The annual SB Nation Blogger Mock Draft is complete and the New Orleans Pelicans first pick, selected by myself in concert with the rest of The Bird Writes staff, can be found on Ridiculous Upside. This is my second go around running the Pelicans and, unlike last year where we had no real draft capital, we've been able to make significant changes to the roster. At least in a hypothetical sense.
There is so much that goes on behind the scenes for this process. Most trade discussions, unlike what I suspect occurs in the NBA, are done via email. I alone sent a boatload of emails to the "GMs" of nearly half the league including the Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons, and Utah Jazz. Considering the sheer volume of trades that actually occurred during the draft that is just a small portion of the email traffic. Teams with more assets to utilize (Celtics, Suns, Nuggets, and Sixers) probably sent far more.
Let me pull back the curtain on the proceedings so you can see how the draft unfolded from my perspective.
Day one - Trade anarchy and an easy choice with the sixth selection
Philadelphia is on the clock for nearly a week as emails buzz back and forth in mere preparation for the draft. Much as I suspect the Pelicans themselves to do (or have already done), I put Tyreke Evans on the block and begin trying to shop him to teams late in the first round. No positive feedback whatsoever. Even attaching second round picks fails to get a bite.
Before the 76ers send up their pick I receive my first trade proposal. Depending on who is there when the Pelicans get on the clock would I be willing to swap the 6th pick (and other stuff) for Jahlil Okafor. This is interesting. On one hand, Okafor would be a top three prospect in this draft and legitimately push Brandon Ingram for the second pick. On the other, the Pelicans have two big men under contract and Okafor doesn't really fix any of the problems around this team (defense) while failing to fit in the system this franchise is trying to run. I don't think investing even more assets in big men who the league is passing by is the best idea and turn Philadelphia down before negotiations get very far.
Philadelphia selects Ben Simmons and the Los Angeles Lakers select Brandon Ingram. The draft can truly begin and, as expected, the Celtics are ready to deal. We don't have a Adrian Wojnarowski or Marc Stein for Boston's GM to leak each and every discussion through.
Blockbuster. The Jazz trade away Gordon Hayward and receive the 4th, 23rd, and 28th picks in the draft. Phoenix moves up to grab Dragan Bender. Now with Utah holding a total of four first round picks (three above plus their own at 12) I have a brand new potential trade partner. The Jazz select Jamal Murray. Minnesota is on the clock and I think they will take Kris Dunn.
I immediately email the Jazz GM to see if they are interested in Tyreke Evans. Their initial offer is larger than I expected, but includes the 28th pick and not the 23rd. Fully prepared to pick Buddy Hield with the 6th pick I ask for the 23rd pick and Trey Burke for Tyreke Evans. We Pelican fans saw the disaster of starting Nate Robinson to begin the season last year. A point guard rotation of Jrue Holiday, Trey Burke, and Tim Frazier promises competence. I also still believe in Burke. Utah is interested. Minnesota is walking to the podium.
The Nuggets, assuming (correctly) I would snag Hield if Kris Dunn was selected with the 5th pick, use the 7th and 15th picks to leap over me and grab the Oklahoma Sooner. Kris Dunn is a no-brainer pick for us at six. Minnesota is back on the clock for the next morning (we get six hours per pick if necessary since folks work, need to sleep, etc) but I'm not done tonight.
Even with Dunn in the fold I'd like to have Trey Burke and the Jazz seem very interested in Tyreke Evans. Finishing the deal now gives me the chance to move up from 23rd, and snagging Burke provides a competent point guard under team control for two seasons. Utah relents and the Pelicans have an additional $6 million in cap space and a second first round pick.
