The Path Forward: Free Agency 2013

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Dell Demps solved the point guard position. Now what?

GM Dell Demps and the New Orleans Pelicans went a long way to improving the roster Thursday night.

The addition of Jrue Holiday solidifies the point guard position for the long term. His contract extension officially kicks in for the 2013-2014 season and lasts four seasons with no team or player options to reduce its duration. Many people, even myself, will point to the success of Greivis Vasquez this season. However, he is not the long term answer starting at point guard.

There is a reason that Jrue Holiday is 10 spots higher in Bill Simmons NBA Trade Value article. And note that Simmons mentions he had Holiday 12 spots higher than #40 in February, before the entire franchise stopped caring about anything and then everyone quit or was fired. Oh, and to top it off their new GM Sam Hinkie walked in, poured gasoline everywhere and lit it up a la the "Phantom Arsonist" on a bus in Miami.

The most pressing need at this time is on the wing, specifically at "small forward". I put positions in quotation marks because I honestly do not think GMs and coaches concern themselves with such trivialities. It is about skill sets and match ups. This is not NBA 2k14. Ideally the crunch time lineup that Monty Williams could use most frequently will be Holiday-Gordon-????-Anderson-Davis.

Filling that "????" I expect to be the primary focus in free agency. First, we must determine our needs out of that player. I believe, and am hardly alone in this notion, that shooting, rebounding and defense are the determining factors on who will fill that fifth slot.

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Shooting is necessary to create more space on the floor for Holiday or Gordon to operate. It opens the lane not only for those players to drive, but also for Anthony Davis to roll in the P&R. In addition to shooting, rebounding is another key part to this decision. Ryan Anderson is a deadly shooter and above average on the offensive glass, but he is not a particularly adept defensive rebounder.

San Antonio learned in the Finals how critical it is to end possessions after one shot. Defense is my third point and lower on the scale than shooting and rebounding, which are about equal. It isn't necessary that this player be an elite defender, but the hope would be for an above average contributor who can consistently execute within Monty's scheme.

Holiday and Gordon will likely draw the elite ball handlers in the league outside of LeBron, Durant, and Carmelo. Players who are capable of defending those players are few and far between. Further, those elite defenders generally cannot shoot. Unless you missed the Western Conference Finals and Quincy Pondexter getting significant minutes because Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince were not a threat to shoot, I assume most readers are aware. The players who are elite wing defenders capable of guarding those superstars AND can shoot is limited to just one or two players. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. I think it is safe to rule them out as potential targets.

Quickly below I have put together the shooting and rebounding statistics for seven different targets. Nearly all of them are familiar to Pelican fans.

Small Forward Targets

Player Age Height 3PT% FT% ORB% DRB% TRB%
Andre Iguodala 29 6'6" 31.7 57.4 3.4 13.5 8.5
Wilson Chandler 26 6'8" 41.3 79.3 4.8 17.6 11.3
Dorell Wright 27 6'7" 37.4 85.1 2.6 17.0 9.6
Martell Webster 26 6'7" 42.2 84.8 2.7 12.2 7.4
Earl Clark 25 6'10" 33.7 69.7 6.8 19.1 13.1
Chase Budinger (2012 Stats) 25 6'7" 40.2 77.1 3.4 16.2 9.7
Chris Copeland 29 6'9" 42.1 75.9 4.5 11.9 8.1


Andre Iguodala - Unrestricted Free Agent

He is an outlier in this group. He is older, more expensive and a worse shooter. As mentioned above, this is the expected trade off as Iguodala is roundly considered one of the best defenders in the league. Iguodala will turn 30 in January and is expecting his last big contract. He did not opt-out of $16 Million next season to sign a long term deal for less than that amount. There is opportunity here though. This article mentions that resigning Iggy is a "huge priority" to CEO Josh Kroenke. The Nuggets already have nearly $55 Million committed and Iguodala, Timofey Mozgov, and Corey Brewer to resign. A trade shipped away starting center Kosta Koufos to Memphis for backup power forward Darrell Arthur. Resigning Iguodala puts the Nuggets dangerously close to the luxury tax. A trade to shed some salary and make Mozgov expendable would make a ton of sense.

