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NBA Free Agency: Chasing the dream of a Jeff Teague-Jrue Holiday backcourt

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Timing is everything and the Pelicans might have a unique opportunity to turn their bad luck around.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk for a minute about the Sony Glasstron. I’m not sure the exact history of the Glasstron, there’s not much information on who made it, or why, but I’m pretty positive the story of the Glasstron went something like this:

Jan Belveer spent his childhood nose down, eyes glued to whatever fantasy/science fiction book he could get his hands on during the 1970s. Growing up in what was then communist-run Czechoslovakia, it was the only way Belveer could find color in the grey concrete that seemed to envelop his every surrounding. He became entranced with the worlds these books lived in… sure he cared about the Hobbits, but what truly fascinated him were the maps at the beginning of the books. The made-up languages. The strange customs. The politics of Elvish succession. All Belveer wanted was for it to be real… and he had a plan to make it so.

Belveer left home with nothing but this very plan. He got a job in the mail room of a major tech company; he spent his days filing mail, and his nights working on his dream project. One day, he would think to himself as he drifted to sleep. One day. And so, years later, 1996 to be exact, that day arrived.

Belveer shook with nerves as he approached the towering building where his pitch would take place. Later, pouring a glass of whiskey, eyes drowning in the black bags beneath them, the image that would stand out to Jan would be the massive letters ontop of the skyscraper, looming like a celestial warning: SONY.

He marched into his pitch meeting and killed it. “The Glasstron,” he called it, “A virtual reality simulator, that you wear on your head, like goggles, immersing you in different worlds.” Belveer remembered how he ended the meeting: “Haven’t you ever wanted to escape?”

Sony loved it. They started production immediately, rolling out ad campaigns, they were making Belveer’s science fiction a reality.

Then, in 1998, everything stopped. Belveer’s dream turned into Sony’s nightmare. Production halted. The issue was simple, it wasn’t selling. People didn’t get it, and when people don’t get it, you’ve already lost.

In 2017, this seems silly. Virtual reality is everywhere, it’s the “next big thing” and VR systems are selling like hotcakes. Even things that aren’t VR are being sold like they are; there are apps that allow you to basically glue your phone to your face. So why didn’t it work for Belveer?

See, the issue with the Glasstron is the same issue the New Orleans Pelicans seem to face year in and year out…

Timing.

Did I say it at the same time as you? I wanted to say it at the same time you did. Oh well. The Glasstron was the right product at the wrong time. In the back of every fan’s head sits the same worry about the Pelicans.

Over the past few years, New Orleans seems to be a constant victim of timing: when one key player becomes healthy, another gets injured. Or, once the cast is finally assembled together, the season is all but over. Even when New Orleans made the playoffs three years ago, miraculous late season heroics deserve most of the credit.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a second to delve into the dark side. Sometimes, at the Pelicans fan’s most pessimistic moment, the Anthony Davis saga feels like it will be defined by bad timing, each year just missing out on the eight seed until he leaves, the true definition of watching a train wreck in slow motion. If next season follows this past one (hampered from missing key personnel at the start of the schedule), then Boogie doesn’t re-sign, and Gentry is kept through this summer but fired a few months into the 2017-18 schedule… you get the drift.

Fortunately for New Orleans, this organization has the unique chance to turn this pessimism around, and fix the overall timing of this franchise with one well-thought-out, correctly timed offseason. When it comes to the Pelicans this summer, when the Pelicans make moves is almost just as important as what those moves are. To understand this, there is one major, unfortunate truth we have to live with. I’m going to put this one in bold:

The Pelicans Have to Overpay Free Agents to Play in New Orleans.

No one is going to turn down huge contracts to play for the minimum in New Orleans, à la Zaza Pachulia or David West with the Warriors. Even with Boogie and Davis, if free agents are looking to win now, they are going to a team that has proven they can win. The Pelicans, league-wide, are known as a dysfunctional organization. Why is that? Because of bad timing. Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Al-Farouq Aminu… those are just a few of the players the Pelicans have had on their roster, gotten injured, left, and then went on to have better years elsewhere. Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday… those are some of the players who have had notable years, come to the Pelicans, and almost immediately gotten injured. These are the kinds of things that make players not want to sign in New Orleans. At first glance this seems to be the medical staff’s fault, but at a more in-depth view, we can see that there are a lot of different reasons for this, that seem to add up to bad luck. You can read about that in this fantastic piece.

