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2015 NBA Free Agency: How the Pelicans can end up with Khris Middleton and change

This offseason is a pivotal one for the New Orleans Pelicans so here is my scenario for the path Dell Demps should take.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors title validated the movement that the NBA is headed towards. It's about versatility, it's about homogeneity and it's about length. The days when you can play specialists for long stretches in an NBA game, especially in the playoffs, is passing and the days of the jack-of-all, master-of-none players is coming.

The Pelicans have parts that fit that criteria. Anthony Davis and his legendary "shooting guard to power forward" story definitely fits that criteria: he's long, he's versatile and he's defensively homogeneous (i.e. he can guard different types of player at different spots on the floor). He has a silky smooth jumper, he's learning how to make that extra pass, he can create off the post. Defensively, although his awareness needs some work, he can defend on the perimeter (on switches), he's strong in the post and he's a block master. He's also long -- 7' 4" of wingspan.

Jrue Holiday is another guy who fits. He's deliberate offensively, and there is statistical proof he helps a team more than what his stats say and despite his cool and stoic demeanor. He's big for a guard and he's got some good moves in the post (although he needs repetition). Defensively, he's just special. His awareness is great, his hands are always active, and his head is always on a swivel. His focus wanes here and there but when he's locked in, I have no problems saying he's in the top 90 percent of players in terms of defensive impact. He's not long (6' 7"), but he's also not below average in that regard.

Those two guys are practically it for the Pelicans. The Warriors have four of them: Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. They have varying degrees of skill in a lot of different situations, but in general, they are average / above average in a ton of different areas: creating off the dribble, creating in the post, making the extra pass, defending from the perimeter, defending in the post, team defense, isolation, etc...

The Pelicans have to get more players like that. Evans is the other guy who can potentially become just as versatile as he's got the length (6'11''). His defense (awareness, fundamentals and focus) is good in short spurts, but it's overall bad. His 3-point shooting statistically improved (30.4 percent, a 3.2% increase over his career prior to this season) and his mechanics slightly improved (doesn't lean back as much, better follow through, pushes up which gives his shot more arc, etc...), however, his jumpshot still has a long way to go before teams actually respect him. I'm hopeful, really hopeful.

After that, it's a whole lot of specialists for the Pelicans.

Offensively, Anderson is great (despite his bad shooting year). He's a GREAT shooter, he can score from the post and although he can't create off-the-dribble, he can score off the bounce (thanks to that remarkably effective shot fake and spin move). He'll make the very obvious passes but he's never been known as a passer. Defensively is where he's not versatile. He can work as a post defender but outside that, he's not a great defender on the perimeter (slow-footed) and he can get lost on defensive schemes. The latter is workable, especially with a renowned defensive guru like Erman, but the first one, unless he goes into a dramatic physical change (slimming down, making agility training a priority), is not fixable.

At this point, Gordon is literally an unknown to me. It's probably from fatigue -- I've long had visions of Gordon being a really great two way player. And my, was he good. He can't post up, but man, pre-NOLA, the dude was great in a lot of things. He could shoot and create: in isolation, off handoffs and especially on ball screens. Now? He's still retained some of his passing abilities but he's lost his ability to ravage the paint with strong drives. His dribbling in traffic has gotten significantly worse (he has a 14% turnover rate despite being a spot-up shooter a lot of the time) and his defense -- once a potentially great part of his game -- has declined quite a bit (although he's still average, at best). If the money was smaller, I'd consider him a part of the core. But it's not.

Pondexter works as tertiary or quaternary scorer in ball movements. He can't make the defense bend but he can attack the gaps created by those primary or secondary creators. He's an "adequate" passer (i.e. he can make the right pass) and he's become a great spot-up shooter (whether he can maintain this is a different question entirely). But defensively, he isn't great. The numbers are awful (he's synergy numbers are bad on ball handlers and isolations) . He's an "ok" team defender but he does have a tendency to ball watch. He also has a near 7'0" wingspan.

Let's not even get to how much of a specialist Asik is.

The point is, this team lacks versatile players, offensively and defensively.

I know, I know, the odds are, the organization is going to run it back and keep everyone they can. Yet, I think Demps can really do something this offseason without jeopardizing the team's ability to sign a megastar (say, someone like KD), especially with the cap about to boom in the coming months.

Cap Situation

As it stands, the Pelicans, if they decide to keep the rights of everybody and without even considering the exception cap holds, are at 76.9 million, about 9.8 million above the projected salary cap (67.1 million). They can open up as much as 7.7 million in usable cap space if they renounce everybody and renounce their right to the room MLE (about 2.8 million). Not a lot of cap space if you ask me, but Dell's always been a guy who uses multiple moves to setup what he really wants.

1. The Cleveland Cavaliers trade Haywood's fully unguaranteed 10.5 million contract, the corpse of Mike Miller (2.8 million) and the 24th pick for Eric Gordon (15.5 million).

The Cavaliers are reportedly looking for some help from the wing spot and may be looking to use Haywood's contract and the 24th pick to get that. Eric Gordon can become the dead-eye spotup shooter the Cavaliers need next year. This was a guy who rivaled Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, Anthony Morrow and Danny Green -- all renowned 3-point shooters -- after returning from injury in January of 2015. His injury history may not look clean but he's played in 125 out of 164 regular season games over the past two seasons, a sizeable improvement from the amount of games (51 out of 148 games) he played in his first two season in New Orleans.

