Even in the heat of NBA Playoffs, these guys need to know next season is a big, big one for them.

Like many many young overachieving teams in sports, New Orleans Pelicans battled gallantly, fearlessly and courageously but ultimately fell short of upstaging the experienced and deeper Phoenix Suns.

There is no shame losing 2-4 in the best of seven games series to last season’s NBA Finalist, especially considering the Pelicans were a shoo-in to make another trip to the NBA Draft and the lottery spots of the Draft for good measure.

However, a combination of factors got the Pelicans to turn its season around to make a blistering dash to the end of the regular season, winning two Play In Games to make the Playoffs.

Even after making it to the postseason, the Pelicans weren’t given a chance to win a game and the consensus prediction was a clean sweep by Phoenix but oh how wrong a prediction that was and it was all down to a string of factors.

First of all, Top Executive David Griffin pulled off a masterstroke by trading for Portland Trailblazers CJ McCollum; the veteran Guard’s poise, leadership and production of course led the transformation.

Minus a playoff run, Griffin would have been a man likely to get fired at any point in the 2022-2023 season. Young players like Herb Jones, Trey Murphy and Jaxson Hayes and Brandon Ingram stepping up their production aided New Orleans’s surprise as did first-year Head Coach Willie Green’s shrewd move. By starting Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas, Green gave his starting unit a good mix of size, athleticism and screen setters for his Guards.

What New Orleans showed in the just-ended series is that there is a very bright future for the franchise and hope has been restored in the downtrodden team since Anthony Davis forced himself out of the Big Easy for a run with Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James.

The underpinning reason for Pelicans’ renewed hope is that the team pulled off a stunning run and made the playoffs without its best player on the court.

Zion Williamson recovered from another foot-related injury but his return was deemed too late to prevent the Pelicans from ruling out the season completely. He showed his readiness to play by producing highlight dunks in warm-ups though some saw his dunk video posts as another message delivered to prospective teams to trade for him since there are rife rumours he doesn’t want to be in New Orleans.

Whatever angle that is taken, a clear decision needs to be made on Zion Williams due to its direct impact on continuing this run or forcing it to a quick halt.

Former Pelicans top executive, Dell Demps, was faced with a similar issue when Anthony Davis was in New Orleans but he failed to trade him when it was clear Davis wanted to leave.

Ramifications of that impasse got the team to lose the momentum of sweeping Portland in the first round of the 2018 Playoffs and Demps got sacked. Though Griffin just extended his stay in the position for some time, he needs to make a decisive move on the Zion situation to ensure a long run in the playoffs.

Judging by Williamson’s reported disinterest in New Orleans in the juxtaposition of Pelicans’ future performance based on the projected growth of young players and additional trades, it is clear Zion should be traded.

Moving the former Duke star to a new team is sure to attract a solid trade return and that gives New Orleans a perfect opportunity to get better than they are in the shortest time. Trading for mainly draft picks should be ignored but doing the same for established talent should be the only way.

Los Angeles Rams traded away multiple future draft picks for established talents like Matthew Stafford and Von Miller and ended up winning the Super Bowl. The season before, Tampa Bay Buccaneers won its second Super Bowl title by tacking on established talent on its roster like Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady. Rumored to be his preferred destination, the New York Knicks lack the right assets to make a suitable trade for Zion that also aids New Orleans get better.

However, another Eastern Conference team that has the right assets and doubles as an attractive destination off the court is the Atlanta Hawks. While Atlanta isn’t New York (nowhere is really), it is a top destination for entertainers with a bigger TV market and is closer to Williamson’s home state of South Carolina making it an appealing spot for the 2019 Number One overall draft pick Zion. On the other hand, Atlanta has some nice pieces that can help New Orleans make a sustained run.

Trading Zion for Kevin Huerter and John Collins plus a future draft pick is a sound move to make as Zion’s eventual massive contract extension would take up Collins’s $25 million average salary and then some. That is sure not to be a problem since Danilo Gallinari is on an expiring deal and is guaranteed just $5 million of a $21 million salary should he be waived by June 29. That opens up more space on the salary books for Trae Young and Zion’s massive salaries and Bogdanovic and Clint Capela’s $18 million average salaries to fit under the cap.

With this, Atlanta becomes the new Lob City as Young tosses up passes for Zion and Capela to slam away; Capela will drop deep to set screens for Trae and that gives Zion room to operate beneath the basket and vice versa.

On the part of New Orleans, John Collins represents an upgrade on Hayes and at 6 foot 7 inches with a neat shooting stroke, Huerter gives Pelicans an established scorer opposite McCollum in the backcourt. A starting unit of Valanciunas, Collins, Ingram, Huerter and McCollum is a big lineup with McCollum’s (6 foot 3-inch frame) as the shortest of a bunch that has a good mix of playmaking and scoring.

Out of a possible 246 regular-season games, Zion has played in only 85 due to injuries and hasn’t brought enough value of the first overall pick to the Pelicans.

After the sharp improvement witnessed this season, Pelicans need to get better and moving off Zion is the best way to go.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.