The NBA’s trade deadline is, believe it or not, less than two months away and with the restriction on trading free agents being lifted on Sunday, the swap season is set to begin in earnest.
According to league sources, one of the more disappointing players on one of the league’s more disappointing teams—Derrick Favors of the Pelicans—is being “monitored” by several teams. There’s still no indication that New Orleans, with Favors having missed time because of back spasms and the death of his mother, will raise a metaphorical white flag, sell off veteran pieces and look ahead to next season.
But that future looms. The Pelicans are 6-18, losers of nine straight games as they prepare to play in Milwaukee on Wednesday. Because the Western Conference has had some disappointments in the lower rungs of the playoff ladder, there’s still a chance the Pelicans could make a run at a postseason spot, especially once rookie Zion Williamson returns from a knee injury.
As of today, New Orleans is 5.5 games out of the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. The Pelicans would have to pass six teams to be in the postseason mix, though, and that’s a longshot even this early in the season.
Favors’ return, which may happen against the Bucks, might help, too. But Favors hasn’t played all that well even when he has been healthy. He’s averaged 8.3 points in nine games, his lowest output since his rookie year. He is averaging a career-high with 8.9 rebounds, however, and is shooting a career-high 62.1 percent, taking 65.5 percent of his shots within three feet of the basket, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Derrick Favors a ‘Dependable Big Guy’
Favors is in the final year of his contract, which pays him $17 million this year. The Pelicans would be selling low on Favors if they were to trade him now, but if he can play better in the coming month or so without the Pelicans’ playoff position improving, he’ll have value as a reliable veteran big man for teams looking to shore up their interior.
“He was in Utah for just about all his career and it looks like he struggled to adjust in New Orleans and that is something you worry about,” one league executive told Heavy.com. “But look, he is a dependable big guy. He can play better defense than he’s played this season. He is a good rebounder. He can give you 12, 15 points. Defenses can’t afford to lose him, he can make you pay. There’s going to be teams looking for a guy like that. But if you’re New Orleans, you’ve got a young guy you want to have those minutes.”
The young guy is rookie Jaxson Hayes, an athletic center who has averaged 9.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in 21.0 minutes. Hayes is only 19 and the team has looked to protect him as he developed—he did not start against Detroit’s Andre Drummond in the Pelicans’ last game, for example—but that can be accomplished with Jahlil Okafor just as well as it can with Favors.
Because of his short-term contract and subpar production, the Pelicans would not expect much in return for Favors—a first-round pick likely would be too steep a price. But if Favors can bring in a couple of second-round picks, New Orleans can add to its stockpile of assets, which includes two first-round picks in addition to its own picks and six added second-rounders through 2024 (the Pelicans owe at least one, and perhaps two, second-round picks).
Favors needs to come back and play well first. And if he does, maybe the Pelicans can start an improbable playoff push. But if New Orleans looks to sell off pieces, Favors will have buyers.