The Pelicans traded their 2022 first-round pick twice. How? Here’s an explainer.

The New Orleans Pelicans are trying to thread the needle between being competitive now while still leaving avenues open to improve their roster around star forwards Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson in the future.

Tuesday, they traded for high-scoring guard CJ McCollum. The Pelicans had to send the Portland Trail Blazers four players, including a starter in Josh Hart, a protected 2022-first-round pick and two second-round picks.

The Pelicans have included their 2022 first-round pick in two separate deals in the past seven months. Only one team, of course, will get it. How is that possible? The specific way the Pelicans’ front office structured the protections. 

As part of the Devonte’ Graham deal, the Charlotte Hornets will get the Pelicans’ 2022 first-round pick so long as it doesn’t fall in the lottery. If the pick lands anywhere between the Nos. 5 and 14 slots, the Trail Blazers get it. In the unlikely event the pick lands in the top four, the Pelicans keep it.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • 1-4: New Orleans keeps its pick
  • 5-14: Pick goes to Portland
  • 15-30: Pick goes to Charlotte

What happens if the Pelicans make the playoffs this year?

The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs. The Pelicans (22-32) are in 10th place in the West. If the regular season ended today, they would need to win two games in the West play-in tournament to be a playoff team.

Hypothetically, let’s say that…

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