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2016 NBA Free Agency: Kent Bazemore would bring shooting, defense, and attitude to New Orleans

A real life 3&D wing is an unrestricted free agent. Should the Pelicans make an offer? How big might it be?

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Kent Bazemore turns 27 on July 1st -- an age which typically marks the prime of an NBA player. Just in time to come off his best season as a pro, as an unrestricted free agent, in an era where the salary cap is exploding and teams are chasing 3&D wings like an oasis in the desert. Congratulations Mr. Bazemore, your timing could not be more perfect. Nothing says happy birthday quite like NBA teams and general managers offering you tens of millions of dollars.

Should the New Orleans Pelicans be in the group of franchises showering Bazemore with cash? Absolutely. New Orleans has been a wreck at small forward for over a decade and pickings are slim on the market. I understand that many prefer the Pelicans to avoid making a mistake this summer and staying on the sidelines. We've seen far too many saviors turn into disasters. Remember when Eric Gordon was going to be a star beside Anthony Davis? We do.

Bazemore's long trek into the NBA

Kent Bazemore did not arrive in the league with a silver spoon in his mouth. A four year player at Old Dominion, he went undrafted during in 2012. He played for the Golden State Warriors Summer League team and earned his contract. Two games stand out; an 11 point, 8 rebound, 7 block (!) performance against the Bulls and a 13 point, 4 rebound performance against the then-Hornets. Five days after the Hornets game, the Warriors rewarded Bazemore with a two year minimum contract.

Bazemore did not play much in his season and a half in the Bay. However, current Associate Head Coach Darren Erman was an assistant there, so the Pelicans should have some inside information. At the trade deadline in 2014, the Warriors shipped Bazemore and Marshon Brooks to the Los Angeles Lakers for Steve Blake -- proof that Golden State was not yet "light years" ahead of the league.

In 23 games with the Lakers, Bazemore shined. He averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 28 minutes a game while shooting 45.1% from the field and 37.1% behind the arc. As the season wound down, Bazemore tore a tendon in his foot and missed the final five games. In order to maintain maximum cap space to sign Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, the Lakers did not offer Bazemore a qualifying offer. Just two seasons into the NBA, Bazemore was a surprising unrestricted free agent still trying to keep his place in the league.

Danny Ferry, then Atlanta Hawks GM and now special adviser to Dell Demps, pounced in free agency. Two years and $4 million turned out to be an excellent bargain for the Hawks. What did Atlanta get in Bazemore? A driven player out to prove he belongs, and one willing to do anything necessary in pursuit of that goal.

But basketball production aside, what I've always loved about Bazemore from covering him since 2012 summer league and at D-League games is that he truly savors every moment of the privilege of being on a NBA roster. There were weekends when he was asked to yo-yo between Golden State and Santa Cruz, eagerly playing the role of enthusiastic reserve on Golden State's bench and then embracing the opportunity to help his temporary teammates in Santa Cruz. And he does it all with a smile and humility that defies stereotypes about the modern pro athlete. He's an undrafted guy who takes pride in his craft and has had to work extremely hard to even get to the point where he's a desireable free agent. It's hard to imagine a better teammate in the NBA than Bazemore and that makes him someone I'll always root for no matter where the remainder of his career takes him.

It is safe to say Kent Bazemore exceeded expectations over the course of that two year contract. He continued to improve on the defensive end while increasing his contributions on the glass every season. After his first year, largely in a reserve role, Bazemore moved into the starting lineup when incumbent small forward DeMarre Carroll departed.

Breakout at the right time

Kent Bazemore was incredible considering his limited minutes. Bazemore was tasked with spacing the floor (he converted 38.9% of his 229 catch and shoot 3's) on offense while defending the best wing on the opposition. He also diversified his game, demonstrating an ability to manipulate the pick and roll, attack close outs, and hit plenty of clutch shots. This 26 point performance against the Houston Rockets is a tour de force.

Despite his stature (Bazemore is listed at 6'5" and 201 pounds), he regularly guarded LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Paul George (among other star small forwards) regularly. Thanks to his 6'11.5" wingspan Bazemore can play bigger than the program leads most to expect. The massive chip on his shoulder helps, but that doesn't show up either. Zach Lowe described Bazemore as "a would-be stopper who looks too skinny for the job."

No where does this show up than the rebounding numbers. Among rotation players for the Hawks only Paul Millsap (21.5%) and Al Horford (18.2%) posted a higher defensive rebounding rate than Bazemore's 18.0%. That rate was good enough for 15th among 63 small forwards around the NBA. Al-Farouq Aminu, know for his rebounding ferocity for the position, posted an 18.6% defensive rebound rate for comparison sake.

Picture of health

Unlike Chandler Parsons, who I profiled yesterday, Kent Bazemore has a strong record of health. In his last two seasons after tearing the tendon in his foot with the Lakers, he's missed just seven games due to injury, five thanks to a sprained ankle last November and two with a bone bruise in the run up to the playoffs. His career in Golden State, peppered with trips to the D-League and DNP-coach's decision, is injury free. Bazemore has missed 12 games due to injury (seven in 2015-16 and five in 2013-14) over the course of his four year NBA career. In four seasons at Old Dominion he was injury-free.

How much?

There are a couple things that help the Pelicans in this regard. First, Bazemore did not finish the season particularly strongly. His shooting dropped off after the All-Star break and ending your season with four straight games against LeBron James is going to provide heaps of less than desirable video tape.

So we asked for help. The great folks over at Peachtree Hoops, the SB Nation blog covering the Atlanta Hawks, gave us an estimate of four years, $70 million.

New Orleans can sign Kent Bazemore to that contract this summer with ease. After renouncing their own free agents (Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Norris Cole, and Kendrick Perkins) the Pelicans will have nearly $20 million in cap space and plenty of minutes at small forward available. A four year, $70 million contract begins at $16.4 million in the first year with 4.5% raises.

Four years and $70 million sounds like a ton of money, but Bazemore would take up about 17% of the salary cap each year as the television money is pumped into the system. To break it down into old salary cap terms, 17% in the new cap is equal to $11.9 million in the 2015-16 salary cap at $70 million.

The Pelicans are uniquely positioned to offer Kent Bazemore an ideal situation. Familiarity with Darren Erman and Danny Ferry, an up-and-down system to play to his strengths, and a superstar in Anthony Davis, will all be appealing. Plus, maybe Under Armor wants him to flip Buddy Hield from Nike (Hield signed with Nike two weeks ago) over the next couple years, as Bazemore accomplished with Stephen Curry at Golden State.

Does New Orleans have a shot with Kent Bazemore? The only way to find out will be showing up at the birthday party on July 1st with a hefty contract.