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Pelicans not well positioned compared to other Western Conference lottery teams

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What do you do if you're in a hole and everyone else has a ladder?

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans season is over. Anthony Davis is already rehabbing his injuries. Tyreke Evans is not expected back until late preseason. Jrue Holiday will be out for 6-8 weeks. Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are free agents.

Many Pelican fans see this summer as an opportunity to gain ground in a weakened Western Conference. Alvin Gentry even dared to say "we will be healthier next year." Replacing the salaries of Gordon and Anderson with a real two-way player while nailing the draft might turn things around. Excitement!

Unfortunately, the Pelicans are not building in a vacuum. Other competitors in the West such as the Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, and Utah Jazz are also looking to take a leap. All three teams are probably in far better position to improve next year than the Pelicans.

Cap Space Lottery Odds (Top 3) Net Rating (2015-16) SRS (2015-16)
New Orleans Pelicans ~$18M 21.50% -4.1 -3.56
Minnesota Timberwolves ~$30M 29.10% -2.8 -3.38
Utah Jazz ~$31M 2.50% 1.6 1.84
Denver Nuggets ~$30M 21.80% -3.7 -2.81

Cap space estimated from Basketball Insiders. Lottery odds from Tankathon. Net rating from NBA Stats. SRS from Basketball Reference.

All three teams have far more room under the projected $92 million salary cap. Unlike the Pelicans all three teams are not looking to replace significant rotation players.

The only free agent for the Jazz is Trevor Booker. Denver's most significant free agent is Darrell Arthur. Tayshaun Price is Minnesota's only free agent. Despite losing so little those teams have boatloads of cap space.

Not only do the Nuggets have more cap space, they also have three first round picks (7th, 15th, 19th) and swap rights with the New York Knicks. Additionally the Nuggets have rights to the 2017 first round pick from the Memphis Grizzlies. That richness of assets means the Nuggets are far better positioned to trade for an established player than the Pelicans.

Think the Pelicans should trade for Jimmy Butler? Denver (and Philadelphia, Boston, Phoenix, etc) can make a much better offer.

Utah owns the 2017 first round pick (unprotected) of the Golden State Warriors and the 2018 first round pick (lottery protected) of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Those extra first round picks are valuable currency when trying to swing a big trade.

Minnesota is not as rich in draft assets, but they are in the process of interviewing Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy. My affinity for both is well-known. Should the Timberwolves hire either a leap seems reasonable to predict for a team that ranked 28th in defensive rating.

The Pelicans dug themselves a hole this season. They're hoping to climb out of the lottery; just like the Nuggets, Jazz, and Timberwolves. Problem is, all of those other franchises have a ladder handy.