Wilson Chandler - Under Contract with Denver

This is where Wilson Chandler-Robin Lopez trade ideas are born. If the Nuggets trade straight up they shed roughly $1 Million in salary and no longer need to resign Mozgov. Now around $54 Million, they can utilize bird rights and sign Iguodala to a long term deal. Say, 4 years at $12 Million a year. Resigning Corey Brewer at $3-4 Million a year and the team is still under the tax. Chandler is the most complete package in the above list, shooting well and rebounding above league average for a SF. In order to completely sell readers on Chandler, I highly encourage this light reading.

Dorell Wright - Unrestricted Free Agent

Do not let his lower three point percentage fool you. He takes a TON of threes, putting up 7.3 per 36 minutes last year. To compare, the next closest on the list is Chase Budinger's 6.1 in 2012. Wright's superior FT% also hints at his superior shooting ability, not only was he best among this group last year but throughout everyone's career as well. Bourbon Street Shots has already done an outline on what he brings to the table. It is obvious looking at his shot chart that Wright eschews the "dumb zone" at nearly all costs. Only 17.7% of his shots are mid range jumpers according to NBA Stats. Another factor is cost, Wright is expected to cost in the range of $3-4 Million a year. Wilson Chandler is more expensive than that.

Martell Webster - Unrestricted Free Agent

As the chart above states, Webster is lacking in rebounding prowess. This limitation could prove disastrous when placed alongside Ryan Anderson. However, there are some positives. He takes smart shots and avoids "dumb zone" shots. Mid range jump shots compose just 19.37% of his field goal attempts while 74.6% of his attempts occur behind the three point line or within the restricted area. Webster was paid only $1.75 Million last year. As outlined here by Bullets Forever, the maximum the Wizards can offer is $2.1 Million unless they utilize their Mid-Level Exception as they do not own Webster's Bird Rights. The Wizards are already over the salary cap and just drafted not one, but two small forward prospects in Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr.. Martell himself has made a point that he wants "to be wanted". Again as with Wright a price around $3-4 Million a year is likely going to be enticing to Webster. Finally, check out this thorough review of Webster's 2012-2013 season.

Earl Clark - Unrestricted Free Agent

This is a stretch in my opinion. While Clark did log minutes beside both Gasol and Howard most of his minutes were as Dantoni's "stretch 4". 34.2% of his shots came from the "dumb zone", and only 59.8% of his shots came within the restricted area or behind the three point line. Clark did shoot 40.5% from behind the arc before the All-Star break, but plummeted to 29.0% afterward.He does sport a massive 7'2.5" wingspan and tested out well at the NBA Combine in 2009. The physical tools are there for him to be an excellent defender. Price is difficult to ascertain, but I expect it to likely be in a smiliar range to Webster and Wright. Possibly a little higher because of Clark's youth, limited mileage, and height.

Chase Budinger - Unrestricted Free Agent

Budinger missed 59 games this season due to a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. That's the bad news. The good news is that once he came back on March 21st he played in every game. Budinger has the kind of shot selection we prefer. 17.87% of his shots were from the "dumb zone" in 2011-2012 while 70.6% were from the restricted area or behind the arc. He also shot a blistering 48.4% on corner threes that season while also converting 64.91% of shots in the restricted area. Once again, Bourbon St. Shots is another location for Budinger information. I agree with Michael Pellissier that Budinger is not the answer at SF, but he could be had in addition to any of the above players. Even if all of the cap space available is exhausted the Pelicans will still have the Room Exception available, starting at $2.652 Million with a 4.5% raise in the second year. That runs the total to a 2 year, roughly $5.4 Million deal. Budinger made only $885,120 last season. That total would also be available to use on any other potential free agent.

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We know that the owners want to win soon. Half-measures and hoping on losing or teenagers becoming superstars is out the window with the Jrue Holiday trade. This, again, is not to say that the Pelicans are winning at all costs. The Nets are attempting to win at all costs. The only thing anyone is certain of is that it will indeed cost quite a lot, likely $80 Million in luxury taxes alone. Jrue Holiday is no Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce. Holiday is 23 years old while Pierce is 35 and Garnett is 37. It is due to this measured but deliberate response that I rule out acquiring Andre Iguodala. He is going to be too expensive too soon in this process for the Pelicans and unnecessarily limit the financial flexibility to continue to improve the roster.

