NBA Daily: Where Do the Pelicans Go as Trade Deadline Approaches?

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Approaching the NBA Trade Deadline and All-Star Break, the New Orleans Pelicans have once again found themselves stuck in neutral.

With DeMarcus Cousins ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a ruptured left Achilles tendon, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans are in all too familiar territory. Long hoisted solely on Davis’ shoulders, New Orleans has had the talent to float above the Western Conference bottom feeders in years past, but never enough to lift them into true contention.

With Davis and Cousins — who averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists on 47 percent shooting before going down — on the floor together, the Pelicans were surging and finally looked to have turned the corner. The big man duo combined to average a blistering 51.6 points, 23.5 rebounds, eight assists and 3.8 blocks per game.

Now the Pelicans are seemingly back to square one.

Trade rumors have long swirled around Davis and an eventual exit from New Orleans, but the Pelicans are obviously reluctant to move the immense talent that is Davis and the upside he still possesses at just 24-years-old. But, sitting at 27-23 and seventh in the West, what exactly can the Pelicans do to maintain their playoff standing without Cousins?

Add Scoring and Lots of It

The Pelicans have already made one move in an attempt to fill Cousins’ shoes, reportedly acquiring Nikola Mirotic from the Chicago Bulls.

Now, if it wasn’t obvious enough, Mirotic is nowhere close to the caliber of player that Cousins is. But New Orleans has to start somewhere.

Mirotic, who has averaged 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds this season with the Bulls, can score effectively when given the opportunity. Over the course of his four seasons in the NBA, Mirotic has shot 36.1 percent from three-point range on just under 2000 attempts; that percentage would rank third amongst the Pelicans projected regular rotation with Mirotic now in the fold.

New Orleans will likely pull out all the stops to win over big man Greg Monroe as well. The Pelicans certainly won’t outbid most teams for Monroe’s services, but they can provide him something that other playoff teams cannot: starter-level playing time.

Monroe has proven a capable energizer off the bench, averaging 10.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists on 21.8 minutes per game this season between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks. However, in his last full season as a starter with the Bucks in 2015, Monroe averaged 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds; averages that would constitute a huge step in the right direction in terms of filling the Cousins void. The Pelicans have rolled with two big men in the starting lineup all season, so Monroe is a natural fit in that sense as well.

Monroe’s potential fit won’t stop New Orleans from looking elsewhere on the trade and buyout market, however. Tyreke Evans, Lou Williams and plenty of others could all potentially be had for the right price and some savvy cap space maneuvering by the Pelicans.

The Pelicans snagging Monroe, or perhaps a scorer, to pair with the Mirotic acquisition would be a boon to the rest of the roster. Not only does positive play rub off on other players, but almost any addition will go a long way in easing the burden on Davis’ shoulders in Cousins’ absence. The last thing the Pelicans want or need is a fatigued and fading Davis as they continue their push toward the postseason.

Get Healthy

A huge issues for the Pelicans is the fact they have dealt with and are still dealing with plenty of injuries. Davis and fellow starter Rajon Rondo have both missed time at points this season while veteran Solomon Hill and rookie Frank Jackson have yet to suit up for New Orleans while dealing with injuries of their own.

Hill and Jackson should add some life to a bench unit that desperately needs a boost. With more depth, Head Coach Alvin Gentry should be able to lean a little more on that bench and allow for more rest for Davis, Rondo, Jrue Holiday and the other starters. Keeping the key players healthy will, of course, be of paramount importance if New Orleans wants to remain in the playoffs.

Look to the Future?

Cousins was likely to receive a substantial pay-day — whether from New Orleans or another team– after what had up to this point been an excellent season. Now, with his injury, Cousins’ future is just as cloudy as the Pelicans’ future direction.

An Achilles injury, perhaps the worst injury for a basketball player to sustain, could effectively render Cousins a lesser version of himself for the remainder of his career, so it would make sense for New Orleans to carefully assess the situation and act accordingly. If the team believes Cousins will return to form, they would be wise to provide him with an extension before another team is given the chance to bring him in.

If the injury scares New Orleans away, however, they’ll have a series of difficult decisions to face — first of which will be to decide what to do with Davis. Would it be better to ride and die with him or blow up the roster and start ahead in a rebuild?

As their roster is currently constructed, the Pelicans are nothing more than pseudo-contenders; Cousins roaming the paint was a major factor in their success this season. An on-the-fly, mid-season retool certainly isn’t impossible for the Pelicans, but moving forward and maintaining their success without the All-Star big man is certain to be a major challenge.