New Orleans, La.- The incoming calls for Willy Hernangomez have kept the New Orleans Pelicans busy since last season. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said the EuroBasket MVP was “untouchable” at the trade deadline last year. Now, the best thing for both parties might be a parting of ways.
There is no animosity or friction off the court. Willie Green shared during this last road trip, “Every time I give him minutes, he takes advantage of them. He is doing everything we ask of him and I can speak on behalf of the entire coaching staff when I say that we love having him here.”
Teammates understand the frustration that sometimes leaks out onto social media. Some of those expressions even get misconstrued, like the hourglass and gorilla post on Twitter.
“He’s going through a very tough situation, but it doesn’t change. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t get angry,” Trey Murphy III explained after a loss in Miami. “He’s a great guy, one of the closest. Always smiling, and transmitting energy to us, he’s a great person. He never changes in the locker room, that’s what makes him a great teammate.”
Hernangomez has been in New Orleans for three seasons now. The 6-foot-11 Spanish center always has a smile and excellent per 36 stats. He is again solid this year (6.9 points, 4.6 rebounds over just 11.9 minutes per game) but has only played in 22 games.
The Pelicans counter any lack of playing time complaints by pointing to the depth chart. Larry Nance Jr. mentioned it after a road loss to the Heat last week. It’s going to be hard to find minutes behind Zion Williamson, Jonas Valanciunas, and Nance Jr. The team has more cash and draft capital invested in developing Jaxson Hayes as well.
Still, CJ McCollum admires that “When Willy plays, he plays well. He’s very talented, he takes opportunities. He brings up points, he rebounds, and he puts up good blocks. He’s always near the basket and helps a lot. He’s a great teammate.”
Dec 4, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots the ball against New Orleans Pelicans center Willy Hernangomez (9) during the second quarter at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have both expressed interest in Hernangomez. The parameters of each deal are pretty straightforward. Boston even has two Traded Player Exceptions to use before the trade deadline on February 9.
If New Orleans wants to expand negotiations with the Celtics to get a useful body in return there are options. Hernangomez and Garrett Temple for Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari give the Pelicans shooting and size. Boston can waive Temple for the cap savings and roster spot. Getting Grant Williams or Robert Williams III is highly unlikely considering salaries and injury histories.
The Heat have less to offer in talent and might have to include a second pick or find a third team to really entice the Pelicans. Miami needs shooting too much to give up Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, or Caleb Martin for too cheap. Dewayne Deadmon is out of favor but costs twice as much as Hernangomez.
Boston appears to have a head start in a bidding war. If Pat Riley is willing to part with an extra second-round pick or protect a first-round pick, it could be worth the gamble though. Where ever he ends up, Larry Nance Jr. relates to Hernangomez’s situation.
“There are just times when you’re not going to play, I’ve not played. But if you allow that to get to your work ethic, if you bring in every day, that frustration, 29 other teams can see that. The fact that he’s staying positive, staying ready and staying with us, riding with us and able to stay so positive is immense for our locker room but also immense for his career,” Nance Jr. said.
Apr 5, 2022; Sacramento, California, USA; New Orleans Pelicans center Willy Hernangomez (9) dribbles against Sacramento Kings center Damian Jones (30) during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
“I don’t want Willy to go. I love the guy. On the court, off the court. He gives his best every single day. But that’s not my career. If it happens, I’ll be happy for this new opportunity for him. He’s got a major fan in me.”
source: Sports Illustrated