He's only 26 years old and although he's only 6'3", he's long (6'9"). As a player, he's settled down as this 3-point shooting specialist that can create off-the-bounce (much as he did in 2014-15 regular season and playoffs). He's not worth 15.5 million, but his salary is of better use for the Cavaliers than Haywood, Miller and a rookie combined. I honestly think this trade is doable, and if done, will snowball into a lot of deals that exemplifies a busy Demps offseason.

If the Cavs cannot find any deals out there, they'll look to this trade considering Gordon only has one year left on his contract. This opens up an additional 12.1 million in cap space bringing the total usable cap space to 19.2 million (retaining Jeff Withey's rights) -- more than enough to be a player in the market.

2. The Lakers trade the 27th pick for the 56th pick, a future 2nd round pick and cash

Rumors are flying around that the Lakers (picking 2nd overall) are looking to trade the 27th pick. This trade saves them cash (from the guaranteed contract of the 27th pick) and cash along with two 2nd round picks. The Lakers are trading out of the 27th pick to maximize their cap space and get out of the guaranteed contract of the 27th pick while getting some compensation in return.

The Pels do this to get a 1st round pick. Regardless of the inferior value of the pick (teams usually value the 31st to 33rd pick more than 27th to 30th because you're picking in practically the same range without the salary obligations), picks are still great trade "grease."

This trade cuts the Pelicans by about $437,907 (27th pick cap hold - empty roster cap hold) bringing the total to 19.4 million -- still enough to be a major player in the market.

3. The Pelicans sign Greg Monroe to a 3-year, 45.5 million contract with a player option on the 3rd year.

I'd like to go on a long winded piece on why I think the Pels should go after Greg Monroe (and I'll probably detail it in a piece soon) but the long and short is: he's a great passer (for his position), he can score on the block and I think his defensive liabilities are overstated. Isaac had a good article about Monroe (disregard the "he's not a fit" part haha).

4. The Pelicans trade Ryan Anderson, Quincy Pondexter, 24th pick & 27th pick for Khris Middleton (S&T, 45.5 million, 3 years, player option) and 17th pick

As you can see, I'm being very liberal with the contracts here. The point is the Pels will try to S&T for Middleton. This is the most unrealistic part of this plan, considering all signs point to a swift and quick negotiation between both parties. Middleton wants to stay in Milwaukee, the Bucks are saying all the right things to keep Middleton. But Milwaukee has to think about the future of their franchise now that they have Antetokounmpo, MCW and (hopefully) a healthy Jabari Parker. They get a bunch of good assets here they ship elsewhere or keep. Anderson, if kept, will fit well (offensively) with the Bucks plethora of average to below average shooting wings and still have a 24th pick to boast.

Some Bucks fans think this version of Middleton is about as good as he gets and some have taken a stance that he shouldn't earn more than 12 million, especially once they consider that Jabari Parker, who will undoubtedly become Milwaukee's go-to scorer at some point (health please be willing). I personally think that his skill set right now should earn him no more than 12 million. But fit matters and I think in a lineup that features Holiday, Evans, Monroe and Davis, Middleton will earn every bit of that 14~15 million with the Pelicans much in the same way that Draymond Green, whose skill set is probably not worth a max contract, will earn every bit of that max contract (and then some) in Golden State.

I love Anderson to death and I think he's an awesome fit with AD, however nothing over his career has told me he'll be capable of consistently giving up the good shot (i.e. any semi-open 3-point shot) to get a better shot (if he does the extra pass). That'll become a problem as the Pelicans move towards ball movement heavy offense.

After all these transactions, the Pelicans will have about 61.2 million in salary commited to 6 players (Holiday, Evans, Middleton, Davis, QPon and Monroe) and the 27th pick with around 1.7 million in cap space to play with. At this point, anything goes and I trust Dell's ability to pluck contributors everywhere. I'd love it if the team resigned Jeff Withey at this point to a long term contract to be the 3rd big (I retained his rights in the opening part). The Pels can also grab someone like Jonathan Holmes with the 27th pick. He'll also have to sign another ball handler just for insurance.

The point is, the Pelicans top 6 players would be set and I love it. The biggest question anyone will have about that group is on defense. In an on-ball screen heavy league, Monroe will be targeted constantly.

I'm fine with that, especially with Erman on our side (the coaching staff will most definitely have Monroe dropping back on ball screens) and AD as the help defender. If for some reason the other team wants to put AD in a ball screen (to leave Monroe as the only "big" in the middle), the Pels can simply switch the screen and use their superior speed and length to cover any mismatch that happens. Jrue, Evans, Middleton and QPon are all long and quick wings who can (system permitting) cover up mismatches with fronting and rotation (that'll be aided by their length). If the Pels have to, they can play a super small lineup featuring Jrue, QPon, Tyreke, Middleton and obviously AD and rock that super killer offensive lineup in the playoffs.

Offensively, the amount of passing on that group is impressive which is good because Gentry's system features a lot of passing (and quick actions). To me, that 5-man group (Jrue-Evans-Middleton-AD-Monroe) could work in a similar way as the Atlanta Hawks starting 5 do (Teague-Korver-Caroll-Millsap-Horford), especially if AD starts taking a couple of threes (which he's capable of in practice). That lineup will have fewer shooting but it'll have more passing.

Yes, yes. Odds are, the Pelicans will run it back and bring almost everyone back. But barring any Kevin Durant-related dreams, I love that lineup more than the lineup we'll feature if we run it back. Fewer specialists, more versatile players (offensively and defensively). It is a copy cat league and the Warriors -- with their long-limbed team wreaking havoc -- is the new it. My Pels lineup -- with a strong core of 6 players -- would be a major force in the West.