The NBA is not a level playing field. All franchises are not created equal. The New Orleans Pelicans operate with a much smaller checkbook and lack the natural advantages of market size, geographic location, or historical relevance to compete with many teams in the NBA.
New Orleans is the 51st largest television market in the United States, just below Memphis. The Pelicans play in the smallest market in the league; with that reality come both financial limitations and reasonable concerns over the long term viability of its existence. The only way to stay here in the Crescent City is to stay relevant, and that requires winning.
Operating on the margin of financial sustainability means the Pelicans must be frugal. Moves like keeping a roster spot open to take Ish Smith at the trade deadline last season (and $801,000), trading the draft rights to Branden Dawson for $630,000, and trading for Jarnell Stokes (and $721,300) provide a long list of book balancing moves. A transaction history like shows the Pelicans margin for financial error is small. Winning can alleviate some of those limitations.
Ty Lawson is another risky candidate, but one that could work out well in a leading role. Lawson never meshed in Houston, a career starter who was relegated to a bench role as Patrick Beverley fits better in the starting lineup beside James Harden. Here in New Orleans, with 24 games left to play, Lawson could resuscitate his career in an up-and-down system longing for a starting point guard to push the pace. After seeing what Alvin Gentry's system could do for Ish Smith, imagine the possibilities with a far more talented player equally motivated to prove his worth around the NBA.
Lawson comes with his share of off-court baggage as well, most of which pairs poorly with the city of New Orleans. He has a history of drinking and driving with two arrests on the suspicion of drinking and driving during 2015. Both he and his girlfriend were arrested in 2013 in a domestic dispute. The Pelicans history of taking chances on players with legal troubles is rare.
There is the issue of roster space. The Pelicans have 15 guaranteed contracts on the books. They would need to waive a player to make room, adding additional cost this season unless the waived player agreed to a buyout at a lower amount than what they are owed for the remainder of the season. The chances of Eric Gordon being desired on the waiver market is still high, but it would raise a signal of surrender that is likely unacceptable within the front office.
What if, instead, the Pelicans waived starting point guard Norris Cole? Cole's contract expires this summer and it took the specter of restricted free agency to keep him in the Crescent City this summer. Cole should not be in the long term forecast for this franchise. Why not cut the cord now and give a far more talented (if troubled) player a shot at redemption?
Signing Ty Lawson for the remainder of the season is likely to cost a pro-rated amount of the minimum, or under $250k. Does the Pelicans front office still believe a playoff run is possible? Lawson, despite his season numbers this year, is probably an upgrade over Norris Cole this instant. Tom Benson is already set to shell out over $81 million on player salaries alone this season, $11 million over the salary cap. Another $250k will not break the bank for this franchise if recent estimates by Forbes are accurate.
Take a swing. Lawson might flame out terribly or prove to be as brilliant as everyone thought Daryl Morey to be when he traded peanuts for the former Nuggets point guard.
How much worse can it get for a team 12 games under .500? pic.twitter.com/gMtSOrena1— David Fisher (@usnfish) March 1, 2016