Ja Morant has been universally accepted as the second-best prospect in the 2019 NBA draft. He’s slated to be picked in that spot by ESPN, The Ringer, CBS Sports, NBADraft.net and B/R’s own Jonathan Wasserman.
The day after the May 14 draft lottery, Jonathan Givony of ESPN.com reported the Memphis Grizzlies had “locked in on selecting Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick.”
Morant, however, underwent surgery Monday to remove a loose body from his knee.
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
ESPN Sources: Point guard Ja Morant – the projected No. 2 pick in the June NBA Draft – will undergo a minor scope on his right knee to remove a “loose body” on Monday. He’s expected to be fully recovered in 3-to-4 weeks.
The procedure is concerning, and the New York Post‘s Marc Berman and Mark Fischer reported Morant “knew nothing of Memphis being a guarantee.” Morant had previously told Ethan Sears of the Post: “I haven’t seen it. [Memphis] didn’t tell me that. I mean, we’ll find out where I go on June 20.”
Then, Givony added fuel to that fire by writing (via Joe Giglio of NJ Advance Media), “After I reported a couple of weeks ago from the combine that the Memphis Grizzlies informed interested parties that they intend to select Murray State’s Ja Morant at No. 2, Memphis has been sending out some mixed messages.”
Enter David Griffin and the New Orleans Pelicans.
Griffin, the executive vice president of basketball operations, visited with Morant following the lottery drawing in Chicago. Both Morant and Zion Williamson were reportedly “thrilled at the concept of coming to New Orleans,” per Jim Eichenhofer of the team’s official website.
While Griffin may have just been doing his due diligence in sitting with both players after ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested Williamson may consider threatening to return to Duke for his sophomore year, it’s interesting that Griffin didn’t meet with RJ Barrett or any other prospect.
That could mean Griffin regards Williamson and Morant as above the rest of the class.
Enter Anthony Davis
The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers have long been linked to Anthony Davis, and Morant would give either team what it’d need to acquire Davis over a team like the Los Angeles Clippers. And while each could elect to try its luck in free agency, doing so could come at a considerable cost, according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders.
“If Anthony is not swayed [that there is a championship future in New Orleans], I think Anthony is going to get traded around the draft,” he told me on The Bird Calls. “And if Anthony is going to get traded around the draft, it means someone is going to have to make a decision before they know what Kyrie [Irving] is going to do or another free agent is going to do.”
Kyler also said New York has “a very interesting group of things they can push to the table to make it work,” noting it has salary flexibility, the No. 3 pick, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier. But that doesn’t make the Knicks a slam dunk. If the Grizzlies aren’t set on Morant, could the Lakers do enough to move up two positions in the draft?
“It’s probably Boston first and then I’d put the Lakers second,” Andrew Lopez of the Times-Picayune said on Mason and Ireland (via ESPN Los Angeles). “The Lakers do have good assets that people in the Pelicans organization value. For instance, Alvin Gentry loves the idea of having a Lonzo Ball-Jrue Holiday backcourt. LaVar Ball does not love the idea of having a Lonzo Ball-Jrue Holiday backcourt. That makes things a little bit complicated. They like some of the guys higher in the draft.”
The Boston Celtics could trump all offers for Davis but appear to be out of the picture, according to Kyler. So, if the Lakers can acquire Morant and dangle him with Ball or Brandon Ingram, that should be enough to win over the Pelicans front office.
What else would the deals take?
Knicks get: Anthony Davis Pelicans get: Ja Morant, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Lance Thomas, 2021 first-round pick (via Dallas)
Add All-Rookie second-teamer and shot-blocking extraordinaire Robinson to Morant, and you have the makings of an intriguing package. Robinson is a rim-protecting force and human pogo stick who could perfectly complement Williamson. Robinson can be an elite-level rim-runner and pick-and-roll defender and would give the Pelicans great touch in the painted area.
After his explosive summer-league performance (13.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and a record-tying 4.0 blocks in just 24.8 minutes per game), he used his 7’4″ wingspan to collect 21 rebounds March 28 against the Toronto Raptors-the most for a Knicks rookie since Willis Reed in 1965, per David Vertsberger of SNY.
As Vertsberger wrote: “Whatever [Robinson] ends up being, he’ll be good enough to build around. A pairing of him and Zion Williamson in the frontcourt would be a terror to score on or jump with.”
Sounds about right.
Lakers get: Anthony Davis Grizzlies get: Kyle Kuzma, 2019 No. 4 pick, 2020 first-round pick (unprotected) Pelicans get: Ja Morant, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart
The Lakers finally get their guy. They’d give up a war chest of Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and two first-round picks but keep Ball. This deal is inarguably lesser than the one Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 31 because of the deep venous thrombosis in Ingram’s arm. (He underwent successful thoracic outlet decompression surgery March 16 and is expected to make a full recovery.)
The Grizzlies wouldn’t make this move if they fall in love with Morant or Barrett. But if they regard Kuzma and a 2020 first-rounder highly enough, they’d then also have their choice of the remaining talents at No. 4: Jarrett Culver, De’Andre Hunter or Coby White, among others.
Kuzma would give them a scorer on the wing capable of pouring in 41 points in just three quarters, as he did Jan. 9 against the Detroit Pistons, who owned the league’s seventh-best scoring defense.
The Pelicans would get the draft’s top two prospects and play them alongside Holiday and Ingram in what would promise to be a devastating four-man group. Ingram would be the wild card and could provide New Orleans the All-Star-level scorer it’s needed in the Davis era. In six games after the All-Star break and before his season-ending injury, Ingram gave the Lakers an eye-popping 27.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game with 57.0 percent shooting and 52.9 percent shooting from three-point range.
If he offered the Pelicans even a glimpse of that production, this quartet could form the nucleus of one of the Western Conference’s teams to watch in 2019-20.