Last week I laid out a bold plan for the New Orleans Pelicans to pursue, my dream scenario with a sprinkling of realism. It involved Dell Demps doing some very un-Dell Demps things: trading back in the draft for more first round picks and sending Tyreke Evans out for another. It is reasonable to suggest those kind of moves are not in the cards for the Pelicans front office, even if that is the path I would prefer them to take.
Instead, let's imagine a less complicated and more realistic scenario for the offseason. Some Pelican fans may call this plan depressing or too pessimistic. The free agents I target here are far from the cream of an already thin crop in July. However, for reasons I will explain, they are also realistic thanks to prior connections, their age, and the positions they would fill on the roster.
I avoid trades altogether below. However, if this were me predicting what Dell Demps would actually do I suspect he is going to make at least one trade. Measuring out the target, considering his previous moves, seems rather foolish. Whoever Demps actually trades for is probably a player few believe is on the market and not necessarily a game changer.
We are already certain that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram will be the first two players off the board in some order. To that mix I am fairly confident Dragan Bender and Jamal Murray will also occupy positions inside the top five either through the teams currently in those positions or via trade. One of Kris Dunn or Buddy Hield will be available with the sixth pick; a number of mock drafts (SB Nation, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, and Fox Sports) have both on the board when the Pelicans are on the clock.
Assuming both players are on the board, I think the Pelicans would select Buddy Hield. He fits more immediately than Dunn thanks to his shooting. I'm torn on all of the guard prospects at the top of the draft and am not completely sold on any of them. One will eventually pan out to be the best player, but right now I have very little feel on who that ultimately becomes.
In the second round I hope the Pelicans use both the 39th and 40th picks. With the 39th pick they select Jaron Blossomgame, a 3&D prospect I outlined earlier this week. Blossomgame is currently 51st in the most recent full Draft Express mock draft. With the 40th pick they select Ben Bentil, a scoring power forward with potential to stretch behind the three point line. Bentil is currently 45th in the same Draft Express mock.
In a stroke of good fortune Alonzo Gee is healthy enough to decline his player option. The Pelicans place a qualifying offer for Tim Frazier, making him a restricted free agent. Toney Douglas (unguaranteed) and Luke Babbitt ($200k guaranteed) are both waived.
New Orleans is going to swing for the fences. They'll chase Kevin Durant, Nicolas Batum, Chandler Parsons, Kent Bazemore, and Harrison Barnes to get the kind of big splash in free agency the franchise craves. I expect those overtures will be turned down. The targets below those five on the wing are deficient in one significant area, typically shooting. Those who can shoot (Allen Crabbe, Evan Fournier) are restricted. The unrestricted crop is mostly non-shooters. This is going to be underwhelming.
On a more expensive than you might think contract (which will be almost every contract this summer), the Pelicans sign Terrence Jones (58th on Tom Ziller's free agent list) to a three year, $34.5M contract. Dell Demps already has a solid relationship with his agent, Thad Foucher, who also represents Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Kendrick Perkins. An even more shocking deal is the four year, $33M contract New Orleans uses to sign Solomon Hill (#106) from the Indiana Pacers.
Both players are potential buy low candidates in a favorable age range Dell Demps has consistently targeted. Jones is 24 and Hill 25. Both are much better defenders than the players they "replace" in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Hopefully their offensive limitations can be mitigated thanks to playing alongside Anthony Davis and in Alvin Gentry's system.
Next, New Orleans re-signs Tim Frazier to a three year contract above the minimum along with Jaron Blossomgame and Ben Bentil, using almost all of the remaining salary cap room. Lacking a third string center under contract Kendrick Perkins is again signed to a one year deal at the minimum. The Pelicans remain under the salary cap with their room exception in tact.
On the minus side, the Pelicans fail to make a big splash they are hoping to make. On the plus side, none of these moves tie up the cap for next summer.
|Luke Babbitt (Waived)||$200,000|
Having a third string of developing players Tim Frazier, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Jaron Blossomgame, and Ben Bentil provides some long term hope for cheap talent. If both Terrence Jones and Solomon Hill continue to improve, a finishing small ball lineup of Holiday, Pondexter, Hill, Jones, and Davis would be a significant upgrade to the old Finishing Five defensively.
It's not pretty nor dreamy, but this path is reasonably obtainable. Given some luck on the injury front, a little player development, and Anthony Davis becoming the fire-breathing dragon we all expect he will be that team should challenge for a playoff spot.