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2016 NBA Free Agency: An alternate path to the off season for the New Orleans Pelicans

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Let's start at the draft and discuss what the Pelicans could have done differently. Trading down might have been the best option.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Last summer the salary cap came in quite a bit higher than initially anticipated, and I discussed a different path the New Orleans Pelicans could have taken rather than spending big to retain Omer Asik. Instead, with the higher than anticipated cap, Dell Demps could have signed Kosta Koufos and retained much of the Pelicans continuity. That approach would have offered greater flexibility this summer and a far younger big man in Koufos on a cheaper contract.

Again this summer I will do the same. However, thanks to the Pelicans actually having a draft pick, I will extend my look at paths not taken an extra week back to include draft night. Dell Demps discussed at the introduction that there were some trade talks on the sixth pick, but he was not "blown away" by the offers on the table and eventually took Buddy Hield.

Over the past six months, I have clearly covered my desire to trade back in the draft to acquire additional picks. One of the targets I mentioned, the Phoenix Suns, actually did trade up using their additional two first round picks with the Sacramento Kings to pick Marquese Chriss with the eighth selection. The Kings received four total assets in the deal; the 13th pick, the 28th pick, a 2020 second round pick, and draft rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic.

The Pelicans should have taken that deal and ran as fast as possible. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a 23-year-old (soon to be 24) shooting guard in Europe and he was absolutely tremendous in the Belgrade Qualifying Tournament for the Serbian National Team. He averaged 17.8 points, 6 assists, and just 1.5 turnovers (4.0 assist-to-turnover ratio!) while shooting 57.8% from the field and 55.6% behind the arc. He previously won the Euroleague Rising Star award as the best player under 22 in the Euroleague twice in 2014 and 2015.

Bogdanovic is not coming over to the NBA this season, as he waits out his last season under the rookie scale rules before cashing in on a richer contract next summer. A 6'6" shooting guard prospect with a solid 6'11" wingspan, Bogdanovic has shot 36.6% behind the arc over his last three seasons in Europe while contributing on the glass and playmaking for his teammates. Here, he operates the pick and roll with former NBA players Pero Antic (#12), Ekpe Udoh (#8), and Jan Vesely (#24).

But, for this year the two first round picks would actually be on the roster. Valde Divac took Georgios Papagiannis with the 13th pick. While that could pan out, Denzel Valentine was also available and would have been my choice had the Pelicans decided to trade back. I've written a lot about Valentine here, and while he struggled with his shot during the summer league (as Buddy Hield did as well), he also demonstrated the same sublime court vision and knack for contributing in other ways that pulled at my heart from the very beginning.

With the 28th pick, I would have selected Patrick McCaw, he ultimately went to the Golden State Warriors who purchased the 38th pick from the Milwaukee BucksMcCaw impressed in Las Vegas and I've been a fan thanks in large part to Quentin Haynes, who brought him up as a 3&D prospect long ago. I would still do the trade up to 33rd to select Cheick Diallo as well, he's really won me over as a prospect.

For free agency I would not do much different than Dell Demps has done this summer. The 13th and 29th picks actually cost $105k less on the cap than the 6th pick. With two wings on the roster through the draft, I would pass on signing E'Twaun Moore to his four year, $34 million contract and allocate those dollar toward my personal favorite big man free agent, Jared Sullinger.

Sullinger signed with the Toronto Raptors for one year at the full mid-level exception, $5.6 million. In this scenario the Pelicans have over $8 million in cap room (roughly what they spent on E'Twuan Moore) to outbid Toronto. There are a number of Sullinger fans to be found, especially in the more analytically minded community. Kevin Pelton ranked Sullinger as his 8th best free agent this summer. Five Thirty Eight's CARMELO ranks Sullinger's contract as the second best bargain of the summer, trailing only Kevin Durant going to Golden State.

Note: Ryan Anderson's contract is the worst of the summer. Omer Asik's is one of the worst of last summer.

As a result this roster is younger than the one Dell Demps and Danny Ferry put together this summer with less long term money committed thanks to a one year deal on Sullinger rather than a four year deal to the older E'Twuan Moore. Additional remaining cap space makes signing Terrence Jones to a richer deal far easier.

Pos Age 2016-2017 2017-2018 2018-2019 2019-2020
Anthony Davis PF/C 23 $22,116,750 $23,775,506 $25,434,263 $27,093,019
Jrue Holiday PG 26 $11,286,518
Solomon Hill SF/PF 25 $11,241,218 $11,747,073 $12,252,928 $12,758,782
Tyreke Evans SG 27 $10,203,755
Omer Asik C 30 $9,904,494 $10,595,505 $11,286,516 $3,000,001
Jared Sullinger C 24 $7,000,000
Langston Galloway PG/SG 25 $4,890,000 $5,110,050
Alexis Ajinca C 28 $4,713,203 $5,036,798 $5,360,394
Quincy Pondexter SG/SF 28 $3,617,978 $3,853,931
Dante Cunningham SF/PF 29 $2,978,250 $3,106,500
Terrence Jones PF/C 25 $2,300,000
Denzel Valentine SG/SF 23 $1,835,200 $1,917,800 $2,000,400 $2,858,572
Cheick Diallo PF/C 20 $1,000,000 $1,045,000 $1,090,000
Patrick McCaw SG/SF 21 $990,700 $1,035,200 $1,079,800 $1,949,039
Tim Frazier (Room Exception) PG 26 $2,000,000 $2,090,000
Total 25.33 $96,078,066 $69,313,363 $58,504,300 $47,659,413
Salary Cap $94,143,000 $102,000,000 $108,000,000 $109,000,000

This roster is not only younger, but provides far more depth around Anthony Davis at the power forward and center positions. Very legitimate concerns about rebounding that surround the current version of the Pelicans are mitigated substantially by adding Sullinger, who I would expect to start over Omer Asik at center. (This does create potential locker room issues as Asik has not exactly been gung-ho about coming off the bench previously.) Small ball options of sliding Anthony Davis to the five while playing either Solomon Hill or Terrence Jones at power forward remain intact.

However, this roster is not without weaknesses. By sacrificing E'Twaun Moore to add depth in the front court, much more would be asked of rookies Denzel Valentine and Patrick McCaw than necessarily must be asked of Buddy Hield. Both Moore and Langston Galloway provide the Pelicans with much needed depth and defensive know-how that my version of the Pelicans lack in the short term. While I am confident that McCaw will be a plus defender eventually and Valentine far better executing a team scheme than many expect, rookies are typically negative producers on the court.

This approach, above all else, is one of patience. Trading down in the draft to get Bogdan Bogdanovic, who won't even play in the NBA until the 2017-18 season. Getting three rookies instead of two; adding an additional young kid in Patrick McCaw. All with an eye firmly set on a long distant horizon of building a competent team that can keep Anthony Davis in New Orleans (and push the Pelicans into real contention) in 2018 instead of immediately.