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2018 NBA Free Agency: Re-signing DeMarcus Cousins and building a worthy roster around Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday

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Throwing darts at a tiny dartboard, part 2.5: New Orleans Pelicans possible offseason moves with limited resources — Boogie back, Boogie back, There’s all These Bloggers Screaming that Boogie Back.

NBA: Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans offseason hinges on the DeMarcus Cousins decision. Will he sign? Will he walk? Will he agree to a sign-and-trade? In this series, I will look at ways to build a team that finds itself in any of those scenarios.

If you missed it, please go read this earlier posted article which explains why the New Orleans Pelicans should re-sign DeMarcus Cousins. It’ll help you understand the rationale behind the trades and free agent signings inside this piece.

Okay, here’s what the Pelicans cap sheet looks like heading into the NBA draft according to Spotrac.com, a wonderfully useful resource.

courtesy of spotrac.com

The Pelicans currently have 11 players under contract — equaling $100,310,674 — but this does not include any cap holds. This is important because if the Pelicans have any desire to bring back any of their free agents, the front office will have no cap space and have to rely on exceptions and trades to fill out the roster. Going into the 2018-19 offseason here are the numbers we need to concern ourselves with:

(Estimated) Cap Maximum: $101,000,000

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

As you can see, Dell Demps will need to take up yoga to limbo his way under the tax line. The first domino is a decision on Cousins and that choice may hold up all other moves — as Cousins and Dell should be exploring all options. However, it is my belief that Dell will not be able to add a player with Boogie’s impact should be should his rehab go right — and since Jon Ishop is no longer around it has potential to do so — and Boogie will not likely find a pairing that balances the ability to win, ease himself back to shape and eventually cash in on that supermax should he return to form.

While the Lakers were once seen as a threat, the lure of teaming LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the ultimate positionless scheme should have Boogie pacing back and forth in the street with his bathing suit on under his shorts hoping for an invite to join his neighbors’ pool party to no avail. This leaves only Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Sacramento as teams that wouldn’t have to maneuver much to squeeze him in on a competitive to overpay-like contract. Philly certainly doesn’t need him (Joel Embiid) and should have no interest and the rest of the pack aren’t teams that are likely to contend even with a fully healthy Cousins. Thus, these factors lead me to believe that the Pelicans and Cousins will lick their wounds, swallow some pride and reunite on a fair contract that allows him to opt out when he should be expected to be at 100% and in a position to grab that supermax deal. I’m thinking around $20M per year for three years with a player option on the third year. Assuming this is the deal, the Pelicans would look like this before any other moves would be made:

Guards: Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson

Wings: Solomon Hill, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins

Bigs: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Mirotic, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo, Emeka Okafor

Picks in Play: 2018 2nd Round (51 overall); outside of 2021 2nd rounder, all future draft picks once 2018 Draft is completed

Roster: 12 players

Salary Total: $120,310,674

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

This obviously gives the Pelicans very little wiggle room under the tax and all but ensures that they cannot use the full non-taxpayer MLE exception — meaning a lot more maneuvering is in order — though waiving non-guaranteed guys like Okafor, Liggins and Miller would create some space (as well as additional roster spots to fill).

There is some trickiness to this because the Pelicans will also need to use this year’s draft to make some moves while not being 100% certain that free agency — including Cousins’ contract — and trade season will unfold like they hope. Therefore, every move needs to make sense as a stand alone, though Dell will need the complete picture to work out in order to improve upon last season’s success.

To help offset their plan going off course and/or to add ammo to some salary dumping I believe as Oleh has written yesterday that the Pelicans should purchase another 2nd round pick. I’d be eyeing the Lakers pick — number 47 — especially if Jarred Vanderbilt falls to that spot as several mock drafts have him doing.

Vanderbilt has the potential to be a steal if not serviceable or at least playable player for stretches in the NBA. In fact, Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer wrote a piece detailing why Vanderbilt could become a 2nd round gem:

There aren’t many players at any level of basketball with Vanderbilt’s skill set. At 6-foot-9 and 214 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he’s a freakish athlete with the ability to defend players at all five positions. He grabbed a higher percentage of total rebounds when he was on the floor (25.7 percent) than any of John Calipari’s players in his eight seasons in Lexington. DeMarcus Cousins (22.5 percent) is the only other of Calipari’s players who even made it above 20 percent. And once Vanderbilt cleaned the defensive glass, he could lead the break himself and create easy shots for his teammates in transition.....