Day two - So many emails for no deal
Minnesota opens the day with a surprise, Denzel Valentine is off the board with the 7th pick. An excellent fit for the Timberwolves to be sure (and one of my concerns I mentioned with the Wolves, Nuggets, and Jazz having so much more to work with this summer) and they still have another pick coming up. In the hours after completing the trade with the Jazz I have emailed the current holders of the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th picks trying to move up. Denver (19th) and Detroit (15th) seem the most interested. Grabbing Trey Burke and trying to send him back "home" to Michigan might be appealing to the Pistons. Assets. Chess moves. I almost feel smart.
That's not all. As the draft drags on and even more trades are completed I look to a few teams who do not have a first round pick. The Wizards (Kelly Oubre), Mavericks (Justin Anderson), and Nets (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) are without a pick this year but hold valuable young wing players. Might they be interested in grabbing the 23rd pick? What if I also attach a second round selection or Trey Burke as well? Honestly who is going to start at point guard in Brooklyn? Sadly, no luck. But, I still have Detroit and they seem interested!
On the downside, a number of preferred prospects come off the board. Timothe Luwawu goes to the Sacramento Kings and Domantas Sabonis ends up with the Boston Celtics. Grabbing the 23rd pick was great, but being stuck in a land where mostly foreign centers with limited defensive projections are slotted is less than ideal. Do I "overdraft" a wing like Patrick McCaw with the 23rd pick if I cannot move up? Risk selecting another older prospect with questions about shooting in DeAndre Bembry? Will either of those player even be on the board when I get on the clock?
As the Cleveland Cavaliers succumb to the Golden State Warriors in game four the Pistons are on the clock. It's late at night and entirely possible the draft rolls over to day three. Just in case, I fire out another email to Detroit's GM. Important to have our deal at the front of his mind. If I can turn Tyreke Evans and a second round pick into a 3&D wing like Taurean Prince (our top prospect on the board) this draft is a complete success. No answer.
Day three - the payoff
Detroit accepts the deal and we reconfigure the original two team trade into a three team deal. Utah still receives Tyreke Evans as initially agreed to on day one. The 23rd pick and Trey Burke land end up with the Pistons, along with the 39th pick from New Orleans. With the 18th pick I select Taurean Prince, a legitimate small forward and the first this franchise has seen in a long, long time.
While Prince does not ooze the upside of a younger prospect (he will turn 22 in August) he possesses the size (6'7.75" tall, 6'11.5" wingspan, 220lbs) that Patrick McCaw (6'6.75" tall, 6'10" wingspan, 181 lbs) and DeAndre Bembry (6'5.75" tall, 6'9.5" wingspan, 207 lbs) lack. In his last two seasons at Baylor Prince knocked down 37.8% (113/299) of his attempts behind the arc. His game is not without warts but at this stage in the draft it was as simple a choice as Dunn was with the sixth pick.
Turning Tyreke Evans and the 39th pick into a small forward prospect and an additional $8.8 million in cap room, enough to make a max offer to mid tier free agents Kevin Durant (the pipedream) or Nicolas Batum (still a dream, but maybe possible), was a huge victory. After making qualifying offers to Tim Frazier and James Ennis, securing valuable depth, the Pelicans have legitimate cap room to compete this summer.
Second round and free agency plans
The mock draft ends with the first round. A number of interesting prospects remain on the board and could possibly be there for the 40th pick including Malik Beasley, Patrick McCaw, Paul Zipser, Rade Zagorac, and others. Unlike Dell Demps I have not had an owner or Mickey Loomis staring over my shoulder. Trading with Utah after that extravaganza of trades is unlikely, but the Pelicans trying to turn Evans and one (or both) of those second round picks into a wing prospect like Prince is, at least in my belief, a realistic proposition.
Even my tiny wheeling and dealing sets the Pelicans up with significant flexibility. Nearly $29 million in cap room to work with before making a decision on a single unguaranteed contract. A group of four young player who are or will be plus defenders in Anthony Davis (23), Jrue Holiday (26), Kris Dunn (22), and Taurean Prince (22) to build around. Find a solid wing on the free agent market and there is a reasonable path to contention in the next few years.
So, how'd I do?