Tuesday on The BS Report Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe discussed the Pelicans possibly trading for Joe Johnson as the Nets look to cut salary and their impending luxury tax bill. The New Orleans section begins at 21:10 if you would like to focus just on that discussion. Obviously Eric Gordon would be required to be a part of any trade to bring back a contract as large as Johnson's.
"But, they (the Pelicans) have one move to make. You know what it is. There's a move where they take on more salary for a slight upgrade that you only do if you're kinda slightly panicking and you're going to lose your first round pick if you dont' make the playoffs. There's a move out there."
Bare Bones Version
Let's start with the most minimal trade possible to fit within the "Eric Gordon and contracts for Joe Johnson" we can do. Eric Gordon, John Salmons, and Austin Rivers for Joe Johnson.
This would be an incredibly shortsighted move. This coming summer the Pelicans would have $62.3 Million between just five players (Johnson, Holiday, Evans, Anderson, and Davis) with Omer Asik remaining to be signed. Utilizing the entire mid-level exception puts New Orleans into the luxury tax easily. Dell Demps cannot begin to approach this deal because of how it ties his (or his successor's) hands going forward. Let's think a little bigger.
You Won't Like This
If there is one criticism I have read frequently of the Pelican roster it is that the pieces do not fit. New Orleans cannot play their best five players (Holiday, Evans, Davis, Anderson, Asik) for long stretches against a variety of opponents. Davis gets lost defending on the perimeter. Anderson's advantages as a stretch big are negated when opponents can defend him with small forwards. The defense in this group is lacking.
Let's see if we can't fix that. The Pels field the 8th best offense but 25th best defense according to Nylon Calculus. If Holiday, Evans, Davis, and Asik aren't going anywhere the obvious hole is at small forward where a bigger wing who can still space the floor would fit well. Johnson checks those boxes even if he doesn't fit the window for contention.
Before you tear down this trade, some data. With this trade in place the Pelicans could utilize the full MLE and re-sign Omer Asik. Adding in the qualifying offer to Jeff Withey and early bird cap holds for both Luke Babbitt and Alexis Ainjca put the Pels at $73.7M with contracts for six players (Holiday, Evans, Johnson, Davis, Bogdanovic, Smith) and bird rights or restricted free agent rights to four more (Asik, Babbitt, Ajinca, Withey). Sign Asik below his cap hold of $12.56M and the space below the luxury tax (roughly $81M) grows.
Ideally between who the Pels elect to re-sign, etc they should be able to utilize both the full MLE and Bi-Annual Exception to bring in two more rotation pieces. Holiday, Evans, Johnson, Davis, Asik, Bogdanovic, MLE, Babbitt, Withey, BAE, Smith, Minimum Guys (x3) feels like an upgrade.
In this situation the Pelicans likely start Holiday, Evans, Johnson, Davis, and Asik. There is no way that cannot be a competent defense in the NBA. None. On offense Johnson is shooting 41.5% behind the arc from three this season and 39% over the past four on 1227 attempts, this is no small sample size. The offense should not seize up.
Bogdanovic, who has started 19 games in Brooklyn, moves to a bench role in the Crescent City. While his PER of 9.5 is hardly stellar his shot has carried over from Europe; Bogdanovic is shooting 35% behind the arc. The bench unit looks something like Rivers, Bogdanovic, Babbitt, Cunningham, Withey/Ajinca. If Monty swings it right with the rotation he can have one of Holiday, Evans, or Johnson out there to solidify the offense.
At some point Joe Johnson is going to fall off. His game isn't one based on athleticism so that point could be beyond his contract. He also might not take well to being the fourth option behind Holiday, Evans, and Davis. In that same vein, Ryan Anderson might revert back to his old self on a consistent basis at any time. He didn't even participate in basketball activities until the late summer. Trading him now only to see his shooting come back up to historic levels provides another bullet in the "Demps is dumb" chamber.
There's also the Josh Smith example out there. If the Pelicans elect to waive and stretch Gordon this summer and can agree on an annual contract for Omer Asik around $11M the Pelicans could have nearly $9 Million in cap space this summer. More if they negotiate a buyout with Gordon instead of electing to waive his entire contract. Keeping Anderson around would look really smart if New Orleans chooses to waive and stretch Gordon. The cap space available allows for the Pelicans to sign what should be a significant upgrade at small forward while keeping their core in tact.
Would Brooklyn Do It?
Currently the Nets have $91,117,790 on the books. The luxury tax due, assuming salary is not cut, is $26,971,975. This trade cuts their salary by $3,068,352. It also reduces the luxury tax due by $7,670,880 for a total savings of $10,739,232. Salary already paid to the players would lower that some, but not a significant amount. That would not effect the luxury tax savings, which are calculated at the end of the year. Monetarily this makes sense and is inline with previous reports on Brooklyn looking to act in a more fiscally responsible manner after losing $144 Million last season.
On a talent basis the question is a little trickier. Bogdanovic's contract runs into the new television deal with his paltry qualifying offer of $4.4M being offered in 2017-18. (Hint, this is a big reason why I propose it from the Pelican side) He has finished at the rim well (68.6% in the restricted area) and shot 46% from the corners. He's also struggled everywhere else on the court. At 25 it is reasonable to ask how much growth potential is there.
The talent of Ryan Anderson wins out here, and I believe the Nets would do this deal if seriously discussed.
Would New Orleans Do It?
No, absolutely not.
That was a pretty constant refrain when I proposed it on Twitter on Christmas Eve. I think that is close to the line of thinking for the Pelicans front office as well. While Joe Johnson is currently an upgrade from Eric Gordon I think Dell Demps still believes in what EG can become. On the other side, there is no doubt that Ryan Anderson is a more valuable basketball player than Bojan Bogdanovic right now. Even with Anderson struggling at times.
So many of the trades proposed focus on creating possibilities. Cap space and first round picks can become anything. Naturally the expectation is that those blank slates turn into quality contributors (at worst) or All-Stars at best. Dell Demps is doing a similar thing in his office. But instead of drawing on a blank canvas (cap space, first round pick) he's watching highlights of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson in the NBA, looking like All-Stars.
Both those clips are less than 12 months old. Demps isn't hoping some kid who "projects" to be good can learn the NBA and then put physical talents to use. Or that he can convince a free agent to come to New Orleans. He's simply hoping players who have demonstrated the ability to score 30+ in the NBA right now can become more consistent. That is a much smaller (and safer) leap to make.
So no, the Pelicans won't make this trade and they have every reason to turn it down. It hampers future flexibility and at best marginally upgrades the talent available to win games now. Just say no Dealer Dell.