....His long history of foot injuries, including missing the first 17 games of the season with a broken foot, has made NBA teams leery of him. Few want to give first-round money to an undersized big man with his medical history.

A player with first round pedigree with leg injuries? Sound familiar? Someone get Dell Demps a bib. That length, athleticism, wingspan and defensive versatility should also have Darren Erman digging for more Vanderbilt tape under his dad’s mattress and in the back of the closet. However, the move here is also to acquire an asset that could sweeten the pot in moving additional salary around to get more immediate impact players. Still, if the Pelicans stick with Vanderbilt, they will have a seemingly playable reserve big in the relatively near future that won’t hurt team defense all the while he hopefully develops some reliable tools on the offensive end. Plus, the Pelicans should be in favor of cheap contracts! (Also, his length and athleticism should make his pairing with Frank Jackson and Cheick Diallo a lot of fun at Summer League). This move also helps the Lakers as they are surely looking to avoid adding any unnecessary capholds in their quest to create a super team.

Dell should immediately waive Liggins and Okafor and pool the 51st pick with our 2019 1st Round pick that is top 10 protected and converts to the 2019 and 2020 2nd round pick if not conveyed using a Trade Exception to acquire Tomas Satoransky from the Washington Wizards. If you’ve read part 1 of this 3-1/2 part series you are familiar with my desires to acquire Satoransky.

Satoransky is a 6’-7” point guard that sees the floor well, is a decent athlete, has nice playmaking ability, creates problems with his length, can post up and shot 46.5% from deep last season — while starting 30 games for an injured John Wall...His size, defensive abilities and his scoring ability would allow Alvin Gentry to employ him in numerous personnel groupings — especially when using three-guard lineups.

Please, indulge with me on my habitual binge watching of some more Satoransky highlights:

A 26 year-old 6’-7” ball-handler that can spot up, pull up, cut, drive, dunk and make plays is the perfect addition to a scheme and system that functions on versatility such as the Pelicans’. His shooting, passing vision and ability to play off of the ball will allow Tomas to play with any personnel grouping while also allowing him to play anywhere from the one to the three. It is hard to imagine that Ernie Grunfeld would consider moving him, but the Wizards are in cap hell. Not only that, but Scott Brooks yanked Satoransky from the rotation in the playoffs in favor of the freshly signed Ty Lawson, which leads me to believe that Satoransky and Wall are not on the best of terms. The Wizards could immediately reduce their salary by then combining these assets and others in their deck to try and offload Ian Mahinmi, Marcin Gortat, Jason Smith and/or Markieff Morris to give them some breathing room — especially considering Satoransky will be entering restricted free agency next offseason and looking for a nice pay day.

While I love the thought of replacing Moore’s minutes at the three with Satoransky in a Boogie-less scenario, I’m actually inclined to walk away from Rajon Rondo with this addition. As I’ve already stated, having two team leaders that can’t effectively play together is not the best team-building exercise. Pairing Tomas and Jrue in the backcourt gives you solid playmaking — not that really special playmaking that you get from a motivated Rajon Rondo — but good enough playmaking while also improving length, athleticism, shooting and defense.

Here’s were we stand after these moves:

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Tomas Satoransky, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson

Wings: Solomon Hill, Darius Miller

Bigs: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Mirotic, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt

Roster: 12 players

Salary Total: $119,199,761 (not including Vanderbilt’s salary)

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

The next move is somewhat controversial as I am even quite hesitant to make it myself. Preston Ellis has already stopped talking to me because I briefly suggested trading E’Twaun Moore while his value is highest. I’ve long been a fan of the Moore signing — read this if you need proof, or just scroll my Twitter timeline. I appreciate what he provides — I absolutely love him — it’s just that I see an opportunity to not only rectify other mistakes, but to improve his role through free agency. In a three-team trade with Atlanta and Denver, Dell is able to dump a universally agreed upon bad contract.

Courtesy of ESPN’s Trade Machine

The Denver Nuggets send the 58th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, their 2019 2nd round pick and cash to the Atlanta Hawks. The Pelicans send their 2022 2nd round pick to Atlanta.

WHY???!!

