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How much cap space will the Pelicans have to work with this summer?

Well, that depends on a number of things.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Dell Demps elected to stand (roughly) pat at the trade deadline. His one trade, getting Jarnell Stokes for practically nothing, was a solid and opportunistic move that proved the value of keeping a roster spot open until the very last minute. Later in the evening, reports that the Pelicans would re-sign Bryce Dejean-Jones to a three-year contract came out, another morsel of good news.

There may have been an opportunity to trade Ryan Anderson, or not. The Toronto Raptors were reportedly doing their due diligence but backed off the Pelicans asking price. Is that a matter of the Pelicans asking too much or the Raptors offering too little? Depends on your perspective. Regardless, a trade between Dell Demps and Masai Uriji was not completed and given the reputations of both men predicting who would "win" such a transaction is not difficult.

A window of opportunity to trade Anderson for some unidentified future asset has now passed. Time to think about the future and where the Pelicans go from here.

Roster space is required

First up is creating a roster spot for Bryce Dejean-Jones. With 15 guaranteed contracts on the roster someone has to go if BDJ is taking up permanent residence. Stokes, Luke Babbitt, and Kendrick Perkins are the easiest candidates as none have guaranteed salary beyond this season to contend with in a buyout procedure. Toney Douglas, Norris Cole, Ryan Anderson, and Eric Gordon also do not have guaranteed money beyond this season but are also actually in the rotation so I think it is safe to rule all four out.

My gut feeling is that Stokes is gone because Dell Demps "likes this roster" but I would prefer if Babbitt was shown the door. Perkins provides mentorship for Anthony Davis. Stokes is just 22 years old and would be the first teammate younger than AD in his four year career. (That is simply incredible.)

UPDATE: As expected the Pelicans waived Stokes (age 22) instead of Babbitt (age 26) or Douglas (age 29). Just another instance of this franchise being chronically shortsighted.

Waiving Babbitt instead of Stokes would have cost the Pelicans about $280k more, as Babbitt has a $200k guarantee for next season. Choosing to waive Douglas instead would have cost about $100k more.

Just how good is Jarnell Stokes? We don't know because he's hardly played in the NBA. What we do know, from his experience in the D-League, is that there might be some untapped potential. He's not just putting up good numbers in the D-League. Stokes is putting up the best numbers in the D-League, in one important case (PER) by a significant margin.

DLeague Stats

Preparing for free agency

After that, let's talk about the salary cap. Zach Lowe wrote in his Tuesday morning column that teams are projecting a $92 million cap, an increase over the original $89 million estimate. That will change just how much Anthony Davis can make this summer.

Davis signed a contract eligible for the full "Rose Rule." This bumps his salary from the 0-6 years tier to the 7-9 years tier if he is selected to an All-NBA team in May. Over the full life of the contract that is a difference of nearly $25 million. Kevin Pelton has projected that AD will miss out on an All-NBA team but I would be mildly surprised if that actually happened. Davis is having a "down year" compared to his previous lofty standards; his statistical output remains incredible.

Let's take a look at the maximum amount of space the Pelicans could have this summer. There are a number of assumptions here so I'll walk through all of them.

  1. BDJ's salary next season is the minimum
  2. Alonzo Gee opts for free agency instead of utilizing his player option
  3. Toney Douglas is waived
  4. Pelicans end up with the 7th pick in the lottery
  5. Bird Rights to both Anderson and Gordon are rescinded

This is, beyond keeping Dejean-Jones around, the maximum amount of cap space the Pelicans could have in July before makes any kind of trades.

Pos Age 2016-2017
Anthony Davis PF/C 23 $25,900,000
Jrue Holiday PG 26 $11,286,518
Tyreke Evans SG 27 $10,203,755
Omer Asik C 30 $9,904,494
Alexis Ajinca C 28 $4,713,203
Quincy Pondexter SG/SF 28 $3,617,978
Dante Cunningham SF/PF 29 $2,978,250
Luke Babbitt SF/PF 27 $1,227,286
Bryce Dejean-Jones SG 24 $874,636
2016 1st Round Pick (#7) $2,675,700
Cap Hold (x1) $543,471
Cap Space $18,074,709
Room Exception $2,898,000
Total 26.89 $94,898,000
Salary Cap $92,000,000

That's quite a bit of salary cap room. If Davis does not make the All-NBA team the Pelicans have another "max" salary slot (only for players with less than six years of NBA experience) for potential free agents with room leftover, over $22.3 million in space altogether. If the Pelicans get really lucky and move up to the first draft pick that decreases their salary cap space by $2.2 million; second is $1.7 million, and third is $1.2 million.

Ryan Anderson is really the last piece of the puzzle. If the Pelicans elect to hold onto his Bird Rights (and eventually re-sign him) that decreases their cap space by $12.75 million this summer. I guess there is some universe where New Orleans also keeps Eric Gordon around but don't want to entertain that thought. (Hint, it eliminates any cap space.)

Plans for all that cap space vary

With between $18.0 and $22.3 million in cap room the Pelicans could bring on a really good player to help balance out the core of this team. Rather than allocate those resources to another big man in Anderson (when Davis, Asik, Ajinca, Cunningham, and Babbitt are all under contract) whoever the GM is in July can spend where it is really needed, on the wing. $23 million isn't quite enough to make a max offer to Nicolas Batum but is enough to make a run at Harrison Barnes, Kent Bazemore, or Evan Fournier just to name the first couple wings in Tom Ziller's 2016 free agent rankings.

There are other options as well. A team looking to create more cap space might pawn off a decent if unspectacular player in July. New Orleans could carry cap space into the season and use it at the deadline like the Portland Trailblazers demonstrated yesterday to great effect.

An opportunity to change the fortunes of this franchise came and went yesterday. Future assets that could have been obtained by trading Ryan Anderson have been lost and cannot be recovered. There will be other chances to get this team on the right track. Pelican fans can be disappointed about an unrealized return and still hope.

Hope knows no fearHope dares to blossom even inside the abysmal abyssHope secretly feeds and strengthens promise.