As teams rare up for the 2021 NBA Draft and free agency, the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans have broken the ice on the trade front, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The Grizzlies shipped center Jonas Valanciunas to New Orleans, along with the 17th and 51st picks in the draft, in exchange for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe and the 10th and 40th picks in the draft, plus a top-10-protected 2022 first-round draft pick via the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Pelicans sacrificed draft position for cap space. By shipping out two large contracts in exchange for one, the Pelicans have opened up room to pursue a free agent target to pair with young superstar Zion Williamson. One such free agent to keep in mind is Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, as Wojnarowski pointed out.
New Orleans creates salary cap space for August that allows them to either match an offer sheet on Lonzo Ball, or have the cap space to pursue a significant free agent point guard, including Kyle Lowry and others. Pels liked Valanciunas as floor spacer at center over Adams, too. https://t.co/3YRyBTEg1S
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 26, 2021
Along with creating cap space, the Pelicans upgrade at the center position. Valanciunas is just as dominant a rebounder as Adams, if not moreso, and he’s more polished offensively and can stretch the floor a bit; the Lithuanian big man shot 36.8% from 3-point range on 0.9 attempts per game last season. The most 3-point attempts Adams has averaged in a season is 0.1.
Valanciunas is 29 years old, and Lowry, the Pelicans’ presumed target in free agency, is 35. Neither of those players necessarily match the timeline of the Pelicans, who are built around 21-year-old Williamson. However, the Pelicans are reportedly feeling pressure to create a winning situation around Williamson sooner rather than later. The Pelicans signing Lowry could be akin to the Phoenix Suns signing Chris Paul last offseason, which propelled them from not making the playoffs in 2020 to reaching the NBA Finals in 2021. The Pelicans, who were the 11th seed in the Western Conference last season, surely wouldn’t mind a similar path.
Valanciunas had the best season of his career last year for the Grizzlies, averaging 17.1 points and 12.5 rebounds despite playing only 28.3 minutes per game. He also shot 59.2% from the field. All of those averages are career-highs.
As for Memphis, the Grizzlies leapt at the chance to move up into the lottery, where they could draft a prospect they wouldn’t have been able to reach at 17, such as Franz Wagner, Josh Giddey or Moses Moody. According to NBADraft.net’s Jonathan Wasserman, the Grizzlies are “presumed to be targeting” Giddey.
Plus, while neither Bledsoe nor Adams are as good as they were at previous points in their careers, both are still rotation players who add depth to an up-and-coming Memphis team that just made the playoffs for the first time since 2017.