The New Orleans Pelicans may have shocked the NBA by downing the Houston Rockets 121-116 without five of their six leading scorers, but the objective remains the same for the front office over the course of the remaining week and leading up to next Thursday’s trade deadline:
Offload expiring contracts and acquire future assets
Following the groundbreaking trade request made by Anthony Davis on Monday morning, the Pelicans quickly 180’d from buyers to sellers right before the deadline, and are now looking to deal players including Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle and E’Twaun Moore.
Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle, E�Twaun Moore Available For Picks https://t.co/FGEbMLR2ay— RealGM (@RealGM) January 30, 2019
Nikola Mirotic is arguably the most valuable of the three. A floor-spacing big who can rebound and defend the pick-and-roll, Mirotic also comes attached with Bird Rights, giving the would-be buyer no need to scramble for cap space in order to retain him.
Mirotic proved pivotal in the Pelicans’ turnaround in 2018, and even moreso in nine playoff games against the Portland Trailblazers and Golden State Warriors where he scored 15 points and 10 rebounds on 43% shooting from three-point range. The most notable performance being a game-leading 30 points in game three against Portland that gave the Pelicans a decisive 119-102 victory, the most lopsided of the series.
While Mirotic has been slowed by an ankle injury limiting him to just 32 of 51 games in 2018-19, he’s continued his improved play, with 17 points and eight rebounds on 37% shooting from three (all career-highs).
Mirotic may be in the final year of his two-year, $25 million deal signed in Chicago last offseason, but he could be a difference maker for a playoff team this season and beyond.
So with that, let’s entertain some options for Mirotic that could help him drive up his value, secure a positive postseason performance for the team acquiring him, all while providing the Pelicans with an asset to bolster their rebuild.
Pelicans get: Brandon Knight and Rockets 2019 first-round pick (unprotected)
Rockets get: Nikola Mirotic
This one may be the simplest and best deal for both parties. While the Pelicans may be reluctant to help out a southwestern rival, and take the final year of Knight and his remaining $15.6 million in salary, the Pelicans likely won’t need the space if they begin a rebuild, and gain what will likely become the 19th-23rd pick in the first round.
The players taken in that range in 2018: Kevin Huerter, Josh Okogie, Grayson Allen, Chandler Hutchinson and Aaron Holiday.
The 2019 draft will likely be shorter in talent than 2018, but claiming a player like one of those above for one year of an expiring contract would be a boon. For Houston, Mirotic would help bolster a Rockets’ front court that was obliterated to the tune of 70 points last night against the Pelicans, and a team that went ice cold from the floor with the lack of production stemming from PJ Tucker and James Ennis in addition to the injury suffered to Clint Capela.
Pelicans get: Wilson Chandler, 2019 second round pick from Chicago, 2020 second round pick from Brooklyn or New York (more favorable)
76ers get: Nikola Mirotic
This trade could have several iterations, but if the teams want to make the deal work, they can and they should. In addition to having Markelle Fultz to float in any version of this trade and even Furkan Korkmaz, the 76ers are littered with future first and second round picks, with ten potential additional picks coming until 2023 (find details on Real Gm).
While this deal doesn’t give the Pelicans the first round pick they covet, the Bulls pick will come at #34 or better, and the additional option between Brooklyn and New York should be a good one sans the Knicks arming themselves with Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving this summer. And let’s be honest, even should they, the Knicks have won 42 games just twice in the past 19 years (yikes!).
Pelicans get: Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Blazers lottery protect 2019 first round pick
Blazers get: Nikola Mirotic and Solomon Hill
The Blazers are short on draft capital, so the Pelicans will have to help by removing luxury tax concerns in this deal. The Pelicans will take on $29 million in salary in 2019-20, but will send off $12 million of their own, bringing the sum of the total to an additional $17 million in 2019-20, giving the Blazers more than enough room to re-sign Mirotic or bolster other positions of need with their over the cap exceptions.
The Blazers get a definitive upgrade over Aminu and Harkless and someone who pairs nicely with Dame, CJ and Nurkic. Losing Turner off the bench hurts, as he is an apt defender, and a creator off the bench, but ridding themselves of his salary in addition to Leonard’s is too good of an opportunity to pass up, and Hill can provide the Blazers with an end of the bench defender who can give six good fouls against the Paul Georges and Kawhi Leonards. Plus, his $12 million expiring is a more palatable moving piece then Turner or Leonard’s inflated rates this coming summer.
In addition to draft capital, the Pelicans’ unite former teammates and close friends in Turner and Holiday, who played together on the 2012 Philadelphia 76ers’ team that was broken apart by Sam Hinkie. The two remain close as Turner was featured prominently in Zach Lowe’s latest piece on Holiday:
“And having Evan (Turner) there to share that day -- my brother from another mother -- that was comforting.” - Jrue Holiday reflecting on the day of his daughter’s birth.
Get a pick and appease Jrue Holiday? Check, please!
Pelicans get: Derrick Favors, 2019 second round pick
Jazz get: Nikola Mirotic
The Jazz get a flyer on another floor spacer who pairs perfectly with Rudy Gobert, and helps further strengthen an offense that starts with facilitator Ricky Rubio who now has Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Nikola Mirotic to choose from alongside the Defensive Player of the Year.
The Pelicans may or may not be interested in Favors. 11 points, seven rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 23 minutes per game is hardly worth writing home about in now his ninth season. However, he is enjoying the most efficient scoring performance of his career and the Pelicans would have him locked up for an additional year at $16.9 million if they so choose or could release him before 7/15/19.
Should they pick up his option, they could then flip him at next year’s deadline much in the same way they’re doing with Mirotic this season.
The second-round pick amounts to next to nothing (#45-50), but helps sell a win for the Pelicans’ front office, makes summer league a bit more intriguing, and adds the option to keep Favors.
Pelicans get: Hassan Whiteside, Rodney McGruder, 2019 first-round pick (lottery protected)
Heat get: Nikola Mirotic, Solomon Hill
This is another deal that could have many iterations. Swap in James Johnson (two years, $31 million), Tyler Johnson (one year, $19 million) or Kelly Olynyk (two years, $27 million) for Whiteside and you have the bones of the same trade — but without sending off Hill.
The point is that the Heat are in salary cap hell with no means of re-signing Rodney McGruder. Their $129 million 2019 salary balloons to $134 next season. The Heat can’t afford McGruder, these high-priced veterans, and even a first-round pick likely comes at a cost the Heat cannot afford.
The Heat are still in the midst of the playoff race, currently seeded seventh, and could be at risk of plummeting into the lottery if they can’t string together a successful run. Bam Adebayo slides to full-time center, spelled by Olynyk, and Mirotic and James Johnson provide a capable one-two punch at power forward.
A lineup of Dragic - Richardson - Winslow - Mirotic - Olynyk could be a fun offensive group to tinker with in the final 30 games of the season.
The Pelicans take on an immovable contract in Whiteside, but they unload Hill bringing their incoming salary to just an additional $15 million in 2019, and add McGruder and a first for their efforts.
Thanks for reading!
For more on the Pelicans, be sure to check out our “Anthony Davis trade request” reaction.
Let’s geaux, Pels!