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2018 NBA Free Agency: If DeMarcus Cousins walks off into the sunset, New Orleans Pelicans can recover

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Throwing darts at a tiny dartboard, part 3.0: New Orleans Pelicans possible offseason moves with limited resources — what should happen in the unlikely event that DeMarcus finds a suitor to sign him outright.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-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.

On the heels of the draft and the fingertips of free agency, the landscape for DeMarcus Cousins’ free agency is less the stuff of a Lewis and Clark expedition — uncharted territory — and more of a forked road with only two realistic outcomes: a return to New Orleans or a sign-and-trade with the Washington Wizards (a scenario I laid out here and added a bonus cut of here). Sure, a surprise team like the Indiana Pacers — should they miss on Aaron Gordon — or the Cleveland Cavaliers could make moves to clear the space needed to possibly entice Boogie. However, living in Indiana likely wouldn’t trump a similar offer from New Orleans nor would a LeBron-less Cavs team. Still, let’s suppose Cousins Benson Boogies his way out of town...we’ll start in a very similar fashion as we did in the scenario in which he was retained. As a refresher:

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

To quote The Smiths:

Or Ryan Hebert:

Every morning when I climb out of my Tomas Satoransky bed sheets, I steep some tea and have wonderful conversations with the mural I painted of him in my condo and then I stat pad his PS4 doppelganger on NBA2K. But seriously, in reality I just contemplate how great he would look in three guard lineups for the Pelicans logging time at the point, but getting a bulk of his minutes on the wing. I believe Satoransky is a player on the verge of a nice breakout season and that comes after a season that somehow collected dust despite shooting 54% from the field, 46.5% from deep, 78% from the stripe and averaging 7.0 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.6 steals per 100 possessions, with an extremely potent 124 offensive rating and 5 win shares — he’s also a 6’-7” slice of angel food cake.

So why would the Wizards give him up? Well...they are sometimes kind of dumb. Ernie Grunfeld gave Otto Porter a $26+M per year deal, Ian Mahinmi a $16M per year deal while already having Marcin Gortat on a $13M per year deal (also, Markieff Morris and Jason Smith exist). These deals combined with John Wall and Bradley Beal’s led to Grunfeld trading Gortat to the Clippers for Austin Rivers in a deal that saved them around $1M to give them an inch of airspace in which to gasp for air under the tax in the sinking car that is their cap sheet. Then there is the matter of Scott Brooks playing the newly signed from China — without a practice — Ty Lawson over Tomas in the playoffs despite Satoransky having a good deal of success running the Wizards offense in the 30 games that John Wall missed with injury.

“Wait, they don’t love you like I love you.”

“Wait, they don’t love you like I love you.”

Washington may not appreciate Tomas as much as they should. Also, that locker room is rumored to have a lot of turmoil — maybe Wall and Satoransky do not gel — let’s hope so. Still, with Rivers and the recently drafted Troy Brown Jr. — and a possible Lawson or Tim Frazier return — the Wizards may listen to offers Satoransky.

In my last piece I suggested the Pelicans send over their 2019 1st round pick that is top 10 protected and converts to the 2019 and 2020 2nd round pick if not conveyed. However, with their Gortat/Rivers trade, the price Dell may have to pay may just drop to those two second rounders. However, if pressed I’d certainly bet on Satoransky being a legitimate answer at the three while also providing minutes at both guard spots. Also, he fits into a trade exception, which will likely need to be utilized — though they rarely are — to add difference makers to this roster.

In the previous scenario where Boogie returned, I suggested that Tomas made Rajon Rondo obsolete as Boogie and Rondo don’t fit together well on the court. However, without Boogie, Rondo is an important part of the Pelicans’ future. Also, I stated in that piece Darius Miller turned back into a pumpkin once Cousins was injured. Satoransky’s presence leaves Miller on the waiver wire like a rotting jack-o-lantern on a stoop in late November attracting nothing but flies, but he’ll get the $300,000 guaranteed portion of his deal and several suitors in Europe awaiting his return. DeAndre Liggins and Emeka Okafor would also be waived.