For New Orleans it’s simple: they need to create cap space and they need to get bigger and more athletic on the wing. Arthur is an expiring that can possibly be moved with or without Alexis Ajinca for other parts. However, if the Pelicans have to carry him through the season, he can at least hit some open jumpers if injuries flare up in your big man rotation. He isn’t totally unplayable. This move also serves to eliminate the Nuggets from the Will Barton chase. In a vacuum, this eliminates $14M from the books this year with bigger savings once Arthur expires this coming offseason.

In Atlanta, General Manager Travis Schlenk is looking to build through the draft — we are already hearing that Atlanta is shopping Dennis Schroeder in hopes of landing more picks. Taking on bad contracts like Hill’s for draft capital makes some sense for a team that might need to worry about hitting the salary floor.

Hill’s contract isn’t the worst and will be expiring the following year — three seconds and cash could justify the move.

For Denver, this is a cost effective way to replace Will Barton. Moore is a better shooter than Will and should thrive in Denver’s offense as a third guard in their rotation. The Nuggets eliminate the stress of competing to re-sign Will the Thrill with a do-every-thing average or better guard that should pay huge dividends when knocking down threes off of Nikola Jokic dishes. Moore’s salary is likely going to be more appealing than what Will Barton could likely receive in the open market, and the Nuggets also save on what they would have had to pay Darrell Arthur.

The results:

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Tomas Satoransky, Frank Jackson

Wings: Darius Miller

Bigs: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Mirotic, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Darrell Arthur

Roster: 11 players

Salary Total: $105,103,060 (not including Vanderbilt’s salary)

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

We then, again, borrow from my initial sign-and-trade of Boogie plan by looking to free Orlando of some long term contracts. In a similar move, we send expiring contracts to the Magic, but this time it’s Darrell Arthur, Alexis Ajinca and our 2021 first round pick with top 10 protections (I’d also throw in the rights to Jarred Vanderbilt if needed). The Magic send back Jonathan Simmons and Wesley Iwundu, which will save the Pelicans another $5,371,964 and give them one borderline starter at the three — who could potentially become the Pelicans’ Andre Iguodala as well as a young prospect to develop.

Here’s a segment from my pitch to sign Simmons last offseason;

I won’t pretend that Simmons is a polished offensive player — he’s far from it. However, he is an incredible athlete that attacks the rim with purpose. His highlight reels are filled with dunks that should have the posterized defender sitting in a dark room wrapped in a warm wet blanket mumbling inaudibly to themselves for a week. He’s an assassin in transition, and while he isn’t a jump shooter, he has been money in the clutch — shooting 40% from three with less than 3 minutes left in a quarter and 53.3% from deep when the Spurs are trailing by less than 5 points. Simmons is also shooting a respectable 35% from deep in the playoffs — though we know how that kind of hope hasn’t translated yet with Solomon Hill.

When you look through the highlight reels of his two years in the league, you’ll see great play in transition, a solid handle, decisiveness, knowledge of when to cut to the rim, solid play as the ball handler in transition, nifty passing and the ability to finish through contact.

Even being stuck in Orlando hasn’t stolen any of his shine — though he noticeably dipped in defensive effort — which can be chalked up to location.

Iwundu, despite being a 4-year guy at Kansas State, is certainly still a work in progress — though he has shown flashes of being able to play minutes in the NBA while being developed.

Iwundu is also 6’-7” and has the ball handling skills, athleticism and defensive instincts to play the 3 and the two as well as guard ones. He’s most effective in transition or off of cuts — until he develops a reliable jumper, he probably shouldn’t play much with DeMarcus Cousins, but there is hope that a jumper is coming despite shooting 19.6% from deep in Orlando last year. In his freshman year he converted 41.2% from deep and in his senior year he also shot a respectable 37.6% beyond the arc. Here’s what Draft Express had to say about Wesley entering the 2017 draft.

Iwundu’s intrigue at the next level starts with his impressive physical tools. Though he’s still on the lean side, and lacks a degree of lower body strength, weighing just 193 pounds, the Houston native possesses terrific size and length for a wing, measuring just under 6’7 in shoes with a 7’1 wingspan at the NBA Combine. A fluid athlete with good quickness and solid leaping ability, Iwundu certainly looks the part of an NBA swingman. Iwundu’s size and versatility allowed him to play a fairly unique role for a player still coming into his own offensively. Doing the majority of his scoring handling the ball in the pick and roll and pushing it himself in transition, the 22-year-old functioned as a de facto point guard of sorts alongside the Wildcats’ aggressive scoring guards, as Kansas State didn’t rely on any one playmaker this season.

