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The Path Forward: Sign-and-Trade Targets

We know about the old moves GM Dell Demps has made. What franchises or players fit his blueprint?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Last week I took a look at the previous moves of Dell Demps.  A pattern emerged in the acquisition of Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans; a brand new direction for their previous franchise.

Looking to the Future

Quality players are the bane of a tanking front office's existence.  Those quality players (note, they are not superstars, they are above average starters) must be moved to bottom out and start from scratch.  On each occasion Demps has targeted a young player about to enter their second contract on a team in transition.  Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans were all 23 and coming off their fourth year in the league when the Hornets/Pelicans traded for them.  In each case their previous team had replaced their GM and coach.

What teams and players fit that profile?  This list will not surprise you.

  • Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks, 25 years old - You should have known this was coming.  Sanders has already agreed to a 4 year/$44M extension which kicks in next year.  His fifth in the NBA.  The Bucks were just sold a couple weeks ago and new owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens will be making changes in the front office.
  • Greg Monroe. Detroit Pistons, 23 years old (turns 24 June 4th) - You should have known this was coming too.  Monroe will be a restricted free agent this summer.  President of Basketball Operations and GM Joe Dumars has already resigned.  The owner, Tom Gores, fired first year head coach Maurice Cheeks mid-season.  It should be mentioned that the dramatic increase in the salary cap also increases the maximum deal Monroe can sign from $13.7M (what DeMarcus Cousins signed for this past summer) to roughly $15.5M.

Beyond these two individual players, there are a number of teams to consider.  The Denver Nuggets hired Tim Connelly from New Orleans just last summer.  In the time since he has hired Brian Shaw, traded away Andre Iguodala for Randy Foye, and brought in Nate Robinson and J.J. Hickson.  Expect him to do more to shape the franchise.

The Cleveland Cavaliers fired GM Chris Grant before the trade deadline.  Cleveland could be looking to be very active this summer to get back to the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left.  The New York Knicks hired Phil Jackson as President.  His first big move was to fire Mike Woodson.  The Utah Jazz let Ty Corbin's contract expire without renewal.  The Jazz have a high lottery pick (and a stolen nickname) to go along with their bevy of high lottery picks that have yet to pane out.

LARRY SANDERS! Becomes Larry Sanders

Larry Sanders signed a 4 year, $44 Million extension last summer.  It made a ton of sense at the time, locking up one of the best rim protectors in the game for a relatively low sum (and one which does not increase over time).  Height is expensive in this league, talented height much more so.  Zach Lowe wrote the following about the contract at the time.

SANDERS! has the whole defense thing down just fine, and an elite rim protector with rudimentary offensive skills is worth something close to this level of money. In other words, to be crystal clear: This contract should turn out just fine for the Bucks, who could enter each of the next two seasons with something in the ballpark of $10 million of cap space even after this deal. They’d have something like max-level cap space if not for the bizarre Zaza Pachulia overpay, but that’s water under the bridge.

SANDERS!’s footwork on defense last season was downright gorgeous. The Bucks most often had him drop back against pick-and-rolls, so that he’d hang near the elbow as an opposing ball handler turned the corner. That’s him at the right elbow on this Raymond Felton–Chandler pick-and-roll:

The goal of any big man in SANDERS!’s position here is to corral that point guard while keeping in touch with the big man rolling to the basket. SANDERS! has become a freaking savant at this. The best point guards try to fool big men into overcommitting in one direction using head fakes, hesitation moves, and misdirection dribbles. They rarely fool SANDERS! He responds to all those tricky feints by shifting right along with them, but never over-shifting, to the point where he almost moves like a mirror image of that point guard. SANDERS! can manage that because he’s light and bouncy on his feet, balanced but also coiled and ready to spring at the same time.

This season, on the other hand, did not turn out well for the once named LARRY SANDERS!  In his first three games Sanders logged just 52 minutes and complained about his playing time under new head coach Larry Drew.  There was the nightclub incident.  Although Sanders was not charged, he still missed 25 games due to injuries suffered.  When Sanders came back he finally started getting a larger share of minutes, but the Milwaukee Bucks were already imploding.

Gary Neal challenged Sanders to earn his paycheck after a loss to the Phoenix Suns.  But after the injuries and battling the flu in January the big man finally started to put things together.  In five games Sanders averaged 13.4 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 2.0 BPG while shooting 57.6% (30/52) from the field in 32 minutes per game of work.  The Bucks were still terrible (1-4 over that stretch) but things were coming together for Larry Sanders.

