No one across the NBA should envy the position General Manager Dell Demps finds himself this upcoming offseason; however, some trust that he’ll make the right call is warranted. Just one year ago, Demps faced a critical decision involving the free agency of Jrue Holiday. He went against conventional wisdom to sign the oft-injured and underperforming guard to a five-year deal and then watched Holiday blossom into one of the best two-way players in the game. Also, who could forget that trade deadline deal with the Chicago Bulls to offload Omer Asik and add Nikola Mirotic, saving New Orleans season and his job, simultaneously.
This year, Demps is under the gun again: What to do with DeMarcus Cousins and where to draw the line financially.
On the one hand, the Pelicans have the advantage in negotiations. DeMarcus Cousins is recovering from a potentially career-altering injury, the market for centers is quite tepid, and cap space across the landscape is limited. Furthermore, fans and experts alike relished watching New Orleans sprint up and down the floor in the first round against the Blazers, and point to the center position as the one in which Anthony Davis truly shines.
Should Demps come to an impasse with Cousins’ camp, many hope the Pelicans can mitigate his loss with additional perimeter players with length. However, it cannot be overlooked that Boogie possesses franchise-changing talent. What transpires this season will be one of the biggest focal points of the summer, but here’s why fans should not bank on sign and trade scenarios.
DeMarcus Cousins is confident he’ll return for the start of training camp, but NBA fans have yet to witness a dominant big man return to elite form from this type of devastating injury. Although he’s still in his prime (27 years of age) and there have been advancements in modern medicine, opposing front offices will most likely be leery of making large investments, let alone parting with valuable assets.
Seven different head coaches in his eight-year career, amassing enough technical fouls that directly led to several suspensions in 2016-17 and self-admitted effort deficiencies in multiple games early last season, Demarcus Cousins is a difficult personality. Well liked by his peers and by communities for his off-the-court contributions, his play on the floor is only as powerful as his focus, which shifts from time to time. Should a team try to quell his emotion, it’s not guaranteed to work out as planned.
The center position is no longer sexy in an era where 6’-7” Draymond Green and 6’-5” P.J. Tucker man the five in critical minutes for the two best teams in the league. High-powered teams value spacing and perimeter play on both ends of the court. We have seen big money contracts recently cripple franchises that have invested in this position. Boogie remains an outlier because of his All-Star level of talent — guard-like production and long distance shooting to boot, but is it sound strategy to “Do it Big” with the direction of where the Association continues to head?
The financial ramifications of any deal will certainly prove a headache. Cousins has mentioned his desire to join a contender, yet contenders traditionally all share one commonality: Little salary cap space to add a new gigantic sum to the books without significantly changing the look of their winning rosters.
The New Orleans Pelicans, similarly, have their backs against the wall. With $92.4 million of the 100/101 estimated 2018 cap already accounted for, the Pelicans have little flexibility in giving Boogie a large contract or taking back comparable salary in a sign and trade. Re-signing Boogie to the max ($30.3 million) would put them close to the luxury tax line (estimated to be around $123). Plus, approaching that number would severely hamper New Orleans ability to fill out the roster with partial or unguaranteed contracts like Cheick Diallo, Darius Miller, Emeka Okafor, DeAndre Liggins, Jordan Crawford, and then addressing the free agencies of Ian Clark and Rajon Rondo.
So, in order for the Pelicans to make a sign and trade work, the return must be bountiful, yet the logistics of such a deal need to be in New Orleans favor — where a lot of potential suitors are also interested in shedding salary. For kicks, though, let’s have a look at some potential sign and trade scenarios.
The popular choice among many. Fans salivate at the idea of the lon- armed scoring threat known as Khris Middleton, but don’t get too enamored. Prying him away comes with taking John Henson and some form of Tony Snell/Matthew Dellavadova to save the Bucks from exploding over the luxury tax.
In addition, the Bucks face the market for Jabari Parker, a restricted free agent. Milwaukee will probably seek to cut salary, not take it, and if they do, the bite will prove larger than the Pelicans can chew. A third team would need to join the fray and that monster negotiation would require half a dozen moving parts including valuable future draft picks.
The Wizards can’t do anything until they find a place to dump one of Marcin Gortat or Ian Mahimni. At a current position of ~$124 million for next season, cutting salary remains the primary goal for a team that finished eighth in the Eastern Conference.
Although a potential deal would likely include swingman Otto Porter and a familiar face in Jason Smith, this move would put New Orleans into the tax. Also, Porter carries troubling injury concerns (hip/knee) and guaranteed money of his own: Three years and $82 million — in addition to a 15% trade kicker that would need to be coughed up by Washington.
This move is intriguing but would also require a third team as the Raptors are staring at $127 million in salary for next season. Don’t expect the Pelicans to show any interest in Serge Ibaka. Jonas Valunciunas ($16.5 million per year) and Norman Powell ($9.3) or C.J. Miles ($8.3) come close to making it work, but do either Powell or Miles really make the Pelicans any better? Certainly JV marks an upgrade over Okafor off the bench, but is the upgrade of Miles or Powell over Moore significant enough to warrant going over the threshold?
This one is my favorite. The Lakers could be seeking to go all in this summer if they can land one of Paul George or LeBron James, and they have the resources to add two superstars. However, should they crave a third in Cousins, they would need to lop off Luol Deng and that will come at a significant cost. Moving from Deng and say, Kyle Kuzma or Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and a protected first round pick would give the Lakers the ammunition to sign Lebron, Paul George, and Demarcus Cousins.
But, would the Pelicans be interested in two years and $37 million of Luol Deng riding the bench despite good young talent on the wing?
Boogie mentioned of wanting a contender, but Dallas could quickly rearm itself by adding a top five selection from the draft to Dennis Smith Jr. and another solid free agent signing. All it would take is either Harrison Barnes or Wesley Matthews and Dwight Powell.
The problem for New Orleans though is that seemingly none of the above deals would likely move the needle for the Pelicans to get past the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. As Michael MacNamara mentioned on “In the No,” the Pelicans target should be to re-sign DeMarcus at as much of a discount as they can at a 1 + 1, or simply let him walk, and then attack the flash sales at the trade deadline with ferocity.
Other deals involving the highly coveted Nikola Mirotic or E’Twaun Moore and the readily discardable Alexis Ajinca (expiring deal) should net the highest returns. Going down this path would also allow the Pels to re-sign their incumbents without crippling the financial future.
We will explore more deals in the future such as Solomon Hill + Ajinca and a top three first round pick for Tobias Harris?
Agree or disagree? Comment below!