The Anthony Davis trade and 2019 NBA Draft have come and gone. Zion Williamson is officially a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker will join the team on July 6th. That’s a Haul Folks. The future has never felt brighter for basketball in the Crescent City. David Griffin and Trajan Langdon have over $32 million in cap space to go along with a boatload of future draft picks to build a team around Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson.
New Orleans has two areas of immediate need: a big man to pair with Zion in the front court and a lead guard to spell Lonzo Ball with the capacity to start given Ball’s difficult remaining available in his short NBA career. The Pelicans currently have 12 players under contract counting all of the return from the Anthony Davis trade given a couple assumptions.
- Marcos Louzada Silva is a draft and stash candidate
- Dairis Bertans will soon be waived
How should the Pelicans move forward given their flexibility and needs in the short term? In a word, cautiously. This summer’s free agency period is shaping up to be a wild one, with nearly unprecedented cap space around the league sure to drive up the price of even modestly talented players. Kevin O’Conner suggested this summer could resemble 2016, the year Solomon Hill agrees to a 4-year, $52 million contract was a real thing.
One easy way to avoid massive overpays like that? Trade for a current contract instead.
Derrick Favors is not a sexy name. He was the young talent the Utah Jazz got in the Deron Williams trade from the Brooklyn Nets. That’s a long time ago! Now Favors is about to begin his tenth season in the league. His remaining contract is not guaranteed at $16.9 million with a current guarantee date of July 6th. Reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic state Favors and his agent will approach free agency as if he is an unrestricted free agent.
In the first part of Dunc’d On’s annual mock free agency podcast (which I cannot recommend enough), the Jazz were willing to trade Favors away for a fake second round pick. New Orleans, with six second round picks in the next two seasons alone, have more than enough ammunition to make a compelling offer to Utah. This gives the Jazz an asset rather than simply waiving Favors for cap space (that they would presumably use to chase a better shooting power forward option beside Rudy Gobert) and New Orleans at minimum a quality starting center to play beside Zion Williamson without the possible heartburn of bidding in a frenzied free agent market. The Pelicans may even consider offering Utah native Frank Jackson along with a second round pick to sweeten the offer for the Jazz. (The current front office declining to put the qualifying offer on the table for Cheick Diallo should begin to cement the lack of connection they share with the young players inherited from the previous regime.)
Why would David Griffin swing this trade? Favors is a veteran just a year younger than Jrue Holiday who would bring both experience and toughness to a locker room still wanting for both. Favors is not the ideal fit with Williamson due to his limited success behind the three-point line, but he provides superb contributions on defense and the glass without hamstringing the cap sheet in future seasons. A starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, and Derrick Favors would be one of the stingest units in the league. Alvin Gentry could find a way to craft an average offense out of those five on the strength of transition and crashing the offensive glass.
With the big man rotation solidified, Griffin and Langdon could now look to the backcourt and a familiar name for summer Pelicans fans, Seth Curry. Curry is older than you think, soon to turn 29 in August. An unrestricted free agent, he had a solid season with the Portland Trail Blazers averaging 7.9 points per game on scorching 45% shooting behind the arc. Curry has made just under $10 million in his entire career and Griffin could look to nearly double that putting a strong two year, $8 million offer on the table to begin free agency.
An overpay? Quite possibly. Curry made just $2.7 million this past season. New Orleans with more than enough cap space to spread around (still $13.2 million after taking on Favors and offering this contract to Curry) can afford to overpay to make sure the offer is too lucrative for the Blazers to consider matching and putting themselves into the luxury tax to boot. Assuming Curry signs up, New Orleans still has more than enough money to bring in one more veteran: Pelicans Twitter favorite, Jared Dudley.
Dudley was in Phoenix with Alvin Gentry and David Griffin. He was in Brooklyn with Trajan Langdon. He’s a consummate professional and just the kind of elder statesmen the Pelicans should want in the locker room. His on-court contributions won’t be measured in the box score, although he does provide another power forward option who can stretch the floor. Even a minimum contract for Dudley starts at $2.4 million a year as a 10+ year veteran, although he would only count for close to $1.5 million against the cap if his deal was for one season due to some fun CBA rules.
In this situation despite adding Favors, Curry, and Dudley (at the cost of cap space, Frank Jackson, and a future second round pick), New Orleans is only at $98.3 million in salary outlay. Still $10.6 million under the cap (to ignore the yet unused room exception) with a roster spot left.
Adding Derrick Favors, Seth Curry, and Jared Dudley in free agency? Yes please. pic.twitter.com/YMpOwavAZM— David Fisher (@Fish_TBW) June 27, 2019
For reference, the minimum the team must spend on salary is 90% of the salary cap, or $98.1 million.
This is not to advocate for the Pelicans and David Griffin to operate on the cheap. Far from it. The team assembled above should be good enough to challenge for a playoff spot while keeping their options (and the 15th roster spot) open to take on a salary dump around the trade deadline for additional assets.
If things are going poorly on the Pelicans side in late January they could send out either Favors or E’Twaun Moore to take back even more in salary from a team looking to dodge the luxury tax. However, should this version of the team be near .500 or a potential playoff spot Griffin and Langdon could ride it out with optimal flexibility for next summer as well.
In a summer where absolutely ridiculous contracts will almost certainly be handed out, staying out of the feeding frenzy will set the Pelicans up nicely for the beginning of Zion’s career.