((Please welcome a reader from Down Under, Sam Patching, and his first guest post about the Pelicans’ first offseason.))
Since the departure of Chris Paul in December of 2011, Hornets fans have been blessed with the pleasure of rooting for poor performances from the good teams, good performances from the bad teams, and have even started describing Hornets wins as “heartbreaking victories” … all in the hopes of landing the highest possible selection in the upcoming draft. Believe me, I’ve confused the hell out of my girlfriend trying to explain why I cussed Marco Belinelli after his game-winner against Golden State last season, or why my head didn’t hit the roof during Ryan Anderson’s recent clutch performance against the Blazers. We all want the ping pong balls.
While bottoming out is often seen as the quickest road to recovery for NBA franchises considered below-par, there’s only so long a team can continue down the win-less path before a stench begins to surround the franchise and a quick turnaround turns in to the Sacramento Kings. It appears that in less than eighteen months this ball club has completely forgotten what success tastes like. And you can’t help but think that as attendance figures continue to drop in the New Orleans Arena, Dell Demps and the Pelicans management will be looking to speed up the rebuild by utilizing the teams financial flexibility and constructing a roster that could make a legitimate run for a low-seeded playoff berth as soon as 2014.
But how do they do it?
As things stand right now, the Pelicans have just under $35M in salary owed to players for the 2013/14 season (assuming they pick up their option on team captain Jason Smith who would be owed just $2.5M for the season). This figure is roughly $28M less than what the Hornets were paying this season and has the team sitting around $25M under the soft-cap, and $19M under the salary floor (Per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ’s). So we should expect the team will be looking to spend somewhere in the range of $20-25M this offseason, depending on player availability and team objectives.
At the very least this kind of money gets you an above-average starter ($10/12M), a quality role-player ($5/6M) and a high-lottery pick ($2/4M).
We’ll begin our virtual offseason by moving forward to June 27th, the 2013 NBA Draft. As things have stood during the final stretch of the regular season, the Pelicans lottery projections have been sitting in the range of 3-6 and (per Draft Express) would see both Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter still available with the (worst-case scenario) 6th pick.
Let’s go ahead and take Hornets247 favourite Otto Porter with the 6th pick in the draft. This will cost the team $2.6M in salary for the 2013-14 season, and will continue to increase by small increments for the next few years. Porter gives the team a perimeter scorer who can keep the position honest as an outside threat, he has the ability to create for himself off the dribble and the length to disrupt perimeter shooters.
As of right now the team doesn’t have a second-round pick, but with the amount of youngsters looking for opportunities on this squad … I really don’t see the need for one.
Going in to the 2013/14 season the Pelicans have a (partially guaranteed) team option for Robin Lopez worth $5.1M, as well as Lance Thomas ($884K), Darius Miller ($789K), Brian Roberts ($789K) and the aforementioned option on Jason Smith which we’re all expecting the team will pick up.
Despite the realistic possibility that aside from Smith none of these players are in the future plans for the franchise, we’re going to pick up the team options for Robin Lopez, Darius Miller and of course J Smitty, one of the league’s best bargain contracts.
Lopez is a true 7-footer which as we’ve been told time and time again, is a valued commodity in the NBA. And while we won’t necessarily be keeping him around, the team will still benefit from picking up his contract and looking to move it before the start of the new season. As a worst-case scenario, Lopez sticks around and contributes to what will be one of the most productive forward rotations in the NBA.
Darius Miller on the other hand hasn’t yet been given much of an opportunity to prove his worth as an NBA player, but minimum contracts fill out the bottom of NBA rosters and Miller has shown enough to warrant a second year with the team.
The addition of a small forward through the draft has essentially made Al-Farouq Aminu and Xavier Henry redundant moving forward, if they want to stick around on minimum contracts they’re more than welcome, but I’d encourage them to go look for better deals.
The final player the Pelicans will look to re-sign is reserve shooting guard Roger Mason JR, who makes just $1.2M this season … we’ll offer him an extra year hoping that he can provide us with consistent outside shooting off the bench.
This brings the total to $9.98M spent so far in the offseason with free agency right around the corner, but here’s a look at the Pelicans depth chart after the first couple of moves.
