It is beginning to crystallize that the Pelicans are in desperate need of one more solid contributor. This team is functionally seven deep with Eric Gordon back in the lineup. The opening day starting lineup, as we have thoroughly covered, is solid despite the unconventional arrangement with Tyreke Evans nominally the "small forward". While Ryan Anderson has been up-and-down this season his reputation alone creates space that no other Pelican can without the ball.
Omer Asik's offensive limitations were known prior to arrival but his defensive impact cannot be understated. He is seventh among starting centers in points saved per 36 according Nylon Calculus. Asik is sixth in the entire league in defensive rebound rate and fourth in overall rebound rate according to Basketball Reference. The list of centers who can both eat the defensive glass and protect the rim is short. Asik's performance compares favorably to DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, and Andrew Bogut.
Dante Cunningham has found a nice niche as a defender and floor spacer out to the three point line. Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis have done exceedingly well as both are posting career best PERs. Many have looked at this assortment of players and asked if a steady backup point guard is what this team needs in place of Austin Rivers. I disagree.
What this team lacks is less about basketball skills and more about attitude. Cunningham has filled the "Morrow" role of effort and hustle from a journeyman professional. Despite his frequent floor burns he is not a confidence guy or an energizer. What this team misses most from Morrow is unshakable confidence. That is something I think could be on the market.
Monday night the Knicks went all-in on their rebuild, breaking Twitter in the process. In doing so they attached J.R. Smith to Iman Shumpert to cut even more salary for this summer's free agent festivities. The Pelicans could call the Lakers and work out a similar cost cutting move for the future with Mitch Kupchak. Specifically to eliminate the remaining three years and $16.3M owed to Nick "Swaggy P" Young.
The Lakers have every reason to want to make this trade happen. It opens up over $5M in additional cap space for them this summer. It creates more losses this season, therefore increasing the likelihood they keep their 2015 1st Round Pick. That pick is currently owed to Phoenix (via the Steve Nash trade), but with top five protections. It also saves them $554k in salary this season.
Or at least, so I thought. In a conversation with Drew Garrison, editor of SB Nation's Laker Blog, Silver Screen and Roll (+1000 on the name), such a proposal (in vague terms) was shot down immediately. There is one particular asset the Pelicans could use to sweeten the deal. Unfortunately, despite his obvious talent and value, the only thing Laker fans will remember him for is this highlight.
Jeff Withey's 19.8 PER would lead the Lakers right now. He's only 24 years old, legitimately seven feet tall, finishes at the basket, and his RFA hold next summer is just $1.1M. Laker fans will laugh off this suggestion based on one highlight. That is as solid a peek as you will ever get into their mentality right now.
Odds of keeping the pick if the Lakers finish the following: 4th: 82.8% 5th: 55.2% 6th: 21.5% 7th: 15.1% 8th: 10.0% 9th: 6.1%— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) January 7, 2015
The Lakers are currently 4th. Winning just a couple games or another Eastern Conference contender going into tank mode could dramatically effect their probability to retain the pick. Is Nick Young worth losing a first round pick? Can an NBA franchise run solely on arrogance and past achievements? The Lakers seem willing to find out.
Pelican Point of View
Austin Rivers and John Salmons will not be here next year. Dell Demps already declined to pick up the fourth year of Austin's rookie contract. It continues to feel like Salmons is giving it one more go before moving onto the coaching staff. (If Monty Williams is retained.) Neither is providing positive contributions on the court. This trade provides another scoring option off the bench at minimal cost this season.
For next year, Young's cap hit does not eliminate the availability of the MLE. The Pelicans could use both the MLE and BAE and remain just slightly below the luxury tax. If the Pelicans can sign Omer Asik below his cap hold (I continue to estimate 4 years, $44 Million) they could fill out their rotation nicely. Say use the BAE to retain Dante Cunningham while using the MLE on a quality backup point guard?
Chances of this happening are low. As discussed above, the Lakers do not want to give even the appearance of tanking. Of course, hiring Byron Scott as head coach is kind of waving a huge "We're Tanking" flag, but I digress. Young's contract is a relative bargin and it is unlikely the Lakers ship him off for a slight increase in salary cap room. Even if it would get them a solid rotation big for the future. Because of one highlight.
From the Pelican side Young does not fit the profile that Dell Demps has pursued in the past. His reputation is one of a knucklehead. He's already 29 years old. If the cost increases to Withey it is probable that Demps balks. While much has been made of his lack of playing time Withey remains just 24 years old and with an absurdly low $1.1M qualifying offer this summer. The Pelicans are playing the long game with his development, even if Monty still probably plays him less than he should.
Put this at less than 5%. But man would it be fun.