Trading a 27 year old journeyman point guard for two second round picks is not a typical Dell Demps move. However, that is exactly what Demps did moving Ish Smith for a 2016 second round pick from Denver and a 2017 second round pick from Philadelphia. At first I suspected the 76ers pick would have some protections on it. According to Real GM and Basketball Insiders there are no protections whatsoever on either pick.
Trading away Ish Smith for two second round picks which should land in the 31-40 range is an excellent haul. Smith had done well in a New Orleans Pelicans uniform. His ability to play at the pace Alvin Gentry seeks was noticeable the moment he took the floor. Every five man unit with at least 25 minutes played including Smith posted a positive net rating. Only three other such lineups exist for New Orleans. This trade, in the immediate term, makes the Pelicans a worse basketball team.
I’m kind of surprised the Pels would do it, honestly. Ish has been helpful.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 24, 2015
Trading Ish Smith for two second round picks has nothing to do with immediate success for this franchise. That's a good thing.
For once the Pelicans are not bone dry on fungible assets. They own all of their future first round picks. For all intents and purposes they own four second round picks in the next two years. This summer they will have the lower of their own and that of the Sacramento Kings in addition to the Denver Nuggets selection. Here is how the 2016 draft breaks down currently.
- 2016 First Round - Lottery
- 2016 Second Round - #38 currently via Denver Nuggets
- 2016 Second Round - #39 currently via Sacramento Kings
In 2017 the Pelicans own their own first round pick, their own second round pick (unless it falls from 56-60 in which case we celebrate), and the Sixers second round pick. The 2017 edition of the Pelicans could have six players on rookie contracts in addition to a 24 year old Anthony Davis with four years remaining on his contract.
Six players in their first or second year in the league is a lot. It would be shocking to see the Pelicans have all six of those picks used and under contract 19 months from now if you assume Dell Demps is still the General Manager. Of course, considering the current trajectory of the franchise it is reasonable to ask if Demps will be calling the shots by June 2017.
Future flexibility can still increase
Right now the Pelicans will have about $16 million in cap space this summer in addition to those three draft picks. That assumes that scheduled free agents Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon sign elsewhere and the remaining one year contracts (or contracts without guarantees) are also cleared out. Depending on if Anthony Davis achieves the Rose Rule requirements (considering the All-Star voting results his only remaining avenue is making an All-NBA team) and where the Pels land in the lottery that number could be much higher (approaching $20 million) or slightly lower (closer to $15 million if the ping pong balls bounce right).
Max cap space is possible if either Jrue Holiday or Tyreke Evans is traded away without accepting future salaries. Burning the roster down does not require a massive number of transactions; trade away one guard and move one center (Alexis Ajinca will be easily moved even while he has disappointed so far this season, Asik not so much).
Trading Anderson and/or Gordon could return an additional first round pick or, more ideally, a quality young player with potential to be a rotation player. Even with a youth movement potentially on the horizon there are limits to how many rookies a roster can realistically maintain at once. If the Pelicans get their own D-League affiliate some of those concerns could be alleviated.
Championships take time
If there is one thing I could say to Tom Benson, it would be that championships take time. He said this weekend that contending for championships is his goal.
The legacy of both these teams are still yet to be written and my legacy can be discussed when I am long gone, which by the way is not that important to me right now. What is important to me is getting both our teams back to winning and challenging for championships. That is what our fans want most, and no one is more keenly aware of the urgency of that objective than me. We have had tremendous success both on and off the field and remain model franchises in both leagues, something I am very proud of.
In the NFL quick flips from rags to riches are far more common place than the NBA. Barring a significant, and to be honest shocking, arrival via free agency the Pelicans must attempt to build from within. Hitting on at least one if not two of the upcoming draft picks in 2016 is critical to this franchise contending for championships.
Far more importantly, the Pelicans must try to maximize the assets they have available between now and the trade deadline. That could very well mean taking some lumps from February to April for the greater good.