On the eve of Pelicans Free Agency, where does New Orleans go next?

Jed Jacobsohn

It's already been a crazy, whirlwind offseason, and free agency hasn't even started yet. Brace yourselves.

Some have been disappointed with the trade -- Rohan more so than others. I'm still undecided as to where I want to place myself. I'm currently somewhere between "First rounder? Really?" and "Jrue's a nice player."

Eschewing too much trade analysis (I think Rohan covered that pretty well with a level-headed analysis on the trade. I'm actually surprised he was able to write such a calm piece), where are the Pelicans now?

Again, usnfish has the quick salary cap analysis here. Bottom line? We have 5.8 million in cap space with the ability to go as high as 12 million. Moving on:

Depth Chart

When the trade becomes official (on July 10), the Pelicans depth chart will look like this:

Wings: Holiday, Gordon, Rivers, Roberts, Vasquez, Harris, Miller

Bigs: Anderson, Davis, Lopez, Smith, Thomas

What we lack is a wing who can effectively "defend" the likes of LeBron, Durant, Melo, George and company. What we want out of this specific wing is this:

a. He's strong enough to not be at a complete disadvantage against said freaks

b. Long enough to bother them when they dribble and when they shoot

c. Fast enough to be in front of them

Of course, those are only pertaining to paritcular defensive assignments. With Jrue and Gordon switching between ball-handling and spot-up/cutter duties, what we need is also someone who can, hopefully, be a shooter that can play well off those two. In terms of priority, I think Demps will prioritize defense (long, strong, fast) over offense (can shoot and pseudo-create). So without further ado, here's a short list of players that fit that description, one way or another.

This is ordered according to who I think Demps will go with (taking everything into account). I'm also including a "how can New Orleans do it" section.

1. Andre Iguodala (Age: 29)

I think this was clearly the top answer among all the available options. Iggy is a weird case. His Offensive Rating reads (in reverse order): -2, +1, +3, +1, +5, +3, 0, +8, +3. Those early years signified a time when he was not the focal point of the offense (back in the waning years of the Iverson era). Clearly, Iguodala was never an offensive beast. His main skill on offense was his playmaking ability (career AST% of 21%), his ability to finish at the rim and be a smart cutter when working off-the-ball. The one time he bucked the trend upwards was last year -- when he shot 39% from downtown. That's probably an outlier.

His strength primarily comes from the defensive end -- he's a very cerebral defender who takes full advantage of his athleticism to make life a living hell for his opponents. To understand just how complex and excellent of a defender Iguodala is, here is Matt Moore's excellent piece from five months ago.

Suffice to say, a Jrue/healthy Gordon/Iguodala would surpass even Monty's wildest dream -- three perimeter defenders who know how to force a lot of turnovers without committing a lot of fouls and keeping gambling to a minimum. In fact, here is a list of players who have a STL% better than 2 and PF/36 min of less than 2.5. Notice that the top of the list is populated by players who are known to be good perimeter defenders. All this means -- perimeter pressure will be one of the Pelicans' greatest strengths. I can safely say that Anderson will be hidden behind those 3 and an improving Anthony Davis.

How: Again, as it stands, Iguodala will probably go somewhere between 12 to 16 million dollars, annually.

He won't be the first target of most teams with cap space (you know, that Dwight Howard guy). Among his most serious bidders could certainly be the Jazz and the Pistons. Both teams can offer more money than New Orleans can realistically offer, but neither team has the fit that the Pelicans can present.

The Pistons can offer to play him with Knight, Monroe, Drummond and KCP (1 proven, 1 unproven, 1 good, potentially great sophomore and 1 rookie). The Jazz can offer him Burke, Hayward, Favors, Kanter -- again not as good as New Orleans' offer of Jrue, Gordon, Anderson, Davis (1 good, potentially excellent sophomore, 1 "All-Star" and 1 really good player with another good player when healthy) .

