METAIRIE, La. (AP) — A disappointing draft day for Kentucky center Nerlens Noel gave the New Orleans Pelicans a chance to acquire an All-Star point guard.
After Noel surprisingly remained available following the first five picks of Thursday night's NBA draft, the Pelicans took him sixth overall and immediately dealt him to Philadelphia for Jrue Holiday, said a person familiar with the situation.
New Orleans also sent the 76ers a protected 2014 first-round pick and received the Sixers' second-round selection — 42nd overall — in this year's draft, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the trade had not been announced. New Orleans would retain its 2014 first-round selection only if it falls in the top five.
The 6-foot-4 Holiday, a four-year pro, averaged 17.7 points and eight assists for the 76ers last season, when he also agreed to a four-year extension worth at least $41 million.
Noel, who is 6-10, averaged 10.5 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game, and blocked 106 shots as a freshman. Although left knee surgery is expected to sideline him until December, he was still widely considered to be a strong candidate by draft analysts to be taken as high as first overall. Instead, he fell out of the top five after Cleveland, Orlando, Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix all passed on him. That allowed New Orleans to take him and deal him to the Sixers.
"Whenever a player is injured, sometimes he can fall" in the draft, Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said. "We had him projected pretty high and, you know, crazy things can happen on draft day."
Demps apologetically declined to confirm that Noel was in fact traded, saying he was "uncomfortable" fielding questions about matters which he was not permitted to discuss under NBA rules, emphasizing that trades cannot be discussed publicly until they are formally approved by the league.
Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie also declined to discuss any trades, but appeared to be alluding to the difficulty of parting ways with Holiday when he said, "It was a challenging night in a bunch of ways with one gut-wrenching phone call. All in all, I think the right thing to do."
Demps said there appeared to be a number of teams looking to trade up to get Noel when it became apparent he would be available at pick No. 6.
"There were a lot of teams that called asking, with interest, for the sixth pick," Demps said.
In the moments after the Pelicans selected him, Noel seemed pleased by the prospect of joining fellow former Kentucky big man Anthony Davis, promising a "shot-blocking party" in New Orleans. Yet, as he uttered those words, his trade to Philadelphia was already in motion. Because the trade was not expected to be formally announced until after the new league year had begun in July, Philadelphia made the 42nd overall pick on New Orleans' behalf, selecting 5-11 Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson.
Jackson averaged 19.8 points and seven assists this past season.
The trade gives the Pelicans an opportunity to have a starting back court of Holiday and prolific scorer Eric Gordon — if Gordon can stay healthy, something he has yet to do since arriving in New Orleans in a trade that dealt Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The move also will affect Greivis Vasquez, who was New Orleans' starting point guard last season and one of the NBA's most improved players, averaging 13.9 points and nine assists.
Responding to fans concerned about his future, Vasquez said in Spanish on his Twitter account that he would be fine wherever he plays next season, and later added in English that he likes the Pelicans' roster.
The Pelicans — newly renamed after being called the Hornets since their inception in Charlotte in 1988 — had only worked out two players: point guards Trey Burke of Michigan and Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse. Demps said before the draft that many players' agents prevented them from working out for New Orleans, but added he was able to at least interview Maryland center Alex Len, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore.
Demps said the Hornets had planned for the possibility that Noel would fall to them.
"We weren't surprised or anything," he said. "We were really prepared coming in."