young players aboard.
This year’s playoff picture in the West classifies itself into
an interesting tier system:
Strong Title Contenders: Phoenix Suns, Golden
Deep Postseason Potential: Memphis Grizzlies,
Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets
Play-In Tournament: Los Angeles Lakers, Los
Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans,
Undecided: San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail
Tanking: Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston
Expect to see some more shuffling across the NBA’s leaderboard
over the next 24 hours, just before the trade deadline. Whether it
be true Finals threats or teams fighting for the lowest possible
playoff probabilities, two seemingly desperate teams bring to light
a potentially new normal for league-wide parity.
The Pelicans and Kings could easily be real winners from these
deals now — and for that matter, multiple years down the line.
McCollum and Sabonis turn weaknesses into plausible strengths for
their respective new teams.
Play-In-Palooza 2022 is going to be electric. New Orleans and
Sacramento booked their first-class tickets, but will any other
overzealous teams dare join them?
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