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Blowing the New Orleans Pelicans up to get younger without adding draft picks

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Trading away the Pelicans once young vets for current young vets instead.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Draft picks are not valued in the offices at Airline Drive as much as they are around the rest of the NBA. For evidence, look at the current roster which contains just one player who has spent their entire career with the New Orleans Pelicans. That one player is Anthony Davis and all of the trades have been with his development in mind. Out went the 2013 (Nerlens Noel) and 2014 (eventually Elfrid Payton) draft picks and in came Jrue Holiday. Just weeks later Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez were traded away for Tyreke Evans. To fill created by the departing Lopez the 2015 draft pick (eventually Sam Dekker) was traded for Omer Asik.

Now, at the cost of later.

This isn't limited to just trading the future for immediate wins. Look no further than the handling of knee injuries to Quincy Pondexter and Tyreke Evans. Pondexter skipped team mandated MRIs but continued to play in the race for the eighth seed (and a quick four game sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors) last season. In the past eight months Evans has undergone not one but two knee surgeries. He continues to battle knee tendinitis but the team appears willing to play him in upcoming games.

Now, at the cost of later.

So, what to do? Recent trade ideas and reports have my mind spinning. We know the Pelicans are willing to trade draft picks and are reluctant to trade away talented players without receiving players in return. Beyond the Ish Smith trade the Pelicans rarely trade for assets. Except, of course, cold hard cash considerations.

A couple ideas I have published plus a trade idea from Zach Lowe I noticed could all work together to help build the kind of Pelicans team that should thrive under the leadership of Alvin Gentry. Let's imagine if the Pelicans wanted to finally get a couple of wings who can defend (novel concept!), stay young in the process, and move one of those dastardly first round picks that are so annoying to Dell Demps.

To the trade machine!

Brooklyn Nets Trade

This one is familiar, and from my older dream scenario earlier this month. It is, admittedly, the least likely transaction I am going to list. It was far more possible before Eric Gordon broke his finger and Tyreke Evans continued to have problems with his knee. That is, of course, the cost of waiting to make moves rather than acting. Players are not just assets but human beings who can go into slumps or get injured.

Link

Nets Trade

As I've written before this is all about acquiring Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. RHJ is still in the process of recovering from an injury of his own but could develop into an elite defender under the right guidance. If this is a possibility I would hope Dell Demps wouldn't turn it down. However, I suspect he would. Joe Johnson is an expiring contract and Jarrett Jack only counts $500k against the salary cap if he is waived by June 30th.

Washington Wizards Trade

I had not thought this would be possible until Zach Lowe suggested it on his podcast Tuesday with Brian Windhorst. If you haven't listened yet, the Pelicans come up right about 60 minutes in.

Link

Wizards Trade

Quentin has already taken a deep look at adding Kelly Oubre to the Pelicans in this superb piece. Kris Humphries contract is not guaranteed beyond this year if he is waived by the end of the league year according to Basketball Insiders. Adding Oubre and Hollis-Jefferson gives New Orleans a stock of small forward prospects unheard of in franchise history. Oubre turns 21 in December 2016 and Hollis-Jefferson turns 22 in January 2017.

Both Hollis-Jefferson and Oubre measured 6'7" with 7'2"+ wingspans at the draft combine last May. There are reasonable concerns about Hollis-Jefferson's shooting stroke and Oubre being incredibly raw. All to be expected from young players. Their physical tools and potential are to drool over. Flipping Evans, Gordon, Ajinca, and Anderson into two first round draft picks (circa 2015) without taking on additional salary beyond this season is a win. Oubre is even from New Orleans originally although he left the city with his family in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Atlanta Hawks Trade

Dell Demps likes trading first round picks. Making a move for Dennis Schroder would almost assuredly cost the Pelicans a first round pick.

Link

Hawks Trade

New Orleans Pelicans send 2016 First Round Pick to Atlanta Hawks (Protected 1-3)

One writer, Joseph Billiot, is quick to point out that Schroder is just six months older than Kris Dunn. Dunn is currently projected to go in the first round according to Draft Express. Schroder is a pure point guard capable of pushing the pace at a level unseen on this roster since Ish Smith departed for Philadelphia. A trade like this slides Jrue Holiday over to shooting guard and off the ball but I believe in Holiday's flexibility. With competent coaching one of Holiday or Schroder can be on the floor at all times, not unlike what Terry Stotts has accomplished with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in Portland.

Salary Cap Picture - Summer 2016

Let's take a look at the Pelicans salary cap on July 1st after waiving Kris Humphries ($0 cap hit) and Jarrett Jack ($500k cap hit) before the new league year begins.

Pos Age 2016-2017
Anthony Davis PF/C 23 $24,970,000
Jrue Holiday PG/SG 26 $11,286,518
Omer Asik C 30 $9,904,494
Quincy Pondexter SG/SF 28 $3,617,978
Dante Cunningham SF/PF 29 $2,978,250
Dennis Schroder PG 23 $2,708,582
Kelly Oubre SF 21 $2,006,640
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson SG/SF 22 $1,395,600
Justin Holiday SG/SF 27 $1,015,696
Cap Holds (x2) $1,086,942
Cap Space $27,529,300
Room Exception $2,898,000
Jarrett Jack (Waived) $500,000
Total 25.33 $91,898,000
Salary Cap $89,000,000

Here's a roster that is young with three players (Schroder, Oubre, and Hollis-Jefferson) on rookie contracts. Those three plus Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday form the core of the Pelicans moving forward and all of them are under 23 except Holiday (26). Quincy Pondexter, Dante Cunningham, and Omer Asik are the old hands on the roster and all 30 or younger.

Then there's that massive amount of cap space. New Orleans would need additional depth at all positions but with a focus at center (Jared Sullinger please?) and point guard. Finally a veritable army of wing players 6'6" to 6'8" would be on the roster in the form of Justin Holiday (6'6"), Quincy Pondexter (6'6"), Oubre (6'7"), Hollis-Jefferson (6'7"), and Cunningham (6'8"). If you're fond of Luke Babbitt or Alonzo Gee they could also be kept on.

Are the Pelicans going to do ALL these moves? Almost certainly not. Build a young team that can grow with the right target date in mind for Anthony Davis? That's just too forward thinking for a shortsighted franchise.