No luck.  Sanders was injured on a inadvertent elbow by James Harden the next game.  A month later the Bucks ruled him out for the rest of the season.  Just weeks before the season ended Larry Sanders was suspended for his third positive test for marijuana.

Though this is the first public announcement of Sanders failing a drug test, the league's drug policy specifies that players are only suspended for five games after a third failed drug test. And that's precisely what makes Sanders' latest misstep so troubling. In the grand scheme of morality, an average citizen smoking marijuana is hardly the end of the world. Heck, an injured athlete smoking marijuana in principle isn't the end of the world either.

The Milwaukee Plan

I am sure you are questioning my sanity up to this point, and that is understandable.  However, I think trading for Larry Sanders should be a pursuit of Dell Demps.  As I mentioned above, Milwaukee fits the profile of a trade target for Demps.  New owners love to clear out old players and long term salary commitments.  The Pelicans could offer Eric Gordon, Melvin Ely (hello salary trade chip), and draft rights to Pierre Jackson ($16,347,428 in outgoing salary) for Larry Sanders and OJ Mayo ($19,000,000 in incoming salary).  After waiving Ely and signing Jackson the Bucks cut about $3.5M in salary commitments this season and around $2M next season depending on the Jackson contract.

More importantly, they cut $22M in salary commitments in 2015-16 and 2016-17.  Bottom out for another season and see if the Greek Freak, whoever they draft this summer (if the Bucks pick Joel Embiid the onus to move Sanders is even greater), and next summer's draft pick plus tons of cap space.  It is the Hope 401k that every new ownership group loves to sell to their fans, just in time to open their new arena!

For the Pelicans, this trade does not have to be made into cap space.  Outgoing salary in this case ($16,347,428) plus $5M ($21,347,428) is greater than the incoming salary ($19M).  That means maintaining Luke Babbitt on the roster plus offering the qualifying offer to Brian Roberts ($3.4M) will keep New Orleans over the cap ($63.911,712 to be exact) and therefore with access to the Mid-Level Exception (4 years/$22.6M) and Bi-Annual Exception (2 years/$4.2M).

In this case I would advocate splitting the MLE into two pieces, a $2.3M offer ($4.6M over two years) to bring back Anthony Morrow and a $3M offer (3 years/$9M) to Phoenix swingman P.J. Tucker.  Tucker has been a favorite of Bourbon Street Shots writer Michael McNamara all season.  While I am not sold on Tucker being the answer, having him be a portion of an answer alongside Morrow and O.J. Mayo (at a cost less than Eric Gordon) seems a good gamble. Here is a look at the cap situation in this scenario.

Pos Age 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-18
Larry Sanders C 26 $11,000,000 $11,000,000 $11,000,000 $11,000,000
Jrue Holiday PG 24 $10,404,495 $11,095,507 $11,786,518
Tyreke Evans SG 25 $11,265,416 $10,734,586 $10,203,755
Ryan Anderson PF 26 $8,491,500 $8,500,000
O.J. Mayo SG 27 $8,000,000 $8,000,000
Anthony Davis PF/C 21 $5,607,240 $7,070,730
Brian Roberts PG 29 $3,450,156
PJ Tucker SG/SF 29 $3,000,000 $3,000,000 $3,000,000
Austin Rivers PG 22 $2,439,840 $3,110,796
Anthony Morrow SG 29 $2,305,000 $2,408,725
Alexis Ajinca C 26 $981,084
Luke Babbitt SF/PF 25 $948,163
Jeff Withey PF/C 24 $816,482
Total $68,709,376 $64,920,344 $35,990,273 $11,000,000

Greg Monroe comes Home?

Monroe is a native of New Orleans, graduating from Helen Cox High School in Harvey.  Helen Cox High School is just 9.7 miles from the Smoothie King Center.  The Detroit Bad Boys are aware that Monroe is incredibly enticing to New Orleans.  Since Detroit failed to come to an extension agreement last summer the max contract he can be offered increased dramatically with the salary cap.  Oh, did I mention that Greg Monroe misses New Orleans?

"I love and miss New Orleans. Much better weather here than in Detroit. Man, it's real cold there," the NBA pro said.

Times-Picayune, February 14th

In addition to Detroit needing to replace Joe Dumars and find a new head coach, they have to deal with the mistakes of free agencies past.  The five year, $37.7M deal to Charlie Villanueva finally falls off this year.  If the lottery does not break their way (with either the Cleveland Cavs or our New Orleans Pelicans most likely to jump them) Detroit could give up the ninth pick for Charlotte taking back the monstrosity of Ben Gordon's 5 year, $58M deal.  Just look at their cap in 2009-10.