I'd have to assume Detroit or Utah could offer him at least 13 million in starting salary. The Pelicans can offer only as high as ~12.5 million annually. To do this, Lopez and at least 2 of Thomas/Miller/Roberts/Harris must be bought out and one of Rivers/Vasquez be traded. That will push the Pels number to around 12.4 million in cap space. This all needs to happen before the NBA announces the new salary cap for 2013/14 because Robin Lopez's contract becomes fully guaranteed on July 5.

2. Dorell Wright (Age: 27)

Dorell Wright had one of the most perplexing turnarounds I've witnessed in a long while. From a lost player in Miami, he became a high volume shooter when he signed with Golden State (and then traded to PHI). In six seasons in Miami, Dorell Wright attempted averaging just 1 3PT attempt per game, making 34% of them. Three seasons after, he's making 37% of his 5.3 3PT attempts.

Unlike Iguodala, Dorell Wright is a shooter who can defend adequately when focused (which is not always, since his defensive effort is inconsistent). In the past 3 seasons (when he's played significant minutes) his defensive on/off reads (in reverse order, from 2013 to 2010): +3.2, +0.6, +3.9. That is to say he's not a "good" defender (we have to consider that he played in an awful defensive team back in 2010 to 2012 with Golden State. His RAPM back in 2010/11 and 2011/12 paints a slightly rosier picture since he's a positive. Take that for what it's worth).

How: The Pelicans can sign him outright using the cap space they have. He probably won't command more than 3 million so New Orleans could still have some change left over.

3. Corey Brewer (Age: 26)

Corey Brewer is another curious case -- touted as a scorer particularly in transition, Brewer entered the league as a scorer who could not shoot. His boundless energy (and ear-to-ear smile) was still there but his scoring magic was lost among the Timberpup years of draft ineptitude.

Now? He's still not a very efficient fellow. He fancies himself a scorer (and his raw numbers support this. 12.1 points per game for Denver last season) but he's not a versatile one -- the bulk of his makes come from beautiful cuts, transition opportunities and occasional 3PT shots. He's practically a Budinger-lite.

He's slowly improved his shot selection over the years and is now practically identical to Budinger there (58/42 back in 09/10 and gradually climbed up yearly to 51/49 and then to 57/43 and finally 31/69 last season). He's not as good of a 3PT shooter, but 3PT shots are theoretically better shots than midrange, even if you make just 25% of them (or in Corey's case, 29.6%). But that's probably still an inefficient use of a possession. He did just shoot 41.2% from the left corner randomly.

Defensively though, Corey's better than Budinger. If you checked out their pre-draft measurements, Chase Budinger measured better than Brewer. But watch them play, and you'll see a world of difference. Brewer has a higher motor and shows a more consistent effort to disrupt the opponent. He knows how to do work prior to the catch (an important part of individual defense) and has similar acumen when it comes to playing defense. He's a tireless worker and despite his physical limitations (he apparently weighs less than 200 lbs), he's a good to great defender.

One limitation -- while Iguodala, Budinger and Wright were adequate rebounders, Brewer hasn't been a good one since his Minnesota days. That's probably because he's asked to leak more on misses for fastbreaks (decreasing his defensive rebounds) and asked to run back on D to prevent baskets (decreasing his offensive rebounds). I'm on the side that he's a good rebounder that may have been stymied by his role in Denver. You can think otherwise, and still sound logical. I just think his motor is good enough that if you allow him, he'll be an adequate rebounder.

How: He can easily be signed with a contract since he's an unrestricted free agent. Again, a 3~4 million contract would suffice especially if he's promise him a starting role.

4. Chase Budinger (Age: 25)

Chase Budinger was Chandler Parsons before Chandler Parsons.

He's an above average shooter and cutter. He's an excellent corner 3PT shooter. In his first 3 years (excluding his injury plagued 4th year), his eFG from the corner reads (from 2013 to 2010): 73%, 55%, 59%. He's also very vertically gifted -- that helps him finish well at the rim (again, over his past 4 seasons, his eFG from at the rim shots: 64.4%, 68%, 66.5%, 58.8%). The good thing is that his shot selection is really, really smart. His dumb zone/good zone splits over the past 4 years: 34/66, 33/67, 33/67, 28/72.

