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Castaway: Alone on Dell Demps Island

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Alone on Dell Demps Island: Can Dell Demps learn from his mistakes to become a better GM? Is the grass always greener on the other side?

When New Orleans Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps traded for Ryan Anderson, Dell Island felt like a night at the Copa. Now, after failing to to flip Ryan Anderson for a single asset during the NBA trade deadline, Dell Island feels like the season finale of Survivor. Funny how things come full circle. Unless you are the Orlando Magic, four years later and they are still making terrible trades. Some things never change.

Dell Demps & A Mixed Grab Bag Of Moves

When one looks at the totality of the moves Dell Demps has made, it is hard to say he is a good NBA General Manager. But, at the same time, it is hard to say he is a bad GM. This confuses the general public and as a result, people end up feeling more frustrated with Dell Demps than anything else.

Looking back on the moves Dell Demps has made, it's important to realize that time is the truest indicator of result. A lot of Dell Demps moves have been met with abject criticism by the national media, but have turned out to be "good" or at least "fair" moves. Other moves were proclaimed good, and were terrible. Hindsight is a much better analytical tool than foresight.

From Bad to Good

The trade for Jrue Holiday is probably the best example of a trade that Dell was absolutely killed for in the national media, but in hindsight was, if not a "good" trade, at very least a "fair" trade. Dell Demps now has PG who is a tremendous two-way player and is averaging a PER over 20. All Dell had to give up was Nerlens Noel (who is a good player in his own right) and the chance to draft Dario Saric (who has yet to play a single minute in the NBA) or Trey Burke (who is terrible).

Another move Dell Demps has been slammed for, nationally and locally, that I suspect will look much better over time was the signing of Omer Asik to a 5 year / 60 Million dollar deal. Almost every person I have talked to has criticized Dell Demps for overpaying Asik, which is fair. Nonetheless, as Jalen Rose always says, you don't get paid what you are worth, but what you have the leverage to negotiate.

The fact is, due to the much approved trades for Norris Cole and Quincy Pondexter, the Pelicans did not have the ability to make viable offers to other players on the NBA Free Agency Market. Consequently, Omer Asik had more leverage than the average NBA player. Hence, the reason he got overpaid.

Despite, Omer getting overpaid at the time, it is the general rule that NBA contracts tend to look better over time - due to the rising cap. Pelicans fans can already see this effect with the Tyreke Evans contract, which was once also characterized as an overpay, but now is seen as a value contract in the NBA. Next year Omer's contract will account for only 11.1% of the Pelicans salary cap. In deflated terms, that is the equivalent of a 7 million dollar contract by today's standards.

Omer Asik has continued to improve his play of late and is the and is now the 5th best rebounder in the league since Christmas. With Omer's improved play, and the the drastic rise to the NBA salary cap starting next year, I would say it's highly probable that Omer's contract will look very good in the near future. Besides, was saving a couple of million dollars really worth the risk of going back to life before Omer Asik? For those fans who say yes, I'll leave you with this.

From Good to Bad & Everything In Between

The flip side of the analysis must apply to Dell Demps and the Pelicans organization as well. Signing Eric Gordon to a max contract largely received positive reviews from the national media, but ended up stifling the franchise from development. It's easy to make excuses for Dell Demps signing Eric Gordon to a max, but at the end of the day, results are really all that matter.

There are many other moves whose grade hasn't significantly moved over time. The Tyreke Evans signing was universally slammed at the time, and it still looks bad in retrospect. It cost the Pelicans an NBA starting center in Robin Lopez and a pretty good backup in Greivis Vasquez. Dell Demps cost himself too many assets to sign Tyreke (a common theme for Dell).

For more analysis on each of Dell Demps' individual moves, I recommend reading Michael McNamara's recent piece on Dell Demps. In it, he offers an interesting perspective in which he shares blame in pro rata portion between Dell, Lady Luck, and the X factor (not the TV show - the euphemism).

The Bigger Picture

Taking a step back, it is clear Dell Demps has issues. Mainly, Dell has consistently failed to understand the concept of opportunity cost (i.e. the cost incurred by missing out on other alternative actions once a particular action is chosen).

Time and time again, Dell had the same pattern of problems when building around Anthony Davis. Every bad Dell Demps move, perhaps besides drafting Austin Rivers, can be summed up by saying Dell Demps paid too much for an individual asset, which then restricted the ability of the Pelicans to flexibly build a team around Anthony Davis.

Dell's individual moves, in a vacuum are mostly fine. Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Omer Asik, & especially Jrue Holiday are all good NBA players. The larger issue is how much Dell Demps has given up to acquire them: A max salary slot for Eric Gordon, which time and time again prevented the Pelicans from pursuing more qualified free agents. A starting NBA Center and a competent backup point guard, which lead to the need for players like Omer Asik and Norris Cole. And three 1st round draft picks, which have left the cupboards bare for developing talent on the Pelicans roster.

Lessons Learned?

In the grand scheme of things, it would be a mistake to say that Dell Demps is an exclusively "bad" or "good" NBA GM. Per Yoda, only Sith Lords deal in absolutes. We don't want to be Sith Lords, so let's not do that. Instead, the reality lies somewhere in between, which isn't satisfying.

One more thing for Pelicans fans to consider is whether Dell Demps is capable of learning from his mistakes. If he can, I still believe that Dell Demps is capable of becoming a good NBA General Manager. If he can't, then it may be time to part ways. Fans of the New Orleans Pelicans have learned the hard way, however, that the grass is not always greener on the other side. (COUGH - JOE DUMARS - COUGH - ALVIN GENTRY - COUGH - HACK - COUGH - COUGH)

So for now, I remain on Dell Island, almost completely alone - except for some weird old guy who is about to retire and smells like Bengay. The ship is packed, however, and I don't know how much longer I am willing to hold out. Still, some optimism remains even in these dark times.

*** If you have an opinion about something I wrote, be sure to leave it in the comments below. For more brilliance you can follow me on twitter @jdbillio.