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2015 NBA Free Agency: Expect the Pelicans to adapt their roster construction philosophy

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No longer having to cater to Monty Williams particular style, Dell Demps has the opportunity to make several key changes to the roster before the start of next season. The question isn't will he but rather who.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The philosophies of Monty Williams and Alvin Gentry couldn't be anymore different. New Orleans former coach believed in a deliberate offense and possessions were mostly dictated by the team's playmakers. Monty believed good looks would be created by the talented players finding a way into the paint for either a good shot attempt in the lane, a drop off pass or a kick out to the perimeter. The purpose of ball movement was to not create spacing but rather find offense, as in an open attempt or to change the point of attack.

On the defensive end, one-way players were considered more than acceptable because Monty felt it was more important to have all five players possess the ability to contribute on that end of the floor. That's why Willie Green used to play a lot more minutes than Marcus Thornton, why Lance Thomas or Greg Stiemsma saw major minutes, or more recently, why Dante Cunningham and Omer Asik were given significant roles.

Well, with the firing of Monty, the Pelicans were freed from this biased mentality. Gentry represents a new era and one that will be markedly different from his predecessor -- the offense will not be asked to take a backseat any longer. Consequently, will Dell Demps roster management exemplify this shift in philosophy? You betcha.

Dell Demps has always leaned towards offense

We can go all the way back to the failed Chris Paul trade. I believe Dell Demps showed his hand early in his career by displaying an overwhelming preference for offensive players: Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin, Lamar Odom and Luis Scola. All 4 players have never been confused with being excellent defenders, rather their claim to fame was their abilities to contribute on the other side of the court.

Next, have a look at all of Demps' major roster moves that followed:

  • Signed Gustavo Ayon
  • Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor traded for Rashard Lewis
  • Traded for Ryan Anderson
  • Signed Brian Roberts
  • Traded for Tyreke Evans
  • Traded for Jrue Holiday
  • Signed Anthony Morrow
  • Signed Alexis Ajinca
  • Signed Luke Babbitt

Should anyone really be shocked that Monty Williams and Dell Demps commonly had differences of opinion? Hell no! If I were a betting man, I'd wager Monty nearly suffered a stroke when Ariza and Okafor were shipped out for salary cap relief. At practically every turn, the Pelicans general manager seemed to prioritize offense.

However, the past year, there was a bit of a shift in this strategy. Demps spent a valuable asset to acquire Omer Asik, and several months later, Dante Cunningham was signed. Later in the 2014-15 season, both Norris Cole and Quincy Pondexter were brought to New Orleans via trades.

In my opinion, a lot of these decisions were based on the fact Monty Williams was the coach. We shouldn't be surprised that perhaps Mickey Loomis and others pressured Dell into acquiring pieces more suitable to a Monty-build. Consequently, when the season ended and the top brass reflected upon a team whose defensive rating remained stuck in the bottom third of the league, it was time to jettison a coach that had failed to make expected major defensive in-roads with a number of suitable personnel.

The Alvin Gentry signing will free Dell Demps

The Pelicans had so many available, solid options for their next head coach. A group of Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau, Scott Brooks, a number of qualified assistant coaches (Kenny Atkinson, Ettore Messina) and highly regard collegiate coaches (Fred Hoiberg, John Calipari) represents as competitive a collection of coaches that any NBA team could hope to muster. Despite all these names, Alvin Gentry walked away with the job in New Orleans because he best represented the direction the Pelicans had set their eyes on.

Thus, why shouldn't we expect Dell Demps to do the same? During his career, he's shown a preference for offense, and with Monty no longer serving as a hindrance, I fully expect he is chomping at the bit to get to the upcoming July Moratorium. The 2014-15 roster is ill-suited to best handle the change in strategy and the market is littered with upgrades. Below, I've compiled a list that I expect looks most similar to the one in Demps' back pocket as he eagerly awaits free agency.

Keepers

Jrue Holiday - Dell Demps spent a lot to get Holiday to New Orleans; thus, don't be surprised if he remains enamored with his potential, especially now that Jrue has an opportunity to show his skills for the first time in an unrestricted system. No more Doug Collins, no more Monty Williams!

I can understand why so many are clamoring for Goran Dragic, as he's had obvious success with Gentry, but I believe Demps thinks, and rightly so, that Holiday's ceiling is higher. Holiday has routinely ranked among the best players in the league when evaluating him against a four factors backdrop. He is not yet 25 years old. A troublesome tibia has made most forget how promising his future once looked heading into his first training camp in New Orleans after more than holding his own in Team USA participation activities.

Ryan Anderson - Is it just me or has everyone already involved Anderson in some trade scenario? It was understandable before last season's trade deadline when he was a shell of his former self and Monty paced the sidelines. But now, I'm not buying. I wouldn't be surprised to learn Demps considers Ryno the third most important player on the team, after Anthony Davis and Holiday.

Also, I'm sure Alvin Gentry already regards Anderson similarly. During Channing Frye's time in Phoenix, he was vital to the Suns success.

I was gonna say — the fact that Channing is not here is huge. Here’s a guy that made 177 3s for us. Just not having him as that spacer cuts down driving angles and driving alleys for guys.

The +/- data overwhelming favored Frye and it's no mistake. In today's game, spacing is crucial as modern defenses have learned how to overload the strong sides. Opponents have to respect Anderson whether his shot is dropping or not. (For the record, I expect Anderson to have a career year next season.) Just like how Frye helped propel Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and the rest of the Suns to the 4th best offense since 1980, Anderson's ability to stretch the defense will keep the paint open for the Pelicans host of penetrators and give the Brow the most room to spread his wings.

