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Is Trading Ryan Anderson the Answer?

Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

The New Orleans Pelicans are not a great basketball team right now. To be honest, they are not even a particularly good one. There was hope that Tyreke Evans would stanch the bleeding, but the Pellies are 3-5 since his return, despite what seemed like a statement win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. There have been signs of improvement – less turnovers, improved rebounding – but they’re still the second-worst team in the West. As Jrue Holiday comes off his minutes restriction and the team plays together more, things could start to turn around, but in the meantime there has been significant trade talk surrounding the Pelicans. Since most free agents signed this past offseason just became eligible for trades, it seems like a good time to take a look at their options.

Most of the conversation has focused on Ryan “The Flamethrower” Anderson, an aptly nicknamed stretch 4 who has played a major role in what little success the Pelicans have enjoyed. That he’s a member of every five-man lineup that has a positive net rating in at least 20 minutes played seems to indicate he’s important, although the injuries they’ve dealt with makes the Pels’ team stats a little wonky. Still, both history and the eye test support the numbers; teams have to respect Anderson’s career 37 percent shooting from three, which gives Anthony Davis the space to do Anthony Davis things.

Unfortunately for the Pelicans, Anderson will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, which means the best-case scenario for New Orleans is throwing a ton of money at him as the cap shoots up. Worst-case scenario, he leaves for a contender and the Pellies have lost a key piece with nothing to show for it. New Orleans reportedly isn’t actively shopping Anderson yet, but they have been listening to pitches when they come in.

The most discussed offer centers around the Suns’ Markieff Morris, which is a flat out terrible deal for New Orleans. Leaving aside the personality and chemistry issues Morris could bring, he’s not a significant enough defensive improvement to justify the step back on offense. It would be kinda like when the Rebel Alliance decided to defend Hoth with a shield that only protected them from orbit, and then had to fight off the Imperial ground assault with a clearly inferior force. Plus, the Pelicans already have big men who can at least ostensibly play defense. If they are going to give up Anderson, it should be to bolster their depth on the wing, where Alonzo Gee is currently shooting around 25 percent from three with a PER of 7.4 in 25 minutes a game

The easiest solution to their issues on the perimeter is time. Quincy Pondexter will return from his knee injury sooner or later, and while he’s not a game-changer in his own right, the difference between him and Gee is like the difference between raiding in random rares and finally getting your first set bonus from Tier 1 armor. Sure there’s better stuff out there, but holy cow does it make a difference to stop using those Emerald Legplates of the Monkey. This is also the path the Pels are most likely to take. The more interesting one requires pulling Houston, the other team interested in Markieff Morris, in for a three way:

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This makes at least a little bit of sense for every team, right? Houston gets the young, versatile stretch-ish 4 they want, already locked into a long-term deal at a great price. Phoenix gets Anderson, giving them floor spacing they haven’t had since Channing Frye left and washing away the bad blood with Morris at the same time. And New Orleans gets Jones, a solid defender, good rebounder and acceptable shooter, with an injury history that fits right in on the Pellies. They also pick up some interesting wing prospects in McDaniels, who has been buried on the Rockets’ bench since he left Philly, and Dekker, who played only two minutes in Houston before being sidelined by back surgery. It’s not a guaranteed win for NOLA, but it’s a high upside play that brings in young players who can grow alongside AD.

Of course, there’s almost no chance this would ever happen. If nothing else, the idea of Daryl Morey giving up three young assets for the embattled Morris feels about as likely as Gollum deciding to trade in the One Ring of Power for all you can eat french fries. Phoenix would have to want Anderson badly enough to grease Morey’s palm with the Cavaliers’ first-round pick, which seems like a pretty high cost no matter how much Morris’s trade value has cratered. Perhaps bringing in a fourth team could make it work, but with the Rockets hard-capped, is it really worth all the hassle?

For New Orleans at least, the answer is probably no. Saying they’ve struggled so far is like saying Jessica Jones has some bad memories of the Purple Man, but even with the second-worst record in the Western Conference, they’re still only four games out of the playoffs. The West has simply been much worse than expected, and as a result the Pellies have a real shot at the postseason. They fought their way in last year when they were 3.5 games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder with less than a month to play. Now, with the team finally approaching whole, they’ve got nearly 75 percent of the season to make a run.

As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton pointed out, their five best players had only played a total of six minutes together before Wednesday night’s game. That five-man unit of Davis, Anderson, Evans, Holiday and Eric Gordon is +74.2 in that minuscule eight-minute sample size, according to NBA.com, with an offensive rating of 154.8. That doesn’t mean they’re contenders, or even that they’ll pull it all together, but it’s a good enough reason not to give up on this team just yet.

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