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Report: New Orleans trades Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe and picks to Memphis for Jonas Valanciunas and picks

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The New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies have made the first big trade of 2021 NBA draft week.

According to ESPN, the Grizzlies are sending center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks in the draft for center Steven Adams, guard Eric Bledsoe, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks in the 2021 NBA draft and a protected 2022 first-round pick. 

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Adams and Bledsoe each spent one season in New Orleans. They were acquired as part of a four-team deal in November of 2020. Valanciunas was traded to Memphis in February of 2019 as part of a deal that sent Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors. 

More spacing for Zion?

Acquiring Valanciunas for Adams could a problem the Pelicans created for themselves when they acquired Adams from the Thunder. Adams can be an effective center but he doesn’t stretch the floor and spends most of his time in the post. That's a problem when your team also has Zion Williamson. 

Valanciunas has shown an ability to shoot effectively from three-point range in his two seasons in Memphis, though he’s averaged only one three-point attempt per game. Valanciunas shot 37% on 57 three-point attempts in 2020-21 while Adams has shot 13 total threes in his career. Valanciunas is far from a high-volume shooter, but he brings an element that Adams simply doesn’t have. He could be a formidable pick and roll player with Williamson. 

He’s also cheaper than Adams is for the Pelicans. Valanciunas is set to make $14 million in 2021-22 while Adams is going to make $17 million in 2021-22 and just under $18 million in 2022-23. The salaries could be the whole key to the deal. 

Pelicans create salary-cap space for a free agent?

Bledsoe also has two years left on his deal as the Pelicans freed up over $35 million in cap room over the next two seasons with the trade. Bledsoe is set to make over $18 million in 2021-22 and $19 million in 2022-23.

Will that salary space allow New Orleans to make a run at a point guard like Kyle Lowry? The Raptors' mainstay is a free agent and could command a salary around $30 million a year. Lowry, Williamson and Brandon Ingram would be a nice core for the Pelicans as they make a run toward the playoffs. Guard Lonzo Ball is also a restricted free agent and the Pelicans have the right to match any contract offer he receives.

The Pelicans missed out on the playoffs to the Grizzlies in 2021 as Memphis beat the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament to make it to the first round where they lost to the Jazz in five games. 

Bledsoe’s form dipped in his one season in New Orleans. Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points per game in 2020-21 and shot just 42% from the field after shooting 48% from the field over the last two seasons with Milwaukee.

In Memphis, Bledsoe would join a backcourt that includes Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks. But Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes said that Bledsoe isn't anticipated to remain with the team. 

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The contracts of Bledsoe and Adams are a big reason why the Grizzlies also received the two better draft picks in the trade along with the protected 2022 first-round pick. With a team that wasn't going to be big players in free agency, Memphis could afford to take on two players with two years to go on their contracts in exchange for upgraded draft picks. 

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