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Report: Last-place Pelicans expected to make win-now trade

Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 5: Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans stretches prior to a game against the Houston Rockets on December 5, 2021 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Zion Williamson said before the season he was done missing the playoffs.

The Pelicans (8-21) are last in the Western Conference.

Of course, a big reason for New Orleans’ struggles: Williamson has missed the whole season. He remains sidelined by his foot injury.

But that doesn’t mean the Pelicans are throwing in the towel.

Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report:

The New Orleans Pelicans, while awaiting Zion Williamson’s season debut, are still expected to be buyers ahead of the trade deadline, with an eye toward competing for the play-in tournament. Third-year forward Jaxson Hayes, the No. 8 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, is now considered available for trade, league sources said.

This reeks of David Griffin attempting to save his job. In Griffin’s third season in New Orleans, the Pelicans are on their third coach and headed toward their third losing season. The situation appears to be spiraling on him.

To be fair, Griffin hasn’t actually made a desperate win-now trade. He could be exploring the market merely to better understand his players’ value. Those expecting New Orleans to be a buyer don’t necessarily have an accurate read on Griffin’s intentions.

But it’s easy to see Griffin making a last-ditch effort to appease Williamson, who reportedly has people urging him to leave the Pelicans. New Orleans can talk itself into believing a four-game deficit from postseason position is surmountable (while overlooking that jumping four teams, counting on none of them to surge too, adds to the difficulty).

If New Orleans can trade lightly used Jaxson Hayes in exchange for reaching the play-in tournament, that’s not necessarily outlandish. Hayes’ star has dimmed since he was drafted so high. Reaching the postseason isn’t nothing. If Williamson returns, the Pelicans could even be threatening in April.

But the big concern is dealing young players/picks and still falling short of the postseason. That’d leave New Orleans unfulfilled in the short term and set back in the long-term. Among all the scenarios in the Pelicans’ gloomy outlook, that’d be the worst.