His defense paints a different picture. He's not a bad defensive player (unlike his early years with the Rockets) but he's not a good defender either. He's not quick laterally and instead uses his length to his advantage. That's probably a big reason why his teams have played better defensively with him on the court (since 2013: -3.9, -0.4, -4.1, +2.8). Don't mistake him for a defensive stalwart though -- he's a decent two way player and an effective spacer and off-the-ball player that will work really well with two ball-handling scorers in Holiday and Gordon.

How: Chase Budinger is coming off a knee injury (torn lateral meniscus) and is a restricted free agenct. That complicates things. One, Minnesota has a huge hole at their other wing position that will probably not be filled by drafting Shabazz Muhammad. They are hoping that Shved can improve on a mildly productive rookie season. Still, they lack depth at the wings. But with all the injuries that happened, they might not be willing to gamble with Chase Budinger. Or they might be. Who knows.

Two, they have another restricted free agent in Nikola Pekovic, and he'll command a hefty sum this summer, I believe. Would Minnesota re-up Chase Budinger or will they hope 'Bazz provides that punch for them? All of that (injury, RFA, Minnesota needs, Pekovic) must be taken into consideration. 14/4 yo 16/4 deal would be enough to make Minnesota think. Whether they let him go is the harder question to answer.

5. Martell Webster (Age: 26)

Few of us remember, but Martell Webster was the 6th pick in Chris Paul's draft (you know, the player Portland acquired for the rights to Deron Williams). He was a pure shooter as a high schooler and was one of the kids branded as a potential next "Ray Allen" (as most young shooters are these days. See: Beal, McLemore).

And no doubt, he's a shooter. He's a career 38% from downtown (on 3.5 attempts) and he's transformed himself in Washington as an excellent corner 3PT shooter (he made 49.3% of his 148 attempts last season) where he normally didn't take a lot of them before.

That's what you're getting from Martell - a relatively young and cheap 3PT shooter. He was among my picks to be a good 3-and-D type before, and he's fulfilled one half of it. He's not a good defender and he was hidden well last season behind Washington's very good defensive starting lineup of Wall/Beal/Nene/Okafor.

How: Again, an unrestricted free agent. He'll get somewhere between 3~4 million (like the rest of the non-Iggy guys).

My preference

My obvious answer is Iggy. Find a way to trade Vasquez for nothing (maybe a conditional 2nd round pick). Buy out Lopez (and take a cap hit of just 500K), Thomas and Harris (no cap hit except for the empty roster cap hit) and then tell Iguodala:

"Hey, we've got 3 Team USA invitees here (Jrue, Anderson, Davis) and one that barely missed the cut (Gordon). We need a SF like you -- a veteran, a good defender, a playmaker. We'll give you 44.5 million over 4 years to teach these kids how to win."

Then sign a competent big for the room exception (Earl Clark? Jason Maxiell? Brandan Wright?), fill in the pieces with a European or international player that Dell always seems to find (Joe Ingles?) and then move forward with that group.

Jrue/Gordon/Iggy/Anderson/Davis (bench: Roberts/Rivers/Ingles/Clark/Smith)

side note: I still hate that we're depending on Gordon being healthy. Ugh.

After Iguodala, I'd chase after Budinger. Dell's plan seems to be to allow 22 to 24 year old players to grow together (instead of 19 to 20 year olds). Budinger not only fits the team but also fits the timeline.

After Budinger, the order goes: Wright, Brewer, Webster.

Obviously, Gordon can still be traded for a long and strong wing, and Dell can always explore the S&T option. It will make for one interesting free agency though. Dell sucks at the draft. One thing I'm very confident though is in his ability to get solid free agents at reasonable contracts either via trades or actual signings (Smith, Lopez, Anderson, Roberts, Ayon).

What about you? How do you plan on filling in the gaps?

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