The NBA Trade Deadline is just days away, February 19th at 3PM Eastern. The only trade deadline deal General Manager Dell Demps has executed in his time heading up the franchise was at his first trade deadline, trading Marcus Thornton to the Sacramento Kings for Carl Landry. Landry was a key cog off the bench and eventually starting in the place of David West at the then-Hornets made the playoffs. Thornton signed a big contract (4 years, $31.15M) with Sacramento and has been traded twice in the last 12 months. He is likely on the trading block again in Boston.
The trade market has been significantly different this season than last. With a weaker draft class a total of six first round picks have traded hands already. A far cry from the 2014 deadline when Philadelphia dangled their entire roster for a first round pick and only received a boat load of second round picks for their efforts. Rajon Rondo, Corey Brewer, Anthony Tolliver, Dion Waiters, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov, Brandan Wright, Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, and Quincy Pondexter have all changed teams and taken up new addresses as rotation players.
Once our own Austin Rivers, Jameer Nelson, and Brandan Wright have each been traded twice in less than two months time. Whether it is the soon to be skyrocketing salary cap, the desperation of teams in contention, or first round picks teams simply do not value as much it is all contributing to a wide open market. Oh, and the Pistions WAIVED Josh Smith.
First let's take a look at where the Pelicans stand right now. They have no trade exceptions to accept players without sending salary back out. New Orleans has added the Memphis Grizzlies' second round pick as an asset in the trade which also netted Quincy Pondexter. I have not included Toney Douglas and his current 10-day contract.
There's not a whole lot there to move for Demps. Some combination of John Salmons and a big man going out could net between $4.3M (Withey) and $4.6M (Ajinca) in returning salary. If you believe the Pelicans most need a reserve point guard that could get you Mario Chalmers or Mo Willaims. Sending out just Salmons could return Jameer Nelson but would likely necessitate attaching the second round pick as well.
The Pelicans do not have cap space this summer. Even letting Omer Asik walk in free agency does not create cap space. Not, "does not create a lot of space". If Omer Asik is not offered a contract by the Pelicans and signs elsewhere New Orleans will little to show for it. The current six players under contract (Gordon, Holiday, Evans, Anderson, Davis, Pondexter) plus cap holds puts New Orleans at nearly $60 Million committed. In order to have cap space New Orleans must renounce rights to everyone left (Withey's restricted free agency rights, early Bird Rights to Alexis Ajinca and Luke Babbit), the Mid-Level Exception (starting at $5.4M), and the Bi-Annual Exception (starting at $2.1M). In return they would receive cap space of roughly $7 Million and the room exception of $2.7M. That's a steep price (Asik, Withey's RFA rights, early bird rights to Ajinca and Babbitt) to offer a paltry $1.6M on one contract.
All that out of the way, let's take a look at where the Pelicans will stand on July 1st. Eric Gordon's player option is in green, cap holds are in maroon, the qualifying offer for Withey's restricted rights is in blue.
I believe that continuity matters and this team is roughly nine men deep. Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter, Dante Cunningham, and Alexis Ajinca form a solid core that needs time together. Asik can be brought back with his Bird Rights. The Bi-Annual Exception (BAE in the chart above) should be sufficient to retain Dante Cunningham.
The first big domino to fall is Ajinca and Withey. Alexis Ajinca could be brought back with his Early Bird Rights, although he could cost more. Jeff Withey has shown less promise but is younger and the team is more likely to keep his services. I would be surprised if the team attempted to bring both players back. It is easier to keep Withey but the rotation leads me to believe that Ajinca is the selection. Do not forget that this team has connections with the Spurs, another franchise known to invest in player development for the long game. Could Jeff Withey be the fourth big of the future and we simply have not seen the direction in practice?
The second big choice is the Mid-Level Exception. What do the Pelicans need? Do they think long term and invest in wing depth such as Iman Shumpert for the following year when Eric Gordon comes off the books? Is a reserve point guard a good investment considering Jrue Holiday's recent injury history? What about a shooting big man to make Ryan Anderson more expendable? Those don't come cheap and the MLE might not be enough.
How should the Pelicans proceed? Try to swing for the fences as the trade deadline approaches? Stand pat and wait for internal development and cohesion to solidify? Let's hear it in the comments.