The New Orleans Pelicans have a spot left open on the 2017-18 roster and the addition of another versatile forward would make for the ideal fit. As you know, Dante Cunningham is still an NBA free agent so let’s make a deal!
Sign Cunningham to a 1-year veteran minimum
Believe it or not, the Pelicans still have enough space remaining on the cap sheet to sign Cunningham to a minimum deal; however, the offer can only be for one year due to the following wrinkle in the collective bargaining agreement. Per Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ:
When a player has been in the NBA for three or more seasons, and is playing under a one-year, 10-day or Rest-of-Season contract at the minimum salary, the league reimburses the team for part of his salary -- any amount above the minimum salary for a two-year veteran.
Since Cunningham is an 8-year veteran, his minimum for the upcoming season is $2,116,955, yet paying him this amount on a single season contract would only cost New Orleans $1,471,382 on the books. The Pelicans sit $1,473,576 away from the hard cap according to Bobby Marks, so in theory, Dell Demps could sign Dante and thereby keep the rest of the roster intact. (By the way, how good does the Clark signing look now — the fact that the Pelicans still have the space to offer a 1-year veteran minimum to any qualifying free agent!)
Unfortunately, this scenario fails to account for several key things. One, this avenue would bring New Orleans uncomfortably close to the salary apron, a line they are not allowed to pass as a hard-capped team. Were New Orleans to need to replace injured players or want to make a trade bringing back more than $2,194 in additional salary, these moves would be disallowed. Plus, you can bet trying to create the cap space later by shedding salary during the season would come at a much steeper cost as the rest of the league would be foolish to not take advantage of New Orleans predicament.
The second obstacle is Dante himself. It seems incredibly unlikely he would be willing to sign a 1-year deal for the minimum when back in April he declined a $3.1 million player option in hopes of signing a new multi-year deal. However, DeMarcus Cousins did happen so I guess we can never say never. Maybe there’s enough loyalty built up between Cunningham and the front office whereby they could come to a loose agreement to take care of business the following offseason?
Waive Crawford, sign Cunningham to smaller than expected multi-year deal
I recently came across an interesting bit of news in an article on ESPN. In discussing the Ian Clark signing, Kevin Pelton dropped this bit of previously unheard of before knowledge:
New Orleans still has one roster spot, or potentially two if the Pelicans waive Jordan Crawford after pushing back his guarantee date beyond opening night, but they cannot currently offer more than a one-year deal for the minimum. New Orleans is hard-capped at $6 million more than the luxury-tax apron after using the non-taxpayer midlevel exception.
Whoa, this is an important blurb! Crawford’s contract apparently did not guarantee on August 1 because of an unannounced amendment between the two parties. Likely, New Orleans was interested in keeping their options a little more open so they told Crawford they were going to waive him prior to his original guarantee date unless he agreed to a new date.
Pondering this news makes me now wonder whether the organization views Crawford as somewhat expendable following the Clark signing. While I’m a big fan of the depth at guard — Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, Clark and Crawford — maybe the team thinks it would be better served supplanting the most replaceable player (Crawford) with Cunningham. Considering the Timberwolves had offered Dante the minimum long ago, we can expect he is holding out for a higher amount and probably a longer term contract at that.
If the Pelicans were to waive Crawford, they would be able to sign Cunningham with his Bird Rights to a three-year deal starting at just over $3 million next season (a max of $3,183,114 to be exact). However, this would put the team right up against the hard cap, this time with one roster spot still open. Plus, are we even certain Dante would settle for this figure and not something higher since salaries went soaring after the insane 2016 television deal?
Stretch or trade one of Asik, Ajinca or Pondexter
This is the option that I’ve long considered the only realistic route for the Pelicans to be able to re-sign Cunningham. I’m operating under the assumption that he is seeking the security he thinks he deserves and the only way to be able to pay the man is by either trading or stretching Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca or possibly Quincy Pondexter — if New Orleans doesn’t believe he’s ready to be a dependable contributor.
We’ve heard accounts that Demps has been calling around the league to offload salary, but obviously it’s yet to materialize. Plus, time is becoming a factor if the Pelicans want to utilize the stretch provision; New Orleans has until August 31 to go this route if they want to include stretching any 2017-18 player salary.
Since the start of free agency, I’ve naturally assumed Cunningham would not agree to any deal that wouldn’t significant improve upon his previous 3-year, $9 million contract. However, with how few dollars the rest of the league has left to spend (See: the low dollar Rondo and Clark signings) and Dante’s best offer has been a minimum deal from the Timberwolves, maybe he will be forced into accepting something smaller?
The perfect scenario would entail Cunningham agreeing to a 1-year veteran minimum deal, but I’m still inclined to think the price is going to come in higher, maybe costing the Pelicans their Instant Grits.