After the Dallas Mavericks officially kicked off NBA Trade Deadline week with the first major deal of the “season” in Kyrie Irving, the reality of the time of year is kicking in. Despite Irving’s off the court distractions, he is more than capable of scoring the ball in bunches and alleviating the pressure on Luka Doncic, who is quite literally carrying the Mavs with a usage rate of 42.7 percent. Even for the 23-year-old that has been a professional for the better part of a decade, that work load is unsustainable. Irving can help.
But at what cost? Dallas just sent two good players -- arguably two of the best they had in terms of trade value — in Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie to Brooklyn, as well as future draft picks, for who may amount to a three or four month rental. There’s no guarantee Kyrie Irving wants to stay in Dallas ... or that Dallas will want Irving to stay when the season concludes. There’s baggage there, of course - and just how much that is worth is a question that eventually long-term must be answered.
But clearly in the short-term we know the answer. Kyrie has been bet on by Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd and general manager Nico Harrison. But is it worth it for three other Western Conference squads to place a similar bet?
Here are two leading “all-in” candidates heading in to Thursday’s deadline - and a prediction on who pulls the trigger.
The young trying to ascend
Don’t look now, but Memphis has lost eight of their last nine games and the Grizzlies are only 2.5 games in front of the Sacramento Kings for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. There are reasons for this - injury, especially to the surprisingly important Steven Adams, for example - but a large enough sample has accumulated to start reasonably saying something is wrong in Memphis.
They’ve given up multiple fourth quarter leads during this current cold spell, committing silly turnovers and executing putrid half-court offense. The rotations have been suspect as well, as Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins tries to find lineups to help cover up the reality that Memphis has limited scoring options off the bench. Young players like Ziaire Williams have not developed the way initially hoped to this point, and beyond the starting five of Ja Morant/Desmond Bane/Dillon Brooks (limited offensively in his own right, but still a defensive master)/Jaren Jackson Jr./Steven Adams the Grizzlies simply do not have enough fire power to be a full-fledged title contender worthy of Celtics or Nuggets level of praise.
But is this the time for Memphis to push their proverbial chips to the middle of the table?
When rumored wings like O.G. Anunoby get discussed - who theoretically would be perfectly aligned with the likes of the Grizzlies - it isn’t just Memphis who is mentioned. A team perhaps a bit closer to the “all-in” edge, at least in terms of precedent, is the New Orleans Pelicans. Coming off a blowout win Sunday night over the aforementioned No. 3-seeded Kings, NOLA is primed for a post All-Star break run as they return to fuller health. Unsurprisingly, the currently play-in bound Pelicans also would love to acquire the services of a great defender who can score the ball at 6’7” in Anunoby .. .but they’d also have to pay a price.
Chris Haynes: “Memphis doesn’t want New Orleans to get O.G and New Orleans doesn’t want Memphis to get O.G”— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) February 2, 2023
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Aside from the pretty obvious leak from Toronto of that information, it does beg the question - at what cost? For Memphis? It’d likely come at the expense of future draft flexibility - the kind of movement that the Grizzlies and their GM Zach Kleiman have come to thrive in over the last few years. Memphis has made a move in the NBA Draft every year Kleiman has been at the helm of the Grizzlies franchise. In the absence of talented depth like the Pelicans have, it’d be the precious Memphis draft capital - perhaps upwards of three first rounders - that the team would have to part with.
Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, O.G. Anunoby, and Jaren Jackson Jr. is a hell of a new “Core Four”. But the way this team has been built would be altered for the remainder of the Ja Morant Era. Is this the time for one of the youngest rosters in the NBA to make that choice?
The Pelicans have better (or at least currently more productive) young talent to choose from - Trey Murphy III, Jaxson Hayes, Dyson Daniels, Herbert Jones - as enticing pieces to make a Anunoby trade happen. They also have a glut of draft capital thanks to their deals for Anthony Davis with the Lakers and Jrue Holiday with the Bucks. If NOLA wants Anunoby, it’s fair to say that they can get him and outbid Memphis in terms of current talent PLUS a couple of future first round picks.
But outside of the pressure of trying to prevent Memphis from acquiring Anunoby (and vice versa, of course), with the health of the roster still in question, as tantalizing as a CJ McCollum/Brandon Ingram/O.G. Anunoby/Zion Williamson/Jonas Valanciunas is ... does blocking a Grizzlies all-in move mean NOLA is better prepared to win a title now? The Grizzlies are five games ahead of New Orleans for the No. 2 seed, and losing out on depth in the here and now could hurt the Pelicans and their chances to make up ground if something were to happen to Ingram or Williamson again.
Both Memphis and New Orleans are young teams with bright futures. But the present could be much more luminescent if either franchise is willing to outbid the other for Anunoby. Toronto will have its choice of offers, if they choose to trade Anunoby at all. But does O.G. make the Grizzlies or Pelicans possible NBA Finals combatants? That’s what both the Memphis and New Orleans front offices will have to try to answer over the next three days.
Grizzlies, Pelicans NBA trade deadline prediction
The Grizzlies need a shake-up, but go the route of adding bench assistance in some combination of Alex Caruso, Malik Beasley, Alec Burks, or Josh Richardson. Those names can be helpful without costing Memphis that draft flexibility they covet. New Orleans combines draft assets with young players and matching salaries better than Memphis is willing/able to do, and acquires O.G. Anunoby for Dyson Daniels, Devonte Graham, and two future 1st round picks.