Here’s were we stand after these moves:

Guards: Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, Tony Carr (draft rights — likely a 2-way contract that won’t count against the cap)

Wings: Tomas Satoransky, Solomon Hill

Bigs: Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo

Roster: 10 players

Salary Total: $97,294,761

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

As I’ve mentioned, Rondo is a crucial part of the Boogie-less Pels. His on court leadership and playmaking were imperative in the tempo leading shaved Nikola Mirotic era. Rondo proved that his post season run with the Bulls in 2016-17 was not a fluke. He’s an asset to Alvin Gentry making his offense flow — and in sparks to somewhat large flashes he showed that he can still be serviceable defensively when engaged.

Rondo earned himself a raise. Two days ago a rumor hit Twitter saying that Rajon is seeking a 2 year deal worth $16M.

As Oleh rightly points out, Rondo earned nearly double the $3.3M many fans think he did this past season based off of his cap charge for New Orleans. He’s also correct in saying that Rondo’s asking price is likely that rumored amount. However, that’s an asking price. A desire. When looking at the rest of the league, most playoff teams have a point guard under contract or don’t have that kind of money to spend on a potential upgrade — though a point guard without a jumpshot isn’t all that desirable for most offenses. Also, a 32 year-old point guard doesn’t make much sense for teams that are rebuilding — nor does taking a step back in contention for Rajon. It’s also clear that he, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday have formed a bond. While I have little doubt Rondo will start asking for 2 years $16M, I believe the market and the marginal utility of re-signing in New Orleans will have that contract looking more team friendly.

The move here is to split the Mid-Level Exception between Rondo and another serviceable big man, with Rajon getting the lion’s share of the money. That big man — Ed Davis — will get the rest. Ed Davis is that dirt dog scrapper that can give New Orleans quality minutes as a reserve big man or as a starter should Alvin Gentry decide to bring Nikola Mirotic off of the bench. Davis posted a 21.3 rebound rate last season with 13.7% on the offensive glass. Obviously crashing the glass isn’t a high priority in Darren Erman’s scheme, but without much emphasis on that goal, Ed Davis always seems to find himself consistently around the ball and rim. Check out his 50th double-double against us in October.

On offense Davis knows exactly who he is. You won’t see him taking jumpshots or holding the ball. He makes his money on put-backs, lobs, cuts and the occasional post-up. This has made him a very efficient scorer throughout his career. That efficiency should only increase when flanked by either Mirotic or Anthony Davis and shooters like Satoransky and Moore. Defensively he’s no slouch either — his block numbers are high and his defensive rating and win shares reflect his rim protection. He’s 6’-10, runs with fluidity and has the athleticism to fit in a switch heavy scheme. This addition not only allows Cheick Diallo more time to develop, it also gives him a figure to model his game off of.

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, Tony Carr (draft rights — likely a 2-way contract that won’t count against the cap)

Wings: Tomas Satoransky, Solomon Hill

Bigs: Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, Ed Davis, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo

Roster: 12 players

Salary Total: $105,694,761

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

The next tool Dell has in his arsenal is the BAE. Despite the edition of Satoransky and E’Twaun Moore’s ability to slide into the three, the Pelicans would love to add more bodies that can give quality minutes on the wing. With the Cavs offering Rodney Hood a qualifier, it’s unlikely that the Pels could acquire him without a trade. Mario Hezonja was offered a contract over the BAE by the Magic, and though he is unlikely to return to Orlando, he will likely pursue and get an offer above it. At the start of the 2017-18 season I included Glenn Robinson III in my trade exception power rankings considering him a low risk gamble. Unfortunately for GR3 injury robbed him of most of that season. However, I believe he’d be the perfect fit for the price (if it hasn’t gone up after Zach Lowe recently professed his faith in Robinson). Most know him only for his athleticism and dunking ability.

