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Off Season Assessment

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Putting a bow on the roster Dell Demps and company have assembled.

Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

Assessment is the new catchphrase in education. Those who write standardized tests have gone to utilize the term assessment rather than test in recent years. How this has any real impact on the students taking the assessment or the teachers tasked with preparing students for it is anyone's guess. My personal guess is terminology like that has no measurable impact. The word assessment sounds more clinical, somehow, than test. Maybe the goal is to make this process sound less like a challenge and more like a progress note.

I have some experience with this difference of terminology. I began my military career in the Army, where every six months we would take the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). Pushups, situps, and a run. After three years I switched to the Navy (better geographic opportunities, eventually sent me to New Orleans) where we took the Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA). Pushups, situps, and a run. Terminology (and distance on the run) were different, but the process and rewards were the much the same. Score well (which I did) and the Solider or Sailor did not have to attend command workout sessions. Score poorly and not only attend those sessions, but likely get an extra dose of working out at inopportune times.

In keeping up with the terminology of the times, I will attempt to provide an assessment of the moves Dell Demps has made this season. Like a course you took in high school or college, certain moves will be weighted more than others. Unlike those academic settings, the heaviest weight is not placed on the final transaction.

Omer Asik Acquisition - (80% of Final Grade)

This is not one move, but a series of smaller ones. It begins not with the trade announced the day before the NBA Draft, but in the last week of the regular season. With just two games remaining Dell Demps waived Greg Stiemsma and signed Melvin Ely. Ely's contract had a second, unguaranteed season on it. The perfect minor trade chip if Demps needed it this summer.

After the trade was announced writers scrambled to figure out how the Pelicans would make the numbers work. I was no different. Thankfully the Pelicans received a bit of a gift when LeBron James announced he was headed to Cleveland.

Either way (James staying in Miami or going to Cleveland) there is ample reason to believe the Pelicans would have acquired Alonzo Gee. If LeBron stayed in Miami the Pelicans would have traded cash considerations to Charlotte for Gee's contract (who would otherwise be waived to make room for Marvin Williams and Lance Stephenson). Instead LeBron left Miami, and the Cleveland trade was reconfigured to send Scotty Hopson. This allowed the Pelicans to receive the unguaranteed contracts of both Hopson and Gee at the cost of cash considerations and a future second round pick.

With the necessary contracts now in hand, the Pelicans completed the trade for Omer Asik. Outgoing cost of assets previous on hand is the oddly protected 2015 First Round pick, the heavily protected 2016 Second Round pick from the Clippers, and cash considerations. Ely, Gee, and Hopson were all acquired for the sole purpose of executing this trade; counting them as assets is a little dubious.

Overall Grade - A+

I do not know how Demps could have pulled off this trade more brilliantly. He did get a (very minor) assist from LeBron James. It is difficult to say if Hopson's contract would have been available at such a low cost. This move is by far the most important move. Asik is expected to start right away and fix the biggest issues the Pelicans had last season.

Russ Smith and Patric Young Acquistion - (5% of Final Grade)

These two are packaged together as they were acquired during or immediately after the draft. Russ Smith was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 47th overall pick and then traded to New Orleans for the rights to Pierre Jackson. Patric Young agreed to come on with the Summer League team after going undrafted.

Both of these players performed well in Summer League. Smith so much so that he garnered 2nd Team All-Summer League honors. Pierre Jackson was unlikely to ever receive minutes in New Orleans, where it is possible Russ Smith could eventually become a steady second string point guard in the NBA. Russ Smith signed a three year contract and Patric Young signed a two year contract.

Overall Grade - B

Signing Smith to a three year contract used cap space instead of the minimum exception (which would limit the contract to just two years). That is a significant investment in a second round draft pick. More than Demps invested in Darius Miller or Jeff Withey, both of whom were signed to two year contract via the minimum exception. Unless Young demonstrates the ability to rebound on the defensive glass I do not see him attaining a position in an NBA rotation.

Jimmer Fredette Acquisition and Darius Miller Retention - (5% of Final Grade)

Both players signed for the veteran minimum, so the cost of each is literally as low as possible. Fredette has bounced around the league in his short time and could not find his way onto the court under similar defensive coaches in Sacramento (Mike Malone, former assistant coach in NOLA) and Chicago (Tom Thibodeau, who Monty Williams will coach with for Team USA this summer). Fredette is an excellent shooter, a skill that could be magnified on a team already stocked with capable creators in Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, and even Austin Rivers.

Miller has shown flashes of ability in two seasons along with long periods of near invisibility. Scanning his game log from the past season shows long stretches where Miller did not see the court and short bursts of potential. Can Miller put it all together and become a viable option at small forward for the long haul? That remains to be seen. Demps asking this question at the cost of a minimum contract and roster spot seems fair.