To the Pelicans credit, last offseason saw the front office accept this. Demps started making calculated decisions that seemed to be based around the idea of picking young, hardworking players to overpay. Players like Solomon Hill and E’twaun Moore didn’t turn heads, but did what they had to do to be considered valuable role players for the Pelicans. Hill was a great defender who shot the league average from three-point range, and Moore was a solid 2-way player off the bench. Both were good signings for the Pelicans, even though they were overpaid.

With the knowledge that New Orleans will have to overpay for free agents, let’s look at what this team has to do and nail a dream offseason. First thing’s first, and this should happen before the draft and free agency hits, make a decision about Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry.

There have been a lot of talk and articles about both Gentry and Demps. For the sake of time I won’t give my own opinion on what I think needs to happen to them (this article is about what the front office needs to DO not what it needs to BE), but I will say their evaluation suffers from the same bad timing the entire team has had. Gentry has never had a healthy team in the offseason to teach his offense to, and Demps has picked up young players who have either broken down under unusual circumstances or arrived with secretive issues. The important thing is that a decision has to be made public soon — whether to fire one of them or not — before it comes time to start selling a strong vision to free agents.

From there, let’s skip to the 2017 NBA draft. The Pelicans have a small chance of landing a top 3 pick (but oh my God, can you imagine if lightening strikes? Paul George trade anyone?), but granted, the draft should be a non starter with what should likely only produce a middling second round pick.

Next comes free agency. This is where timing truly matters. According to Basketball Insiders, the Pelicans have over $89 million dollars on the books for 2017. With the raised cap of what’s projected to be $102 million dollars, this gives the Pelicans less than $13 million dollars to work with. Of course, the Pelicans biggest free agent decision will be whether or not to re-sign Jrue Holiday, and how much the team should re-sign him for. I’m of the opinion we should re-sign, but not yet. I’ll explain more later on.

The Pelicans need to sign someone who fits with Boogie and Davis. I think Solomon Hill is a future fixture for New Orleans, as well he should be. According to Rotowire, the Pelicans gave up a shooting percentage of just 43% to opposing small forwards this season, that’s good for third best in the NBA. Hill is in an incredibly important player to have, especially in the Western Conference going up against the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant.

That leaves two positions to fill: point guard and shooting guard. As far as PG goes, the team needs someone who will pass first and be enough of a threat from the outside to keep teams honest with Cousins and Davis. The candidate has to be attainable, though, as creating enough space to hand out a max contract is problematic.

NBA: Playoffs-Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

All of this points me in the direction of Jeff Teague, an unrestricted free agent. Teague has the possibility of getting lost in what is shaping up to be a pretty good point guard class with Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and Kyle Lowry all hitting the market. A common misconception around the league is that Teague had an underwhelming season. While his 3pt% went down, his assist totals were the highest of his career. Plus, if Paul George leaves, Indiana may choose to enter a rebuild and thereby let Teague walk.

Coming off an $8 million dollar per year contract, the Pelicans could offer him a raise. Now, if he is seeking and someone is willing to pay him maximum money, then the rest of this dream stops right here. However, with so many good point guards already in the league and an incoming rookie class boasting plenty more relevant faces, Teague could fly under the radar.

Moreover, Teague is the kind of player who could thrive in the type of environment the Pelicans have created so he might consider taking slightly less to come here. He has proven he can manage two stretch big men, having his best years in Atlanta playing with Paul Millsap and Al Horford. Teague is tailor-made to plug into Gentry’s system and have instant success — lets not forget he was an All-Star in those Atlanta years. With all that attention on the inside, I wouldn’t be surprised if his 3pt shooting numbers started to rise as well, maybe to the 40% mark he hit his last year in Atlanta.

Then with the position of shooting guard still to settle and no max-like dollars to settle it with, this is the perfect position in which to re-sign Jrue Holiday. He is a premiere perimeter defender in the league, and certainly has the size to guard shooting guards. Back to that Rotowire stat, the Pelicans gave up a whopping 22.4 points per game to opposing shooting guards. That’s fourth worst in the league. With Teague in the backcourt, Holiday gets some playmaking pressure taken off of him, and gets to focus on the areas he excels at. Having two deadly passing options on the outside allows Davis and Cousins to do work on the inside, and having another strong perimeter defender would allow the Pelicans to hide Teague more on the defensive end. Unfortunately, the front office has no money to sign both of these enviable guards?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans retain the bird rights to Holiday — the bird rights are a provision the NBA put into place so teams could have the opportunity to re-sign their own players, opposed to The Bird Writes, which you’re currently reading. It allows teams to go over the salary cap to retain players from their own team. This means Demps could give Holiday a lot of money — the max, even. However, even with Holiday’s bird rights, the Pelicans run into a major hurdle: cap holds. In order to prevent the very concept of what I’m currently talking about, the NBA requires cap holds on salary cap sheets for those wishing to re-sign their own free agents. This means that the Pelicans need to allot an extra $16.9 million dollars to resign Holiday... which New Orleans wouldn’t have if they signed Jeff Teague to a reasonable deal.