Tyreke Evans - I wavered some on keeping Evans off this list, but in the end, I'm still convinced that my initial instincts  remain valid -- Demps envisions a starting Holiday/Evans backcourt.

Evans represents another core component of today's game: position-less basketball. He is athletic and strong enough to play three positions on both ends of the floor. What trait did the best defensive teams share last season? The ability of their individual defenders to switch assignments and not skip a beat. Conversely, on offense, the more ball handlers and adept passers, the better.

The only reason I paused at Evans inclusion on this list is his shooting ability. Although he had plenty of good moments last season, can the Pelicans rely on him to fix his jumper to the point it becomes a consistent weapon? If one omits his 21 3FG% for the month of December, he would have had ended up with close to a 33% from three-point territory. In my book, that's respectable enough when measured with all of his positives.

Pawns

Eric Gordon - Demps has been itching to move Gordon since New Orleans was coerced to take him back in the Chris Paul trade. The trouble in dealing him before this upcoming season was the fact that Demps demanded assets in return. With Gordon entering his final year of his contract (he'll accept his player option) and displaying some value in 2014-15, he can finally be classified as a trade chip.

With Evans and Quincy Pondexter in tow and Anderson as the preeminent perimeter shooter, I feel Demps sees Gordon as his most expendable big-minute piece from last season. Moving his 15.5 million contract would give the Pelicans the flexibility they need to address other areas of concern before the salary cap explodes in 2016-17.

Omer Asik - In his interview, Gentry made a presentation that proclaimed he would be able to turn Asik into Andrew Bogut. I have to believe it was more for show (so that he could land the job) as Alvin was trying to appeal to all possible future scenarios because in reality, it just isn't possible.

  • Bogut has had an assist percentage of 10.0 or greater every season but one; Asik posted a 5.4 AST% last season, his career high.
  • In his three seasons as a Warrior, Bogut has been rejected a total of 49 times. In his two years as a starting NBA center, Asik has seen the ball come back towards his face 177 times.
  • One is regarded as having good hands, the other, the furthest thing from it.
  • Defensively, Bogut rated noticeably stronger and it's not just in the blocks department
  • DEF RTG ON DEF RTG OFF DEF Post-Up FG% Opp FG% at the rim
    Andrew Bogut 95.2 100.2 37.8% 40.8%
    Omer Asik 103.3 106.2 47.5% 51.1%

    In a piece I wrote during the season, I pointed to the difference in Asik's numbers as a starter versus a reserve.

    It should immediately jump off the page that the years he came off the bench, he was absolutely dominant. In his two seasons as a starter, the results dip somewhat, but he remains more than quite serviceable. He's always been a fantastic rebounder and has avoided putting opponents on the free throw line, but it's interesting to note the slippage in his effectiveness at deterring opponent shooting percentages.

    I had opined that Monty Williams was incorrectly using him, but regardless, when Asik played, the gains in defense were offset by his offense (103.7 Off Rtg ON vs. 107.2 Off Rtg OFF). This wasn't the case for Bogut, where both the defensive and offensive ratings were noticeable better when he was on the court versus sitting on the bench.

    Less than a week ago, many of The Bird Writes staff, including myself, didn't mind the idea of Asik returning next season, but now, I can no longer convince myself this move would be in the best interests of the Pelicans. There are two ways to create spacing -- Gentry's ultimate goal. As mentioned earlier, one of them is through stretching the defense with perimeter shooting from a player at the 4 or 5. A second method is through finishing well at the rim. For instance, teams are cognizant they cannot play off of a DeAndre Jordan anywhere around the paint because he is liable to either to slam home a lob, catch a pass and score in one quick motion or terrorize the offensive glass.

    Dell Demps is fully cognizant of Asik's deficiencies and it's hard to fathom he thinks it's in the best interests of the organization to offer him a competitive contract to play in a system where his weaknesses would be further highlighted. Here's to hoping the Boston Celtics remain interested in his services in a sign and trade deal?

    The Rest

    Among the players not mentioned, I expect Demps to keep Pondexter and attempt to re-sign Jeff Withey, Norris Cole and Luke Babbitt because they all fit Alvin Gentry's system. Withey is a more mobile than either Asik or Ajinca and is the best rim defender of the bunch. Babbitt is a dead-eye shooter who could be brought in several times a game to spark the perimeter game. Cole has the tenacity, grew into a leader and possesses decent all-around attributes to adequately fill a reserve role.

    Thus, this leaves Jimmer Fredette, Alexis Ajinca, Toney Douglas and Dante Cunningham on the outside looking in. Fredette's claim to fame, his perimeter shot, deserted him. Ajinca has value, but the slow-footed Frenchman wouldn't last 4 minutes in a run & gun atmosphere -- oxygen tanks are not allowed in the field of play and the personal foul rules are not changing anytime soon. Douglas was roster filler who failed to show he was anything more. Cunningham has a place in this league as well, but he's too one dimensional for this roster. (I wouldn't be shocked to learn he follows Monty to Oklahoma City.)

    As ad23mvp showed in his recent fanpost, Dell Demps has been active every off-season. With an entirely new system set to be put in place, look for Dealer Dell to get back to his roots and focus on adding more offensively-orientated pieces to the 2015-16 Pelicans.