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NBA Free Agency: Pelicans may still find enviable PG depth on Clippers roster

New Orleans failed to sign Tyrone Wallace, but Los Angeles sits two players heavy — something has to give.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans have been trying to bolster their backcourt all offseason after the departure of starting point guard Rajon Rondo. While it is widely assumed incoming LA native Elfrid Payton will step into the void, the Pelicans front office has been linked to Ty Lawson, Yogi Ferrell, Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder, just to name a few. In fact, the search nearly came to an end this past week. After bringing him in for a workout in late August, the Pelicans decided to sign restricted free agent Tyrone Wallace to a two-year contract.

Unfortunately, the Clippers did match, but their decision to do so was an interesting one considering their team appears set in the backcourt with the 11th and 13th overall picks from the 2018 NBA Draft, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. In addition, the Clippers carry backcourt veterans in Lou Williams, Avery Bradley, Milos Teodosic, as well as youngsters Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell.

That’s eight players in the Clippers backcourt, but more notable for our purposes, their roster now has 15 guaranteed contracts + Tyrone Wallace’s 300K partial guarantee + Patrick Beverley’s unguaranteed contract. NBA teams are limited to 15 roster spots at the start of the regular season so Los Angeles must now scour the trade market for takers to relieve their overburdened roster of contracts; otherwise, they’ll be forced to waive a contract or two — a lousy choice considering their proximity to the luxury tax.

Perhaps someone offers a hint of value for one of the veteran guards, or the Clippers go in an entirely different direction and include a youngster or two in a deal to offload small forward Danilo Gallinari and his inflated, two-year remaining salary.

For instance, a package of Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell and Danilo Gallinari may be enough to pry away expiring veterans Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic. This would alleviate the Clippers of the final year of Gallo’s deal, while adding veteran depth on expiring contracts. The Magic would inject youth into a backcourt in dire need of it along with the Gallo reclamation project. Most importantly, this deal would give the Clippers some much needed breathing room in the Kawhi Leonard shopping spree of 2019, bringing their guaranteed cap to a shockingly low $40 million next summer.

However, the likelihood of a larger package occurring before the start of the season seems incredibly small, so let’s focus on the veteran point guards. While Milos Teodosic should garner the eye of a few teams, Patrick Beverley is probably the bigger prize, and boy, wouldn’t he look good in a New Orleans Pelicans uniform?

A dogged defender in his prime, Beverley is most renowned for his attempted playoff steal resulting in Russell Westbrook’s knee injury, and then his preseason bullying of Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball.

At the age of 30, it is difficult to say just how effective Beverley can be following a season-ending microfracture and meniscus surgery on his right knee. Don’t forget, Beverley is a bigger injury risk at this stage of his career, having missed 26 games to several ailments in 2013-14 and 27 in 2014-15 due to a left wrist injury. In 2016-17, he missed the opening three weeks when he needed arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

Despite the propensity for injury, it’s hard to overlook that Beverley is a stout defender when active and healthy. Just one year ago, he was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team; this, after being named to the second team in 2013-14. While limited offensively, Beverley does boast some perimeter shooting, averaging close to 40% over the past three seasons at five shots per game. In just 11 games last season, Beverley averaged 2.2 makes from deep, with 50+% of his attempts coming from behind the arc.

These two skills — defense and perimeter shooting at the point guard slot — would make for an ideal fit on the Pelicans. He could space the floor for Anthony Davis and Julius Randle — something the Pelicans will likely lack with Elfrid Payton. And alongside Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans would have the makings of the best defensive backcourt in the league.

With such a crowded backcourt and roughly a five million dollar cap figure, the Clippers may be forced to cut bait with their veteran acquired in the trade for Chris Paul last season. After matching the rights to Tyrone Wallace, the Clippers edge dangerously close to the luxury tax threshold at $120.5 million.

Los Angeles could look to force New Orleans’ hand by holding onto their contracts up until the October 16th deadline, forcing the Pelicans or a like-minded team from adding the veteran to their training camp and preseason roster. This time would appear critical in preparing whichever player the Clippers cut loose, but it’s difficult to say just how much Dell Demps would be willing to give up in a deal that would likely require packaging Alexis Ajinca and his $5.3 million expiring contract. The Clippers would be taking on a bit more money, not less, bringing their books to $120.7 million. Two second round picks may be worth the risk?

Beverley is an unrelenting veteran defender with Western Conference playoff experience and a non-stop motor. The former Rocket would do more than just space the floor and frustrate opposing point guards. He would provide vocal leadership and a proven work ethic that would be critical in the development of his younger counterparts, an attribute the Pelicans lost with the departure of Rajon Rondo.

Yes, a trade for Milos Teodosic or watching the Clippers waive Jawun Evans might be more likely, but if there’s a window open to snag Patrick Beverley, do it!