However, he scorched the net from the corners in 2016-17 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’ — a zone Darius Miller would completely ignore when driven off of the three point line. Robinson is also 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. With Indiana chasing Aaron Gordon in free agency it’s likely Robinson could be scooped up early as the Pacers are forced to wait out Orlando’s right to match Gordon. While Robinson may have numerous suitors it is unlikely that those suitors could promise the minutes and the same opportunity to win as a Pelicans team that is built so well to utilize his athleticism and skill set.

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, Tony Carr (draft rights — likely a 2-way contract that won’t count against the cap)

Wings: Tomas Satoransky, Glenn Robinson III, Solomon Hill

Bigs: Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, Ed Davis, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo

Roster: 13 players

Salary Total: $108,984,761

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

Dell shocked us once with the addition of Lance Stephenson and the Pacers similarly shockingly declined their option on Lance’s contract this offseason. I once wrote a piece where I declared that Jrue Holiday is the Tim Duncan of Allen Iversons — well, Lance Stephenson is the Ol’ Dirty Bastard of Tyreke Evanses. Both players can give you the threat of a triple-double every night, but Tyreke is like Sydnor — just dipping his toe in that life — Lance is Bubbles — he’s seen some shit.

In a 2016-17 season preview, I questioned the reasoning behind the Lance signing:

In 2013-14 with the the Indiana Pacers, Stephenson lead the league in triple doubles, posting a solid stat line of 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. He is a guy who can play the 1-3, and stuff every column of the stat sheet. He’s not overly athletic, but he is big and strong for a guard...On the flip side, Lance is also known for being very ball-dominant and has been accused of bogging down possessions with his over-dribbling — which is why I don’t understand the signing. If Evans was a problem, how does adding Stephenson help? Although he’s probably slightly better on defense, isn’t Lance just a worse at scoring and creating version of Tyreke?...Actually, he’d be the answer to the complex equation: the square root of (Tyreke Evans x Tony Allen) x .70 divided by the smiley-faced poo emjoi + two flexing arm emojis x (the blowing wind emoji + the crown emoji). In a non-ridiculous summation, he’s the halfway point between Tyreke Evans and Tony Allen.

Don’t get it twisted, I always loved and continue to love Tyreke Evans. However, at that time he was being thrown under the bus by the staff, the media and fans for not being a fit in Gentry’s schemes and for often operating outside of that system, which made Lance’s addition head-scratching.

Well, I’m all for glitches in the matrix and I’m certainly for bringing Lance back on a veteran’s minimum. When the Pelicans signed Lance, only $100,000 of his $1.22 million league minimum salary was guaranteed. Lance was coming off of two pretty bad years in Charlotte and with the Clippers — though he did play better once being moved to Memphis — it was a low-risk gamble for the Pels at rehabilitating a player with the size and some skills they needed. Unfortunately a groin injury and an injury-depleted roster led to Lance getting cut and once again seemingly finding a home in Indiana after a very brief stop in Minnesota. While he certainly didn’t prove to be a high level player in Indiana, he most certainly proved that he is at least a rotation player in this league by filling every category in the box.

But perhaps more importantly (and scarily), Lance has cemented himself as a complete wildcard. A player that can make breathtakingly exciting plays and a player that can be a turnover prone efficiency nightmare. The opponent and the Pelicans’ staff will never know what the are getting night in and night out. If I were counting on Lance to play huge minutes I’d pass, but I can see the value of his helter-skelter play in 10-minute doses or larger amounts for short stretches when injuries pop up.

The other thing about Lance — and surely this is nothing new to you — is that he is a major irritant. He can make life miserable for opponents on the defensive end, though sometimes he does get into his own head with his head games. It is what makes Lance a beautiful creature — he’s accidental design — the David Carson of basketball — as jarring as he is beautiful and not for traditionalists or numbers guys.

