Lewis: Trade isn’t perfect, but there’s plenty to like

by Ted Lewis

Advocate sportswriter

Kentucky's Nerlens Noel leaves the stage after being selected by the New Orleans Pelicans with the sixth pick in the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 27, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kentucky's Nerlens Noel leaves the stage after being selected by the New Orleans Pelicans with the sixth pick in the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 27, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Nerlens, we hardly knew ye.

Even Anthony Davis had to know his fellow one-and-done Kentucky Wildcat wasn’t likely to become his Pelicans teammate once Noel, who had been the consensus No. 1 pick, slipped to No. 6 — where the Pelicans scooped him up but apparently had no intentions of keeping him.

“We’re fielding phone calls,” General Manager Dell Demps said in a post-pick appearance in the team’s media room that lasted about as long as Noel’s time in New Orleans. “It’s a very fluid situation.”

With that, Demps was out the door, probably just as the deal with the Philadelphia 76ers for All-Star guard Jrue Holiday and the Sixers’ second-round pick (which ended up being Pierre Jackson) was being consummated.

And even when he did reappear almost four hours later, Demps still could not officially comment on the deal because it has not yet been approved by the NBA, although that is a formality.

On the surface, the Pelicans came out ahead.

Holiday brings what the team formally known as the Hornets lacked — a young (23) but proven (four years in the league) player who adds athleticism at the point.

You have to go back to Jamal Mashburn to find a player the team has acquired in a trade with so much upside who actually delivered on that promise.

But then word came that the Pelicans threw in a “lightly protected” first-round pick for 2014 as well.

And that’s where it becomes somewhat of a head-scratcher.

By all accounts, next year’s draft will be the best since 2003, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade made up four of the first five picks. (Darko Milicic went No. 2, but nobody’s perfect.)

Some of this year’s lottery picks would be fringe first-rounders in ’14. But as for now, the Pelicans are without one of those first-rounders. They didn’t even get back the second-round pick (No. 35) they traded to Philly last year in the Ryan Anderson deal.

Of course, in the NBA, draft picks are extremely fungible. And a year is a long time.

Still, it would seem that if Noel is supposed to be a future superstar, getting the Sixers to throw their first-round pick for 2014 into the mix would have made sense.

We have no doubt that the Pelicans brass made that request. In the end, though, they took what was on the table.

Could they have waited for something better to develop as the night went on?

Probably.

Could they have taken shooting guard Ben McLemore — who was on their list and went to Sacramento at No. 7 — and kept their No. 1 for ’14?

Certainly.

But Demps, who is getting paid a lot more money to make these kinds of decisions than we are to second-guess him, went with what was on the table. And moving Noel made sense.

As attractive as having he and Davis in the frontcourt together might be one day, for now Noel is a slender, defense-first center who’s coming off a knee injury that will keep him out until Christmas. The strides Robin Lopez made last season make him the Pelicans’ best option in the post, even after Noel returns and possibly through the season after that as well.

Holiday can score (17.7 points per game last season) and dish (8.0 assists). He’s one of the league’s top 10 point guards. If the Pelicans are to at least become a low-seeded playoff team next year, this is the kind of player they need.

Demps pledged Thursday that the team would be “extremely active” in the free agency period that starts next week. They’ll need to be.

The Pelicans went into the night hoping to upgrade themselves at either small forward or shooting guard. They did neither.

Getting Jrue Holliday may prove to be a brilliant move for a franchise that’s made more wrong moves on draft night than right ones.

But giving up next year’s No. 1 to seal the deal certainly diminishes the glow.