The Detroit Plan

The Pistons have been bad for a long time now.  Missing the playoffs (in the East!) for five consecutive seasons should not be possible.  In fact, they are the ONLY Eastern Conference team to miss the playoffs each season going back to 2008-09.  Only Sacramento (last made the playoffs in 2006) and Minnesota (last made the playoffs in 2004) have longer streaks without reaching the playoffs than the Pistons (in 2008) in the entire league.  Bottoming out is not an option with such ineptitude.

I am hardly the first or only person to suggest Monroe ending up in New Orleans.  Bleacher Report floated the idea twice, first in November and then again in January.  Pistons Palace also suggested it in December.  Noted ESPN NBA Trade Machine enthusiast Bill Simmons also brought it up just weeks into the season.

Monroe now will be traded in a sign-and-trade if it is going to happen.  There are two different scenarios I can see working out.  First, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith are traded for Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.  It sounds disgusting I know, but that is the most realistic scenario that I think the Pistons (and especially their writers I have discussed this with) accept back.  The number work, even if Monroe does sign for a maximum deal starting at $15.5M a season.  Monroe + Smith is $29M in salary.  Gordon + Anderson is $23,390,438.  Hop back to the CBA FAQ and in trades with over $19.6M in salaries outgoing a team can receive 125% plus $100,000.  $23,390,438 x 125% = $29,238,047.50.

Hypothetically the Pelicans would solve their SF and C positions.  Best case is that a Davis/Monroe front court works and creates the space for Josh Smith and Tyreke Evans to operate closer to the basket.  Worst case, you get something like the 2013-14 Pistons.  The Pelicans then would likely look to ship off Smith and would have a difficult time of that as well I suspect, although hopefully not as rough as they have had up to this point attempting to trade Eric Gordon.  With the other signings I recommended above (Morrow/Tucker) the Pelicans would still be well below the tax (about $69M for 2014-15) but thoroughly capped out until the summer of 2017 unless they could move Smith.

Second, Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko for Gordon and Anderson.  Sean Corp of Detroit Bad Boys shot that idea down on Twitter in late April (he begrudgingly accepted the Monroe/Smith for Gordon/Anderson one).  We as Pelican fans simply have to cling to Monroe truly loving (and missing) New Orleans and Dell Demps finding a way to work out a deal that either does not involve Smith at all or has Smith quickly moving to another franchise.  Detroit is probably calling around as it is trying to move Smith, so the Pistons will have some idea about what they can get for J-Smoove.

Below is this ideal chart.  Monroe (at the max) and Jerebko are in, Gordon and Anderson are out.  Detroit possibly gets a third team in the deal to take Smith for something, but how that happens is of no consequence to our discussion about the Pelicans.  Again I have Brian Roberts signing his qualifying offer, the MLE split between Morrow and Tucker, with Babbitt and Withey kept around for depth.

Pos Age 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-2018
Greg Monroe C 24 $15,500,000 $16,197,500 $16,895,000 $17,592,500
Jrue Holiday PG 24 $10,404,495 $11,095,507 $11,786,518
Tyreke Evans PG/SG 25 $11,265,416 $10,734,586 $10,203,755
Ryan Anderson PF 26 $8,491,500 $8,500,000
Anthony Davis PF/C 21 $5,607,240 $7,070,730
Jonas Jerebko PF 27 $4,500,000
Brian Roberts PG 29 $3,450,156
PJ Tucker SG/SF 29 $3,000,000 $3,000,000 $3,000,000
Austin Rivers PG/SG 22 $2,439,840 $3,110,796
Anthony Morrow SG 29 $2,305,000 $2,408,725
Alexis Ajinca C 26 $981,084
Luke Babbitt SF/PF 25 $948,163
Jeff Withey PF/C 24 $816,482
Total $69,709,376 $62,117,844 $41,885,273

Making Calls

These big deals are far-fetched.  I know that.  Think back a few years though.  Gustavo Ayon for Ryan Anderson?  Robin Lopez and Greivis Vasquez for Tyreke Evans and Jeff Withey?  Nerlens Noel and Doug McDermott for Jrue Holiday?  Deals appear lopsided depending on perspective and the goals of each organization.  Media members and fans praise deals that appear to have short term success and pan those with longer term plans (unless it involves draft picks, because those are like mana from heaven).

Some deal we have yet to even consider might come up after the draft.  The Pelicans could land in the top three on May 20th and every bit of this calculus might be thrown out the window.  Regardless, Dell Demps is on the phone between now and the middle of July trying to get another piece to put this Pelican franchise back into the playoffs.