December 15th is an interesting day for the NBA. It is the first day that players signed this summer can be traded. GMs around the league can admit to their mistakes in the punch drunk stupor of free agency. A narrow window between today and December 19th allows players to be traded for and then again traded before the trade deadline on February 19th. This window is of importance to GMs like Daryl Morey who reportedly set an artificial deadline of December 19th to trade Omer Asik last winter.
The salary cap next season is set to increase to an estimated $66.5 Million. The following season, the first of the new TV deal, details are much more murky. Estimates over $90 Million have been tossed out by Ken Burger of CBS Sports and Zach Lowe of Grantland.
Those estimates include the average yearly payout of the new deal, $2.68 Billion. According to Lowe the plan as of now is to begin at $2.1 Billion. Dan Feldman of NBC Pro Basketball Talk took the time to estimate the cap out into the future using the starting point of $2.1 Billion. For purposes of the table below I will use Feldman's estimates.
Salary Cap Situation
Unless Eric Gordon does not exercise his player option it is unlikely the Pelicans will have appreciable cap space this summer. New Orleans will send their first round pick to Houston unless the pick is 1-3 or 20+ as detailed by Real GM. The Pelicans second round pick is owned by Philadelphia via the Clippers.
Dell Demps (or his successor) will have Bird Rights to go over the salary cap to re-sign Omer Asik, the Mid-Level Exception (MLE) of up to $5.464M, the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) of $2.139M, and minimum contracts available next summer. While minimum contracts are oftentimes ignored as an option Demps has signed Brian Roberts, Anthony Morrow, Alexis Ajinca, Luke Babbitt, and Dante Cunningham to minimum deals in the past two years.
Candidates for Relocation
We have already written reams of content on how to possibly move Eric Gordon. I do not believe a trade of Gordon is imminent or even likely. He continues to rehab his shoulder in hopes of a return in late December or early January. The Pelicans have also been quite good with their opening night starting lineup. Gordon may opt out in hopes of a new location (and training staff) getting his career back on track. I doubt that occurs.
The most likely candidates are Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers, John Salmons, and Alexis Ajinca in my opinion. Let's go through the logic.
-Ryan Anderson- Despite his slow start to the season he has real value in the league as a floor spacer. The highlight reels against Cleveland demonstrate that he is still capable. His contract remains an absolute steal and his cap hold crosses the threshold into the new television deal. Dell Demps, without a doubt, is receiving calls about Ryno's availability.
-Austin Rivers- Two reasons. One, he is still quite young at 22 years old. Second, he is showing signs of improvement. His assist-to-turnover ratio, for instance, has gone from 1.72 to 2.08 to 2.89 in his first three seasons. At the free throw line he has improved as well; 54.6% to 63.6% to 69.2%. His shooting percentages within ten feet have increased each season too.
-John Salmons- Hope (from me) that his salary is a sufficient filler to make something else happen.
-Alexis Ajinca- Currently posting a career high PER (15.8) at just 26 years old on a minimum contract. Did I mention he's a legit 7'0" with arms for days?
Anderson is most obviously the crown jewel any team is looking to trade for. Any trade involving Ryno is unlikely to include sweeteners from the Pelicans side. On the other hand, Rivers and Salmons are most likely to be salary filler. This is where Ajinca, a competent (although foul prone), big man on a minimum contract comes into play. If Salmons and/or Rivers are traded it is likely Ajinca is tagging along as well to seal the deal.
As Nico discussed last month the Pelicans may have to face facts on investing so heavily in the power forward position soon. Anthony Davis will be offered a 5 year, $110M+ extension. His cap hit in 2016-17 will be between roughly 19 and 24 Million. If the team elects to re-sign Omer Asik (which I fully expect them to at this point) his contract will also eat into the available salary cap space in the summer of 2016.
The above chart makes a couple assumptions. A $25 Million starting salary for AD may be on the high side but it is a nice round number and close enough to whatever the absolute max (30%) Rose Rule Davis hopefully will sign for this coming summer. The overall deal is 5 years, $143,750,000. Again, I don't think AD is turning that down. Second, the Pelicans re-sign Omer Asik this summer, 4 years, $44 Million. $11 Million annually is a number somewhere around what big men of his caliber are currently paid.
The Pelicans utilize the full MLE this summer on someone is the third assumption. Finally, Dell Demps (or whoever is GM) holds onto their first round pick in 2016. After adding in the draft pick and cap holds New Orleans is looking at somewhere around $18 Million or so in cap space plus the room exception.
The next lockout is tentatively scheduled for after the 2016-17 season. The players have been taken to the cleaners each and every time the CBA has been renegotiated. The combination of the large jump in the salary cap and the uncertainty about future earnings should create a market ripe to find a "second star" to place next to Anthony Davis. AD will be just 23 years old when this window of opportunity opens.
Any moves between now and then can potentially eat into that salary cap space. The big picture is about how to maximize the now without compromising the future. At 11-12 the Pelicans are likely to battle at the bottom of the playoff ladder. OKC looms as a giant below New Orleans, Phoenix, and Sacramento. The same eight teams making the playoffs in the West for a second consecutive seasons begins to feel like inevitability.
At times as fans when our team loses we look to blame them. If the same eight return to the postseason instead can we credit the victors?