The Grizzlies and Pelicans are finalizing a trade that will involve several players and draft picks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).
As Wojnarowski reports, the deal will send Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks to New Orleans in exchange for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks, and the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. The Pelicans will add top-10 protection to that ’22 first-rounder, per Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report (Twitter link).
The trade, our second of the offseason and the first of draft week, is a fascinating move for two Southwest teams looking to make the playoffs in 2022.
The Pelicans had been considered highly likely to trade at least one of Adams or Bledsoe, both of whom are on pricey contracts and weren’t viewed as part of the team’s long-term future. Rather than just moving one of the two, they’ll send both to Memphis, creating significant cap flexibility for this year’s free agent period.
Bledsoe ($18.13MM) and Adams ($17.07MM) will earn a combined $35MM+ in 2021/22, while Valanciunas is on the books for just $14MM. Valanciunas is also entering a contract year, whereas Adams has one more guaranteed season left in ’22/23 and Bledsoe has a partial guarantee, so the Pelicans won’t just be opening up cap room this summer — they’ll create future flexibility as well.
Swapping out Adams for Valanciunas should allow the Pelicans to improve their frontcourt spacing. Valanciunas isn’t exactly a long-distance marksman, but has a solid mid-range game and will shoot the occasional three-pointer, which should create more room for Zion Williamson to operate. The former No. 5 overall pick averaged an impressive 17.1 PPG and 12.5 RPG with a .592/.368/.773 shooting line in 62 games (28.3 MPG) this past season.
Moving Bledsoe’s contract also puts the Pelicans in position to either bring back restricted free agent Lonzo Ball or pursue another point guard in free agency. As Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets, New Orleans could create up to about $36MM in cap space by letting Ball and Josh Hart walk, or approximately $25MM in space by retaining Hart’s cap hold and letting go of Ball. Kyle Lowry is rumored to be among the Pelicans’ potential free agent targets.
As for the Grizzlies, they’ll presumably decline Justise Winslow‘s $13MM team option in order to create the cap room necessary to take on Adams and Bledsoe once the new league year begins in August, Marks notes (via Twitter).
While Adams and Bledsoe didn’t have great seasons in New Orleans, they’ve both been productive in the past and are bounce-back candidates in Memphis if the fit is better. Adams posted 7.6 PPG and 8.9 RPG in 58 games (27.7 MPG) in 2020/21, while Bledsoe put up 12.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, and 3.4 RPG on .421/.341/.687 shooting in 71 games (29.7 MPG).
The Grizzlies also significantly improve their draft assets in the swap, moving up seven spots in the first round and 11 spots in the second while also adding an extra first-round pick for next year. They’re now in position to have three first-rounders in next year’s draft, since they also hold Utah’s top-six protected first-rounder.