Or, at least, $16.9 million dollars the team doesn’t have yet.

This is the part of the article where things get dicey. I’m going to assert something that will likely, and for good reason, have Pelican fans everywhere let go a collective groan. In order to free up cap space, the Pelicans have to trade a future first round pick... or two. Go ahead, groan. The Pelicans have had a terrible track record giving up first round picks for injured players, faux superstars, and almost next to nothing. I mean, we gave up a first rounder for Asik. Now, let me explain why this time things could turn out differently.

For better or worse, the Pelicans are fully engaged in win-now mode. Part of the Boogie trade was cementing the culture New Orleans is trying to create for next year and hopefully beyond. The team was immediately thrust into a “win now” attitude simply because that trade will only be viewed positively if he re-signs during the next offseason. When push comes to shove, everything the Pelicans front office does within the next calendar year is to make Boogie re-sign. That includes free agent decisions, whether or not Gentry stays, and everything in between. I don’t believe I have to go into why this is… having Cousins and Davis makes the Pelicans one of the most interesting teams in the league. Even if it doesn’t end up leading to an incredible amount of wins (which I believe it will), it leads to ticket sales and press, something Tom and Gayle Benson are desperately seeking. Remember: this article is about timing — if the Pelicans are going to make a real run at being a good team in the next five years, while Davis is still here, next year is the best shot, perhaps the only shot.

So, what is the team trading a first round pick(s) for? Practically nothing. See, these future picks come attached with a couple of players, namely Omer Asik and E’twaun Moore. Asik and Moore are two of the largest contracts on the books so trading them could open the requisite cap space needed to make Holiday and Teague work. The only buyers for this trade would be a team in a very specific position; a team that has a lot of cap space to stretch Asik’s contract, a lot of playing time they need scooped up by Moore, no hope of signing a big time free agent, and in desperate need of a few draft picks. That’s right, I’m talking about the Brooklyn Nets and tossing out an Omer Asik, E’twan Moore, the Pelicans 2018 first round pick and 2019 second round pick for KJ McDaniels, who has an early termination for next season, for starters. Highway robbery — in this scenario, we’re getting robbed but could be forced to lift our arms higher if a second first round pick is demanded.

While this might seem like a gamble, it’s not as risky as it initially seems. If next season results in a postseason berth, Boogie probably re-signs and future first round picks lose value for New Orleans. If next year is another firestorm disaster, Demps could flip Cousins halfway through the season for at least one 1st round pick in the upcoming draft.

From a personnel standpoint, New Orleans doesn’t lose a lot in this trade outside of probably not being able to re-sign Dante Cunningham once he opts out. Asik is better left on the bench, and having both Moore and Crawford is kind of redundant. McDaniels gives more size with the second unit, provides an incredibly athletic defender off the bench and serves as Quincy Pondexter insurance.

The Pelicans get to pitch Holiday and Teague they could wind up the best backcourt New Orleans has ever witnessed thanks to the help of Boogie and The Brow. There has been a lot of talk not wanting to overpay Holiday, which is valid, but if New Orleans takes the chance to overpay Holiday using his bird rights, at least that’s money that couldn’t go elsewhere.

That would bring our roster to the following:

Position Starter 1st Backup
Point Guard Jeff Teague Tim Frazier
Shooting Guard Jrue Holiday Jordan Crawford
Small Forward Solomon Hill K.J. McDaniels
Power Forward Anthony Davis Cheick Diallo
Center DeMarcus Cousins Alexis Ajinca

I believe that this is a mid-seed playoff roster.

Of course, in order for this to happen, the timing has to be correct. The first thing we need to do is make the trade with the Nets. Then the front office would have to convince Teague to sign on the dotted line at the very beginning of the offseason for probably no more than something in the range of $18-19 million for next season. Once Teague is under wraps, the Pelicans show Holiday the exciting new lineup as well as the money by taking full advantage of his bird rights.

Belveer was a victim of timing. We don’t have to be anymore. I for one, like to think Belveer is a Pelicans fan. Lets do it for him.