Barring a trade for Chandler I think going after a combination of Clark and Webster or Budinger is the best path forward as I look at the numbers. Clark gives the team a 3/4 tweener and Webster (preferrably) adds a knockdown shooter. In order to make that happen I think Demps would need to trade (for peanuts) or waive Lance Thomas (at no cost) and Terrel Harris (at $150,000 cost). That would increase the Pelicans' cap space to just under $7 Million. Dividing that money between Clark and Webster would likely go in Clark's favor. Probably with $3.75 Million or $4 Million going to Clark and the remainder going to Webster. Notice that this is done without trading either Robin Lopez OR Greivis Vasquez. The Pelicans would be sitting right at the salary cap with the following roster.

Name Age
Jrue Holiday 23
Eric Gordon 25
Martell Webster 26
Anthony Davis 20
Robin Lopez 25
Ryan Anderson 25
Greivis Vasquez 26
Earl Clark 25
Jason Smith 27
Austin Rivers 21
Darius Miller 23
Brian Roberts 28
Pierre Jackson 21

Take a good hard look at that roster. For $58.5 Million (and agreements from two free agents) that is what Dell Demps can create. Martell Webster has already stated that he wants to be wanted, I think Demps providing him with at least 3 million reasons (the first year alone) should be sufficient. There is depth there with Anderson and Vasquez being the first two players off the bench. There is shooting with Holiday, Gordon, Webster, and Anderson. And let's not discredit Vasquez's catch-and-shoot ability (34.2% from three) or the development by Austin Rivers (32.6% behind the arc) or Darius Miller (39.3% from deep last year).

Another potential player it appears is Chris Copeland.

I included him at the bottom of the small forward table but did not outline him at all. He is a bit of a mystery to me right now. 29 years old with 862 minutes in the NBA so far. His shooting numbers are promising but the rebounding performance is dreadful. Especially when considering that he spends a lot of his minutes playing the "PF" either with Chandler and Carmelo on the floor or to give Carmelo a breather. Most of the play I saw from Copeland was the latter, and included some extended minutes as the "center" in the playoffs against Boston early in the series. His rebounding line dips to 2.4/9.7/5.7 in the playoffs but his shooting spiked to 47.8%, albeit on a minuscule 23 attempts.

I think adding Copeland in addition to another of the above targets would be a smart move. I do not think Copeland is going to be the answer alone unless his rebounding improves greatly. One thing that is not a serious concern is his age. He is a young 29, having played in Europe and the D-League since graduating from Colorado in 2006. His mileage is going to be incredibly low and having played in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium his basketball IQ would be expected to be rather high as he has had a wealth of basketball experiences. Potentially not all of which were in his native language.

The one player that I think can do everything the Pelicans need out of that "????" is Wilson Chandler. He is also the most difficult and expensive to obtain. Chandler will likely cost in salary nearly what Clark and Webster in my free agency scenario above will cost combined. Copeland as one of the free agent signings would make me desire a more rebounding centric player. Possibly making a run at free agent Marreese Speights if the price is right. Speights would be an improvement as a rebounder over Robin Lopez but a downgrade as a rim protector. Speights will also be more expensive, but somehow moving Lopez could turn the move financially into a wash.

Dell Demps and Monty Williams have made it clear that this summer is a critical time for the Pelicans. A time when we can expect roster upheaval. Predicting what will happen is appearing to be a lost cause in the new NBA if the draft was any indication. We would have a better chance at predicting what Dwight Howard will order at a restaurant. Projecting what moves, players, or types of players are a good fit is a whole different matter. Basketball people were not shocked at the Lakers last year. The pieces did not fit and ultimately the puzzle looked more like a shack than a castle. If "In Dell We Trust" means anything, we can look forward to him signing a shooter or two to take the floor with Holiday, Gordon, Anderson, and Davis. And celebrate a playoff berth next April.

Geaux Pelicans!

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