When the New Orleans Pelicans drafted Zion Williamson first overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, he was expected to transform the franchise into a perennial contender.
Williamson has lived up to expectations on the court, averaging 25.8 points on 60.5% field goal shooting, seven rebounds, and 3.6 assists across 114 career contests. While he does manage to produce when he plays, the problem with the 23-year-old forward is that he isn’t always healthy enough to actually suit up for New Orleans.
As a matter of fact, those 114 appearances that he has made in his NBA career account for less than 35% of the games that he could have participated in over his first four seasons in the league. The two-time NBA All-Star has struggled with various injuries dating back to the preseason of his rookie year and his sophomore campaign was the only one where he managed to play more than 60 games.
As a result, the Pelicans have finished the regular season with a winning record (‘22-’23) only once since Williamson’s arrival and qualified for the playoffs (‘21-’22) just one time as well.
What makes this situation even more frustrating is that New Orleans’ other NBA All-Star has also not been able to stay healthy. 25-year-old forward Brandon Ingram has been with the team since 2019 as well, yet has only appeared in an average of 56 games in each season.
This left the Pelicans dependent on veterans C.J. McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas for long stretches of last season which is far from ideal for a team that had aspirations of a deep postseason run.
Given his injury history and recent negative developments surrounding his off-court affairs, Williamson’s name has inevitably popped up in trade rumors this offseason. He is just about to begin his five-year, $197 million contract, though it will not be difficult to find a team willing to take a gamble on his talent.
What makes Williamson slightly more expendable for the Pelicans’ front office is the recent emergence of incoming third-year forward Trey Murphy III. Last season, he started 65 games for the team as a “fill-in” starter and turned heads as he emerged as one of the top shooting forwards in the league. The 6’9 Murphy put up 14.5 points per game on 48.4% field goal shooting, including 2.6 made threes on 40.6% three-point shooting.
Murphy is the type of player that thrives in almost any line-up and finding more minutes for him will be the silver lining for a trade involving either of their injury prone NBA All-Stars.
It would be better for New Orleans to exercise patience in this situation, albeit if there is pressure from their ownership group to make a move, then trading Williamson and keeping Ingram may be the safer route to take.
However, the best course of action would still be to keep both players as both are not even in the prime of their careers. Instead, it might be more prudent to trade away McCollum or Valanciunas who are both already 31 years old. Dealing even just one of these two players would dial back the Pelicans’ timeline and give them more room to tolerate the injuries suffered by Williamson and Ingram.
This might make the most sense for this team moving forward as superstars like Williamson and, to a lesser extent, Ingram are the type of players that tanking teams hope to eventually land in the NBA Draft. It would be a shame if New Orleans gave up on them just because of a few challenging years. The Pelicans need to see the glass half full in their current situation because doing otherwise puts them at risk of having a glass that has nothing in it at all.