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2015 NBA Free Agency: Pelicans build on last year's success adding Tobias Harris

It is about time the Pelicans pursued a real small forward on the wing. One who can shoot.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

A couple weeks ago we asked for your opinions on what the New Orleans Pelicans should do this off-season. One commenter, ad23mvp, suggested that Dell Demps has a big move up his sleeve. Another, Jason Albert, would like to bring in DeAndre Jordan and Wilson Chandler through a couple trades and cap space wranglingKevin Barrios would like the Pels to target Greg Monroe and/or Khris Middleton in free agency.

Now it's my turn. I've been beginning this piece for nearly two straight weeks hemming and hawing over which moves make the most sense, who would actually sign for this exception or that, and generally talking myself in circles. The SB Nation mock draft, which will be published this week, was a fascinating look into how the editors of other teams view Pelican assets.

I learned two things. One, since the draft is pretty self-contained, teams were pretty uninterested in trading out of the draft entirely (which ran only one round) without a player of significant value or cap space in return. Two, other writers value Ryan Anderson far more than Tyreke Evans. Part of that is due to the heavy lean on analytics throughout the SB Nation NBA blogosphere; Evans is viewed as a ball stopper and terribly inefficient by nearly everyone who is not a Pelicans fan.

Despite that, I am going to "trade" Tyreke Evans in this scenario, and the trade I suggest might not be entirely realistic. Rumors floated late this week that the Cavaliers are looking to trade Brendan Haywood's contract attached to their 24th pick in this year's draft for a playmaker (Evans) is my ideal move, and the crux of everything that follows.

Draft Night Moves

Sometime between now and the draft I hope the Pelicans work out the above mentioned trade. With the 24th pick I would select Virginia swingman Justin Anderson. I already professed my desire for Anderson at the end of May and nothing has come up to change that opinion. In my opinion he projects as a bigger 3&D option along with Quincy Pondexter; one who can more credibly defend small forwards while Pondexter chases the Kyle Korver's and Klay Thompson's of the league.

Two prominent mock drafts, for CBS Sports (Sam Vecenie on 6/18) and Draft Express (6/19 version), have the Pelicans selecting Wyoming forward Larry Nance Jr. with the 56th pick. Nance, the son of Larry Nance who won the NBA's first dunk contest, is a long and wiry power forward with a nose for defense. Draft Express notes that he was selected as co-Defensive Player of the Year and 1st Team All-Defense in the Mountain West Conference this year. What jumps out to me is his proficiency at the foul line (a career 77% free throw shooter) in addition to those physical tools; 7'1.5" wingspan and a 37.5" vertical leap.

July 1st Celebration

At some point during all this Anthony Davis signs his five year, $140+ Million Rose Rule extension. Pelican fans throw a second line instantaneously in celebration.

Free Agency - Restricted Reach

Brendan Haywood's contract comes into play heavily at this point. Utilizing it as a trade chip in a sign-and-trade for restricted free agent Tobias Harris allows the Pelicans to maintain all of their valuable exceptions to bring in other players while maintaining restricted rights to Jeff Withey and Norris Cole. Harris would immediately slot into the starting small forward spot. Essentially the Pelicans trade Tyreke Evans, who is a poor fit at small forward, for a project 3&D player (Justin Anderson) and a starting caliber small forward with small ball four potential in Harris.

What does Harris bring? He's a finisher more than a distributor. He averaged just more than a pass per minute in Orlando last season according to NBA Stats, right around the same number that Ryan Anderson did. Harris is a bigger body at 6'8" and 223 pounds at the NBA Combine (in 2011) according to Draft Express. He is an excellent rebounder at the small forward spot and is a threat to make open 3-pointers, as this video demonstrates.

Notice that every 3-pointer Harris makes is in the corner where he spaces the floor beautifully. Tobias was deadly from the corners this season, posting an impressive 66.3% eFG% there on 104 attempts. His release is compact and quick, and he does well getting his feet under him before the ball arrives.


Next I would go about re-signing Omer Asik. The salary I have here is lower than my earlier projections, a function of the persuasion of others and the volume of centers on the market this summer. Still, I do not think most will consider a four year, $37 Million offer to be cheap. The fourth year as a player option is a bit of a giveaway in hopes of reducing the average salary.

Finally we go about filling out the rest of the roster. With a portion of the Mid-Level Exception (not the entire thing) I would pursue Rockets wing K.J. McDaniels immediately. Initially he would slot as the second wing off the bench behind Quincy Pondexter; when Eric Gordon's contract expires he would elevate to the first wing off the bench unless a big free agent is brought on board. The promise of consistent playing time in an uptempo system that is sure to do well for his skill set and an out after three years (when the Pelicans would have his full Bird Rights should he really develop nicely) entice McDaniels to sign the four year, $14.8 Million offer.

Staying in the Southwest Division I would go after Dallas Mavericks reserve center Greg Smith. Smith was Omer Asik's primary backup in 2012-13 in Houston logging 1,100 minutes spread across 70 games. Since he has battled injuries and a poor fit in Dallas. Like those Houston Rockets the Pelicans will push the pace and will not ask Smith to shoulder a terribly heavy load. For this contract offer I utilize the Bi-Annual Exception with the second year unguaranteed. The minimum might be enough however.

I hope both Pelican restricted free agents decide to sign their qualifying offers and go back into the free agent pool unrestricted in 2016 when the salary cap explodes. Jeff Withey will battle Greg Smith for minutes as the reserve center behind Omer Asik. Norris Cole will helm the offense behind Jrue Holiday. Finally I hope that Seth Curry enjoys the culture that is being built by Alvin Gentry enough to stick around for a minimum contract after the summer league.

Salary Cap Outlook

Dream Scenario 2015

Despite committing so much money to Anthony Davis, Tobias Harris, and Omer Asik this summer the Pelicans would still have oodles of cap space next summer. All while actually having a solid group of rotation players to build around the new arrival. Creating max level space, for a player such as Kevin Durant, would require a significant trade or two to slough off some salary but could be done.

The depth chart next year would be chock full of long 6'5" to 6'8" athletes who can actually shoot the basketball behind the three point line. Rookies Justin Anderson and Larry Nance Jr. would not be asked to lift a heavy load; but instead would push players in practice while player development coaches refined their skills. Small ball lineups would have a great deal of flexibility. Want to really open the lane for AD to go to work? Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Harris, Ryan Anderson, and Davis fit the bill. Need to lock down defensively? Holiday, McDaniels, Pondexter, Harris, and Davis will do nicely.

Ultimately it is that flexibility that I hoped to build with this roster. Now we wait for Dell Demps to do something else entirely in the next couple weeks.