He projects to give the Pelicans the size, athleticism and some level of playmaking from the wing that they’ve sorely lacked.

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Tomas Satoransky, Frank Jackson

Wings: Jonathan Simmons, Darius Miller, Wesley Iwundu

Bigs: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Mirotic, Cheick Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt

Roster: 11 players

Salary Total: $99,731,096 (not including Vanderbilt’s salary)

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

Don’t worry about New Orleans dipping below the cap, because even without the inclusion of Vanderbilt’s salary, the Pelicans would still have numerous trade exceptions and perhaps some cap holds to keep them in an enviable position to utilize the non-taxpayer MLE and BAE. Despite the additions of Simmons and Iwundu, the wing is where the Pelicans should focus on making their biggest splash.

Here are my Mid-Level Exception power rankings for wing help — go ahead and sign any one of them to the full MLE.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Will Barton

Earlier this season I wrote this about Barton:

Barton is an adequate defender and in Denver was often tasked with guarding small forwards, but he’s more suited to defend ones and twos using length and athleticism to his advantage...Barton’s true value comes on the offensive end — bringing skills the Pelicans need on the wing and a familiarity with Chris Finch’s offense. He’s a very good finisher around the rim, excelling in finishing off of cuts and drives to the hoop. Barton has also drastically improved as a deep threat going from a dismal 13.8% conversion rate in his rookie season to a desirable 37% last season — including a ridiculous 57.1% from the right corner. Barton’s ability to score has always been apparent, but he also would give the Pelicans some quality playmaking from the wing. Last season, he racked up 5.9 assists per 100 possessions while also grabbing 7.4 rebounds, making him a triple double threat from the wing that the Pelicans haven’t seen since a healthy Tyreke Evans was doing work in New Orleans’ last playoff run.

Barton would go on to maintain his solid shooting from deep while improving his playmaking, rebounding and free throw percentages. Barton is the multi-faceted wing New Orleans has lacked since Jamal Mashburn.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Anderson

At 6’-9” 230lbs with a 7’-3” wingspan, he has the size to play the three and four spots, but the Spurs have often played him at the two — or sometimes even tasked him with playmaking duties. However, as the league trends down in size and with his lack of shooting, I could also see Anderson playing some minutes at the five and making plays from the post for the Pelicans to set up cutters and open shooters. While he doesn’t give you the shooting or scoring mentality that Will Barton does, he makes up for it with rebounding, playmaking and defensive versatility.

But with the Pelicans moving on from E’Twaun Moore, Anderson’s lack of shooting combined with his restricted status in free agency — the Spurs will most likely match — have him sitting below Will Barton.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Ariza

Being 32 years-old puts Ariza below Barton in my rankings, but Ariza can be just as effective on the offensive end (though he isn’t the same level of playmaker) as Barton while providing a few extra inches of length and some added dirt doggedness on defense. Trevor is a solid cutter and has developed into a solid spot up shooter in Houston, converting over 36% from deep on nearly seven attempts per game this season — including 43% from the corner. Houston will be busy wooing LeBron and Paul George in free agency while also working on deals to keep Chris Paul and Clint Capela and pitching trades for Kawhi Leonard — likely letting Ariza slip away, which could pay off handsomely for the Pelicans.

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Tomas Satoransky, Frank Jackson

Wings: MLE Player (Will Barton, Kyle Anderson or Trevor Ariza), Jonathan Simmons, Darius Miller, Wesley Iwundu

Bigs: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Mirotic, Cheick Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt

Roster: 12 players

Salary Total: $108,299,096 (not including Vanderbilt’s salary)

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

Dell Demps should then utilize the BAE to bring in another piece — here are my BAE power rankings:

NBA: Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mario Hezonja

Hezonja has unfulfilled talent and lure to make good upon. At 6’-8” with a point guard’s handle and solid athleticism, he was a favorite of basketball hipsters everywhere coming over from Europe. However, Orlando has become a basketball wasteland and all of the promise Hezonja once flashed fizzled like a Gob Bluth attempt to produce fire from his cufflinks.

