Last May I wrote about my Dream Scenario, what I hoped would happen in the off-season. To review, draft Trey Burke, trade the 2014 pick (and Vasquez/Lopez) for Larry Sanders, and then attempt to sign J.J. Redick and Gerald Henderson in free agency. None of that happened. Instead the Pelicans traded the 2013 and 2014 picks for Jrue Holiday then sent Vasquez and Lopez out for Tyreke Evans. Gerald Henderson signed for 3 years and $18 Million in Charlotte, and J.J. Redick was Sign-and-Traded to the Clippers at 4 years and $27.7 Million. New Orleans then brought back Aminu on a one year deal, got Anthony Morrow at the minimum, and signed Greg Stiemsma to the room exception.
Overall I prefer what Demps was able to pull off. Jrue Holiday is a dramatically better defender than Trey Burke ever projects to be; Tyreke Evans looked like an All-Star as a starter. Henderson regressed this season (PPG, TS%, eFG%, PER all down) while Redick battled injuries (he looked good in the playoffs though). Morrow outperformed his contract and will be a free agent, although I hope he can be brought back next season. Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith are big question marks headed into the off-season. Stiemsma was an abject disaster.
Time for a new dream!
Last season I did my dream scenario after the Pelicans were locked into the 6th pick. This time I went ahead and decided the best bet would be to begin before, opening up better possibilities. If the Pelicans are announced at 11th or 10th on May 20th we can go ahead and burn this immediately. However, if you hear the Cleveland Cavaliers at number 10, get excited. Really excited. This is the absolute best way the lottery can break down in my mind.
Utah picks Parker. NOLA picks Wiggins. Milwaukee picks Embiid and is open to trading Sanders. Yes. This. pic.twitter.com/QPegmbXQLI— David Fisher (@usnfish) May 5, 2014
Utah is going to pick Jabari Parker with the first pick. Period. They need the most polished player right now, Parker is that player. New Orleans would be a fool to do anything other than select Andrew Wiggins with the second pick. The biggest hole on this team is who starts at small forward, Wiggins solves that problem immediately. His lack of assertiveness is not a problem thanks to the presence of Tyreke and Jrue. He does not have the pressure to save the franchise because Anthony Davis already did.
Milwaukee at three has a dilemma. Do they pick Dante Exum (might not work out for the Bucks) based on hype? Julius Randle might work, but then the team is choosing Larry Sanders over John Henson. So I think (as long as his back is not a huge question mark) Milwaukee will select Joel Embiid. Another big project beside Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the perfect "Long Play" for a team under new ownership. Tear it down to the foundation first just like the 76ers did. Of course that means Larry Sanders is probably on his way out.
Trades and Free Agency
It is important to note that if the Pelicans do select in the top three their ability to create realistic cap space is eliminated. Any significant moves after that point will be done through trades. Luckily, they have a perfect partner for a trade in Milwaukee. As I mentioned above, the Milwaukee Bucks will be looking to trade Larry Sanders if they draft Joel Embiid. Further, as discussed in The Path Forward, they will want to move O.J. Mayo (the 4th most overpaid player in the NBA according to Wall Street Cheat Sheet) who is owed $16 Million over the next two seasons.
Why trade for O.J. Mayo? Because that is probably the cost to move Eric Gordon and bring in Larry Sanders. Why would Milwaukee do it? It cuts costs every single year and opens up playing time for Joel Embiid. Why should New Orleans do this? A front line of Wiggins, Davis, and Sanders has the potential to be devastating on defense. Despite his relatively awful season Sanders still held opponents to 41.6% at the rim according to NBA Stats.
Circling back to Mayo, he has been remarkably healthy in his NBA career, missing just 11 games in five seasons before arriving in Milwaukee. A fresh start might do him wonders, and if not he costs practically half of what Gordon will over the next two seasons. Either way, I think the Pelicans would be best served to have an insurance policy on hand if Mayo does not work out. Also, a consummate professional who can provide the fire and intensity needed throughout the doldrums of January and February. That brings us to free agency.
Bring Back the Bench
Thanks to remaining over the salary cap Dell Demps will have access to the full mid-level exception. Instead of using the entire thing I suggest using a portion of it to retain Anthony Morrow. In order to outbid teams using the taxpayer mid-level exception ($3.27M) Morrow's contract will start at $3.3 Million. Second, by remaining above the salary cap New Orleans can retain Bird Rights for Jason Smith. Despite his injury struggles I would bring him back for around $2 Million to $2.5 Million (what he made last season). An offer of two years, $5 Million with the second year as a team option seems fair.
Finally, I think if the Pelicans could pull it off, they should also retain Al-Farouq Aminu. I do not have a clue what he is going to get paid this summer. I do not even have a starting point or salary range. He was an unrestricted free agent last year, was not rumored to go anywhere else, and ended up returning to New Orleans for a one year, $3.7 million deal. Wages of Wins loves Aminu, ranking him 13th in wins produced among all small forwards. I think the Pelicans need Aminu, and would love to have him back at around $3 Million a season. Ultimately I believe he will be paid more than that, and do it outside of the Smoothie King Center. This is my dream though, so he comes back for 2 years, $6 Million.
Salary Cap and Depth Chart
I think this team can work. The only non-shooters on the roster are Larry Sanders (29.4% from mid range the last two seasons), Al-Farouq Aminu, and Tyreke Evans. Avoiding playing all three at once should be a goal of the franchise. Beyond that every player is a threat to score to the three point line at least. Anderson, Holiday, Morrow, Mayo (38% career three point shooter), and Rivers (on catch and shoot threes he shot 46.4%) can all step behind the arc. Holiday, Aminu, Davis, and Sanders are all plus defenders already, while Andrew Wiggins projects to be one in the near future.
|PG||Jrue Holiday||Austin Rivers|
|SG||Tyreke Evans||O.J. Mayo||Anthony Morrow|
|SF||Andrew Wiggins||Al-Farouq Aminu|
|PF||Anthony Davis||Ryan Anderson||Jeff Withey|
|C||Larry Sanders||Jason Smith||Alexis Ajinca|
Hinges on the Lottery
If the Pelicans pick in the top three regardless of what else happens I think we will all be ecstatic. If the lottery does not produce the result we are looking for (both for the Pelicans and for the Bucks in this situation) it does not doom New Orleans to another awful season. There was plenty of room for hope last season despite the injuries. Most prominently, Anthony Davis.
Remember that all the teams who tanked this season hope they can land a franchise cornerstone. Even if they do select in the top three it does not mean those players will be elite NBA players, despite being elite NBA prospects. There is a difference. Anthony Davis was an elite NBA prospect.
Now he is an elite NBA player. 15th in points per game. 11th in rebounds per game. 4th in PER. 2nd among all power forwards in wins produced. 1st in blocked shots per game. Even with all that information I have not mentioned he is just 21 and was significantly better at the end of the season (do you remember the streak) than he was in the beginning.
Anthony Davis is the foundation this franchise will build around. It is nice to dream about Andrew Wiggins joining him.