My batting average on what I want the New Orleans Pelicans to do is well below the Mendoza line. Absolutely nothing I hoped for in 2013 came true. The Pelicans did not draft Trey Burke, go after J.J. Redick in free agency, or try to swing a trade for Larry Sanders. Instead they traded for Jrue Holiday, traded for Tyreke Evans, and signed Anthony Morrow (Plus) and Greg Stiemsma (MINUS) with the remainder of their available cap space. Burke is showing some signs of promise in his third season, Redick has been amazing for the Los Angeles Clippers, and Sanders left the league on his own terms.
In 2014 I dared to dream even bigger, beginning with some lottery luck landing Andrew Wiggins in the Crescent City. Again Sanders was the center I had my eyes on, this time with O.J. Mayo tagging along. Instead Dell Demps traded a first round draft pick (another one) for Omer Asik and largely kept the team in tact while Anthony Morrow left for Oklahoma City in free agency. The Pelicans made the playoffs! In my elation I didn't even do a Dream Scenario for 2015.
Welcome to a New Year. These Pelicans are mediocre. Their record stands at 11-22 but thanks to a surprisingly terrible Western Conference New Orleans is just four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. This team absolutely can make the playoffs if they stay relatively healthy. The schedule appears to be easy throughout January with heaps of rest advantage on the docket. Securing a playoff spot is absolutely possible.
Achieving middle-of-the-road status should not be the goal of a franchise employing Anthony Davis. It is easy to see how the Pelicans finish around .500 with a solid record in 2016 and get swept out of the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs. Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry get together and agree "if we were only healthy" and bring the gang back together again this summer. That team is full of players 27-30 years old around AD (just 23!) with a ceiling of what, the fifth seed if everything breaks right?
No. I think the Pelicans should be aiming higher. Doing so could necessitate taking lumps in 2016 for actual championship contention in the future.
Thinking of the big city
Billy King and Lionel Hollins out with the Nets, team says.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) January 10, 2016
Considering the sudden removal of both head coach Lionel Hollins and Billy King this first idea has become even more far-fetched than before. New Orleans trades Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Alexis Ajinca for Joe Johnson, Jarrett Jack, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. This gives the Pelicans a promising young wing defensively that has been lacking since Al-Farouq Aminu wore a Hornets uniform and an additional $13 million in cap space next summer if they waive Jack by June 30th and rescind the Bird Rights to Johnson.
Hollis-Jefferson is the crown jewel of this trade. 6'7" with a 7'2" wingspan and just 21 years old; RHJ has a bright future defensively on the wing. He's also a monster on the glass for a small forward, collecting 22.3% of available defensive rebounds. The only Pelicans rebounding at a superior rate are Anthony Davis, Omer Asik, and Alexis Ajinca.
Acquiring Rondae Hollis-Jefferson while he still has three and a half years on his rookie contract along with restricted rights later comes at a cost. The cost here is Evans and Ajinca on bargain contracts along with the Bird Rights to Eric Gordon. The Nets don't have their own pick this season so winning now is still on the table as a goal.
Will Mikhail Prokhorov sign off on the deal? Even taking on Evans and Ajinca long term the Nets will have maximum cap space this summer. Adding Gordon, Evans, and Ajinca for Johnson and RHJ (Jack is out for the season) makes the Nets much better in the present. Maybe Evans and Brook Lopez can develop some chemistry in the pick and roll. Evans, Gordon, and Ajinca are all about the same age as the Nets core of Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, and Lopez.
Multiple offers for Ryan Anderson
Anderson is going to be in demand. Shooters of his proclivity at the power forward spot are rare and valued. Trading with the Miami Heat for Hassan Whiteside and Luol Deng was discussed on The Lowe Post Show last week. I brought up trading Anderson to the Boston Celtics for Jared Sullinger recently. The good folks over at Liberty Ballers opened discussions on getting Jahlil Okafor for Anderson and the Pelicans 2016 first round pick (top 3 protected).
I cannot tell you the actual offers that might be floating around. Markieff Morris might still be an option from the Phoenix Suns. There are writers here at TBW who would love such a trade. While Morris has been a problem for the Suns I would expect him to be ecstatic to arrive in a new city not owned by Robert Sarver.
Instead my goal here is a mid-to-late first round pick. I think the Indiana Pacers might include their 2016 First Round pick in this trade.
Chase Budinger and Solomon Hill are bit players (at best) in the Indiana rotation. The Pacers pick would be protected, probably for the entire lottery if things go poorly. I don't think it would though, and Indiana forks over a pick somewhere between 15 and 25. Buddy Hield anyone?
Cap situation on July 1st
We have to make a couple of assumptions. First, where do the Pelicans pick in the first round? I think the team will not finish at the very bottom of the standings, diminishing their chances at a top three pick. Let's say they draft in the 7th spot. Second, where does the Pacers pick land? Right now Indiana is slotted around 20th overall in a tightly packed Eastern Conference. We'll guess 20th here. Finally, does Anthony Davis make an All-NBA team and activate the Rose Rule? I'm still thinking yes barring a significant injury and hoping for injuries is bad ju-ju.
Now, removing Evans, Gordon, Ajinca, and Anderson while adding Hollis-Jefferson, the 7th pick, and the 20th pick makes the salary cap look like this on July 1st.
|Draft Pick #7||$2,675,700|
|Draft Pick #20||$1,301,900|
|Cap Holds (x3)||$1,630,413|
There's a decent amount of youth there. Not included are the Pelicans two second round picks, who do not count against the salary cap until signed. Five players age 23 or younger (RHJ + four picks) to grow with Anthony Davis. Future, upside, and development. Anthony Davis isn't going to leave because the Pelicans are bad now. He might if the Pelicans are bad four years from now.
Also, there is maximum cap space (and then some) to take a swing at a free agent. Hassan Whiteside, DeMar DeRozen, Chandler Parsons, and Nicolas Batum are all unrestricted free agents age 27 or younger. Getting into the restricted free agent market is more difficult, since everyone is going to have cap space to keep the players they want.
Draft picks and hope
In this situation I hope the Pelicans select Jamal Murray with the seventh pick and Buddy Hield with the 22nd pick. Both are available according to the Draft Express mock updated on January 5th. In the second round a big man like A.J. Hammons could be a project. Maybe Nigel Hayes or Domantas Sabonis fall into the second round. Or maybe lottery luck shines again on New Orleans and Brandon Simmons stays in Louisiana or Brandon Ingram takes up residence.
Between now and the 2018-19 season a couple of those draft picks need to hit. Players in their third year can make an extraordinary impact; just ask Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, and Draymond Green last year. Knock just one of those picks out of the park and Davis has his "Robin". Hit another double or two and the Pelicans have some depth too.
Want to keep Anthony Davis in New Orleans beyond his second contract? I do too. This team needs be good and on the upswing a couple years from now. A slight detour doesn't mean the Pelicans never reach their destination.