While Lance is an acquired taste, as odd as it may seem, it sounded like Lance was for Alvin Gentry:

“Lance did everything that we possibly could ask him to do. He was great on and off the court. It was just a situation where we had to have a roster spot to add an addition to our team...If Lance was not hurt, he would still be here, and he would still be playing minutes...This is not about anything that Lance did or anything that he didn’t do.”

And then there’s this:

Stephenson is such an enigma that it’s hard to gauge his market, but being a rotation player on a playoff team with a coach and players he seemed to like could have him agreeing to another prove-it vet minimum deal and I’m all about it.

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, Tony Carr (draft rights — likely a 2-way contract that won’t count against the cap)

Wings: Tomas Satoransky, Glenn Robinson III, Lance Stephenson, Solomon Hill

Bigs: Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, Ed Davis, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo

Roster: 14 players

Salary Total: $111,101,716

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

For the final roster spot, I’d add another shooter — a shooter I’ve long coveted. On November 16, 2014, my first piece for The Bird Writes was published. It was an extensive look at the current roster as well as some ideas of for trades to bolster the rotation. Troy Daniels was one of those suggestions. Even with him buried in the desert, I’ve never forgotten him.

Daniels is a three-point specialist that could consistently give New Orleans the outside threat that Moore and Miller provided in November and December throughout the NBA calendar year without needing the spacing provided by DeMarcus Cousins — thus making Miller expendable. Daniels could be acquired from the Suns using the Pelicans largest trade exception or Alexis Ajinca, a 2nd round draft pick and cash.

Next offseason, the Suns will clear Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley off of their cap sheet, making Brandon Knight the lone stain on their books. Sending the Suns an extra piece of draft capital could help them move Knight’s expiring that year opening them up with a large deal of cap space to make mistakes with in a seemingly deep 2019 free agency class. Moving Daniels also helps to open up playing time for the Suns young core while also offering the promise of another high lottery pick to build around as the youngsters learn.

For the Pels, they get a decent sized guard who has shot over 40% from three for his career without needing to dribble.

Guards: Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, Troy Daniels, Tony Carr (draft rights — likely a 2-way contract that won’t count against the cap or 15-man roster)

Wings: Tomas Satoransky, Glenn Robinson III, Lance Stephenson, Solomon Hill

Bigs: Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, Ed Davis, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo

Roster: 15 players*

Salary Total: $114,360,265

Luxury Tax Threshold: $123,000,000

* If Tony Carr is signed to the regular season roster — if he is 2-way designated or not signed or if the Pels trade Ajinca for Daniels, there will be one open slot.

In this iteration, the Pelicans have a reliable 3-man big rotation with the promise of an improved Diallo in the mix as well. The wing rotation is better than we’ve seen in years — especially if Gentry can get anything out of Hill — who will likely be moved next season in order to make space to re-sign Mirotic and Satoransky. The guards are diverse and dependable. Jrue is on the cusp of being an All-Star and is the best defensive guard in the league. Rondo is the floor general. E’Twaun can return to a role he’s more comfortable with and suited for as a bench scorer. We hope that Frank Jackson can fill those combo guard minutes that went to Ian Clark last season. That’s not to say Jackson will replicate what Clark did because they are very different types of players — though they fall under the same combo umbrella — much like A Tribe Called Quest and DJ Quick are found in the hip-hop section of the record store. Troy Daniels is insurance in case Jackson isn’t ready or an injury pops up.

This route clearly isn’t the star power that DeMarcus Cousins would bring, but it is a realistic build should he leave that strengthens the play style and scheme that thrived once Boogie went down with injury.

Note: After some consideration, I decided to change the title of this article. Not because I want to hide from the original title, but because I want to own up to a bad decision. It was rightfully pointed out by several people that using the term ‘limping’ is disrespectful to the work that DeMarcus Cousins is putting in to return from an injury that has cost him a whole lot. If you’ve missed numerous articles and tweets in the past, I’ve always been pro-Team Boogie, but regardless of his and the team’s decision, I am unequivocally rooting for a full recovery. I simply tried to get too clever with some wordplay and now see it was a dud. Sorry.