Ryan Anderson is clearly the most available trade asset for the New Orleans Pelicans. If you go to any website covering the NBA you are struck by a tone of inevitability regarding his eventual departure. Kevin Pelton of ESPN lists Anderson as the Pelilcan most likely to be traded. Ryno appears at number 25 on Tom Ziller's 2016 Free Agent Big Board with the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, and Memphis Grizzlies all listed as potential destinations.
Anderson has been a possible trade chip not just for months, but for years. Way back in July 2013 Adrian Wojnarowski reported a potential deal for Omer Asik would involved moving Ryan Anderson to Houston. That report came just minutes after Dwight Howard, Anderson's former front court partner with the Orlando Magic, agreed to sign a long term contract in Houston. Anderson had been with New Orleans for less than a calendar year (he arrived in July 2012) and was already in trade discussions.
Nevertheless, multiple sources tell Y! Sports Howard has chosen the Rockets but is still finalizing details of agreement.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 5, 2013
New Orleans has shown strong interest in acquiring Rockets center Omer Asik, w/ an offer likely centered on Ryan Anderson, sources tell Y!— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 6, 2013
Those Anderson-Asik rumors would linger until the Pelicans finally traded their 2015 First Round Draft Pick (eventually Sam Dekker) and a host of unguaranteed contracts for Asik and Omri Casspi. Casspi could have been part of a real solution at small forward but Dell Demps waived him to create a roster spot for John Salmons. Casspi is in the midst of an excellent year (12.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 44% 3P%) for the Sacramento Kings while the Pelicans still shuffle through aimlessly looking for a wing, but that discussion is for another time.
Trading Ryan Anderson resurfaced in December as the Phoenix Suns began to look for a home for disgruntled power forward Markieff Morris. We discussed the possible move at length in a roundtable and at the time I was hoping New Orleans would be able to pry a pick out of Phoenix as well. While I still hold out some hope that could happen I do not expect that Phoenix will acquiesce.
Anderson's contract expires this summer and retaining him will be expensive. The team with his Bird Rights, however, will have some wiggle room if they choose to re-sign him. Ryno's cap hold will only be $12.75M and his contract is almost certainly going to begin at a larger amount. Trading for Anderson now "saves" a team the difference between his actual first year contract value and that cap hold as functional cap space to be utilized in July. This is not unlike what the San Antonio Spurs accomplished with Kawhi Leonard, although Leonard was restricted. That difference is significant.
Let's examine four potential trades. All use destinations mentioned by Ziller above, teams that could use a stretch four right now.
Zach Lowe suggested this trade on his podcast with Brian Windhorst a week ago. It still seems like a good deal to me. Kelly Oubre is just 20 years old and halfway through the first year of his rookie scale deal. He isn't a draft pick, but he was a draft pick less than 12 months ago. Oubre measured 6'6.75" at the NBA Combine with a 7'2.25" wingspan. He's hitting 36.2% of his threes already including 50% when left wide open. The Pelicans should absolutely do this if it is an option, it is my first choice.
Patrick Patterson steps in to be a backup power forward behind Anthony Davis for the short term. The prize here is Delon Wright, an older rookie at 23 who has hardly played for the Raptors. Wright's performance in the D-League is encouraging, where he is averaging 18 points, 6.8 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game in 36 minutes of work. No, I do not think the Raptors fork over a draft pick in addition to Delon Wright. This is my second favorite option.
Straight up I am not a big fan but it is starting to grow on me if only because I don't think Anderson leaves New Orleans in free agency if he is not traded. My primary argument against the trade was opportunity cost; that the Pelicans could use the cap space created by allowing Anderson (and Eric Gordon) to leave to make significant changes via free agency. I am less convinced that would take place.
Morris is not without baggage and brings considerable risk. He could cost two to three times less than Ryan Anderson and that difference matters as well. If the Pelicans could attach one of their future second round picks (Philadelphia's 2017?) and convince Phoenix to include Cleveland's first round pick in this deal that would be much better.
I love Jared Sullinger's potential fit beside Anthony Davis and that has not changed since 2012 when they both came out of the draft. Tom Ziller includes Sullinger in his list of restricted free agents who are possible trade bait. Ideally I would like the Pelicans to get a first round pick out of Danny Ainge as well but that might mean sending out a future second round pick as I suggested in a Phoenix trade above. One pick swap that might make sense is the Pelicans sending Boston Philly's 2017 second and the Celtics including Minnesota's 2016 "first round pick" that is going to turn into Minnesota's 2016 and 2017 second round picks if it falls in the lottery.
Sullinger will be a restricted free agent. That means the Pelicans have a clear inside track to sign him but he will probably be more expensive than Markieff Morris. That additional expected expense and Sully's lower ceiling puts this proposal in fourth.