There were moments last season, though, where Hezonja looked like he could be the player that many NBA scouts, analysts and bloggers thought he could be. In fact, he thrived when tasked with playing the four — an added level of versatility that could make him blossom in New Orleans. He’s a gamble, but the upside is worth the dice roll.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Rodney Hood

I still believe in Rodney Hood — despite a catastrophic stint in Cleveland. Hood has a nice array of moves to get clean looks. He has a crossover, a nice step-back, can hit the fall away, has a good spin move, he uses screens well on and off the ball, has a jab-step, has the quickness and high-level athleticism to blow by defenders or run in transition, and at 6’-8”, he is able to shoot over smaller guards as well as operate as a post-up guard on the block. He’s also a very good athlete.

These are all things that the Pelicans need on the wing.

Hood’s stock crashed into the mountain as he was self-canibalized by the pressure of playing with LeBron James — a task that Chris Bosh cautioned would be hard for Kevin Love to adapt to — so it’s not surprising that Hood would also struggle when sent to the Cavs at the deadline.

“Yeah, it’s a lot more difficult taking a step back, because you’re used to doing something a certain way and getting looks a certain way. And then it’s like, well, no, for the benefit of the team, you have to get it here...It’s going to be very difficult for him. Even if I was in his corner and I was able to tell him what to expect and what to do, it still doesn’t make any difference. You still have to go through things, you still have to figure out things on your own. It’s extremely difficult and extremely frustrating. He’s going to have to deal with that.”

Despite a breakout performance in game 3 of the NBA Finals Hood’s Cleveland tenure has severely damaged his value in free agency, which can be of great benefit to the Pelicans.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Glenn Robinson III

Little Big Dog is an insane athlete. With a 41.5” vertical leap, he has trampoline hops — which made him the 2017 Slam Dunk Contest champ — even if that edition was a snoozer of a contest. His dunk reel from the 2017 season is out of control.

After bouncing around early in his career, with stints in Toronto, Minnesota, Philadelphia and the D-League, G3 is starting to show signs that he’s developed into a complete player in Indiana.

Robinson is 6’-6”, but boasts a 6’-10” wingspan and is solid enough at 222lbs to play at the three, and also give the Pelicans minutes at the the two. Robinson finishes well around the rim and not just on dunks. He has a good floater game and a nice layup package. More importantly, he’s evolved and no longer has to rely purely on his athleticism, turning himself into a reliable jump shooter. He scorched the net from the corners in 2016-17 (injuries limited him to just 23 games this past season) converting 44% on a nice sample size of 75 attempts. The midrange game is also a strength for Robinson making 43.4% of his shots from 16-24’.

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Tomas Satoransky, Frank Jackson

Wings: MLE Player (Will Barton, Kyle Anderson or Trevor Ariza), Jonathan Simmons, BAE Player (Mario Hezonja, Rodney Hood or Glenn Robinson III) Darius Miller, Wesley Iwundu

Bigs: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Mirotic, Cheick Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt

Roster: 13 players

Salary Total: $111,652,096 (not including Vanderbilt’s salary)

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The remaining two roster spots should go to two veterans who will bring experience and provide safety nets at the point guard and center positions at the minimum — Devin Harris and Ed Davis. Harris can give you some semblance of the on the floor coaching that Rajon Rondo provided while also providing the ability to shoot off of the dribble and cut off of the ball. Ed Davis will provide the luxury of giving Boogie nights off without having to rely on unproven players. He’s a good athlete, solid rim protector, he rebounds and is extremely efficient on offense — though that offense is limited to work at the basket.

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Tomas Satoransky, Frank Jackson, Devin Harris

Wings: MLE Player (Will Barton, Kyle Anderson or Trevor Ariza), Jonathan Simmons, BAE Player (Mario Hezonja, Rodney Hood or Glenn Robinson III) Darius Miller, Wesley Iwundu

Bigs: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Mirotic, Cheick Diallo, Ed Davis, Jarred Vanderbilt

Roster: 15 players

Total Salary: $116,183,257 (not including Vanderbilt’s salary)

Total Counting against the cap: $114,651,492 (signing Ed Davis and Devin Harris to minimum 1-year deals would only count $1,499,698 apiece against the cap)

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

This roster provides a ton of versatility. It also gives the Pelicans some young players to develop while not needing to rely on them if injury luck is on their side. It fills the huge hole at the three and adds size, defense, playmaking and keeps them under the tax.

Bringing back DeMarcus Cousins and then surrounding the core with appropriate talent is possible and the route I hope to see the New Orleans Pelicans take!