Overall Grade - C+

Just your run of the mill minimum signings. I fully expect that Jimmer Fredette will (nearly single-handedly) win one regular season game for the Pelicans if Monty Williams plays him. That will be followed by ten to fifteen games in which fans clamor for Fredette to get off the bench to no avail. Miller might not dress, or he might start at small forward. There is really no way to predict it.

John Salmons Acquisition - (10% of Final Grade)

John Salmons is just a guy in NBA terms. Zach Lowe explained this phenomenon just after the trade deadline.

On the flip side, teams understand they need a top-20 player or two to win a title, and they are going to be careful about trading any asset for a player below that level. A phrase I’ve heard constantly over the last six months: "Player X is just a guy." Seriously, "just a guy" is happening around the NBA in a way "fetch" never could. Front-office types apply it as a mild insult to a pretty good player making something like $6 million to $10 million per year.

The implication is that you can get 80 percent of that player’s production on something close to a minimum salary, making it silly to give up anything of real value — gobs of money, a single first-round pick — for such a player. This was what frightened the players’ union during the lockout — the marginalization of the midlevel guy. It hasn’t yet happened on a massive scale in free agency, where the sheer number of teams with at least $10 million in cap room means plenty of "pretty good" veterans will still get fatty contracts. And these players have real value when plopped onto the right roster. Disregarding them completely is dangerous; not everyone can have a superstar — otherwise they wouldn’t be special.

If you want the walking personification of "just a guy" last season it was John Salmons. On a salary of $7.5M he was just a guy in the Toronto rotation. He might provide some veteran leadership in the locker room that cannot be quantified in the box score. He can shoot the corner three relatively well but still dribbles much too often. The Pelicans may not have thrown "gobs of money, a single first-round pick" at Salmons, so you question why Salmons applies to the "just a guy" concept this season for New Orleans.

Dell Demps, after trading for Alonzo Gee and Scotty Hopson (to complete the brilliant trade for Omer Asik) into cap space had two remaining assets beyond roster spots and minimum contracts. There were minutes available on the wing (regardless if Tyreke Evans starts or not) and the room exception to pay for them. He chose to invest both in John Salmons.

Overall Grade - C-

This move trends towards unsatisfactory on my scale. The prospect of Salmons contributing in ways not shown in the box score keeps it (barely) in the average category. As the room exception (and prospect for minutes on the wing) were the last vestiges of assets available to Demps, this move is given more weight in the grand scheme of things.

Final Assessment

Knowing the weight of each assignment or test of a course is critical to managing the time invested in each piece. Many times a student can go into the final exam of a course knowing that they just need a C to get an A in the class overall; they then invest their study time appropriately. Studying for other courses with greater demands, or simply celebrating a semester of effort with down time.

Likewise, here the weight afforded to the Asik trade plays into how I view the off season and roster Dell Demps constructed. It is important to point out that none of the moves Demps has done have added any significant long term salary. Re-signing Omer Asik (which I expect the team to make a priority if things work out) will change that fact, but also give the team an elite defender and rebounder beside Anthony Davis.

Pos Age 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-2017
Eric Gordon SG 26 $14,898,938 $15,514,031
Jrue Holiday PG 24 $9,904,495 $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
Omer Asik C 28 $8,374,646
Anthony Davis PF/C 21 $5,607,240 $7,070,730
Austin Rivers PG 22 $2,439,840 $3,110,796
John Salmons SF 35 $2,000,000
Alexis Ajinca C 26 $981,084
Luke Babbitt SF/PF 25 $981,084
Jimmer Fredette SG 25 $948,163
Darius Miller SG/SF 24 $915,243
Jeff Withey PF/C 24 $816,482
Russ Smith PG 23 $507,336 $845,059 $980,431
Patric Young PF/C 23 $507,336 $845,059
Total 25.13 $68,638,803 $57,715,768 $22,970,704
Salary Cap $63,065,000 $66,300,000

There is a lot to like about that roster. Eric Gordon's final year is a player option; Russ Smith's second and third years are unguaranteed according to Sham Sports. I expect that Patric Young's contract will also be unguaranteed in the second year; the team did the same with contracts for Darius Miller, Jeff Withey, Brian Roberts, and Luke Babbitt.

Final Grade - B+

Only the Salmons signing keeps this off season from being superior. If Salmons does contribute in meaningful ways both on and off the court this grade will look too low in retrospect. If, on the other hand, Salmons sets up shop in the Willie Green and Greg Stiemsma shop of "Monty's Veteran" a B+ might be too kind. And the Pelicans might find themselves on the outside looking in (again) at the playoffs.