PG: Vasquez, Rivers
SG: Gordon, Mason Jr
SF: Porter, Miller
PF: Anderson, Smith
C: Davis, Lopez
You’ll notice I’ve slotted Davis in next to Anderson at the center position. Despite Monty’s recent comments about AD being too undersized to matchup with some of the leagues bulkier fives, Williams has already started to experiment more and more with these two shouldering the load up front. If they continue to look as dangerous a duo, it wouldn’t even surprise me to see them start some games together before this season’s over.
Heading in to our virtual free agency, the Pelicans should still be looking to spend between $10-15M on acquiring talent through free agency and trades. With the addition of Otto Porter through the draft, the Pelicans most pressing need moving forward is the point guard position.
Greivis Vasquez – for whatever reason – has probably been the most polarizing member of the Hornets this season. Due to a few technicalities he might finish the year with the highest number of total assists (currently 97 above Holiday and 102 ahead of Paul), he might even win the NBA’s most improved player award. But Greivis Vasquez is not the long-term solution at point guard for this team and the sooner Demps addresses this, the sooner the team will compete.
Although the position is fairly dry in the upcoming free agency, there are also very few suitors who are either a) looking for an upgrade at the point, or b) in a position to offer up the kind of money players like Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague and Eric Bledsoe are demanding. This means New Orleans are essentially in the drivers seat to make a play at the floor general of their choosing.
I personally like Brandon Jennings with the roster that’s currently constructed. Aside from actually having the lateral quickness to defend his position adequately, he’d be at worst a third option on the offensive end this coming season … with his responsibilities gradually scaling back as Davis, Porter and Rivers continue to develop at that side of the floor. Of the available options through free agency he seems like the best fit for the team, but will also come with the highest price tag.
Jennings’ agent reportedly requested a contract somewhere around 4 years, $40 million and his team refused. There’s also been some highly publicized tension between Jennings and the Bucks. And while the situation seems eerily similar to what we faced with Gordon shortly before re-signing him in the summer, I get the feeling that with the amount of time Jennings has already spent in Milwaukee – and the lack of success they’ve managed in that time – they may see it fit to put an end to the relationship before it starts costing them some serious coin.
With that said, it’s unrealistic to expect Milwaukee will let Jennings go without any compensation. So the first move of the offseason will be a sign-and-trade, sending Greivis Vasquez to Milwaukee in exchange for Jennings. I’d even be willing to throw in a future top-5 protected pick if they needed some sweetening.
This deal relieves Milwaukee of the contract they were reluctantly going to give Jennings, and also prevents them from being completely barren at the point guard position for the upcoming season.
By signing Brandon Jennings to an even $40M over the next four years, this would bring the teams offseason spend up to $19.98M with enough money left over to sign another mid-level type contract, and the depth chart would now look like this:
PG: Jennings, Rivers
SG: Gordon, Mason JR
SF: Porter, Miller
C: Davis, Lopez
Looking at the new roster, the most obvious question mark is the small forward position which currently consists of two unproven players who could quite possibly be outmatched by a number of NBA wings in the upcoming season.
With the team still sitting $6M below the soft cap, the two options for the final signing will be Dorrell Wright from the Philadelphia 76ers or Corey Brewer from the Denver Nuggets. While Brewer is the ideal option for the team as he can guard the opposing teams best scorer and play as a starter or reserve, he’s been so solid for the Nuggets this season that the price tag may be too high for the Pelicans to pay. My gut tells me he ends up on a contender, but who knows, maybe we’ll sign him for 150% of the market value after he wins his first championship and puts on an extra twenty pounds.
Wright on the other hand is a floor-spacing small forward who can give you minutes as a starter or reserve depending on the impact Porter makes as a rookie. By giving him a deal worth $8M, split evenly over two years (4+4) that would bring the teams offseason spend to $23.98M with some change left over for final roster spots and a nice buffer between the teams payroll and the luxury tax.
The final addition will provide the Hornets with some shooting guard insurance. If (touch wood) Eric Gordon was to have trouble staying on the floor or Austin Rivers’ development stunts any worse than it has already, the Pelicans are going to be left with benign off-guards and it could end up costing the team another season. Chris Douglas-Roberts is a player who fits the bill as a 4th or 5th guard as well as anyone else in the NBA. He could probably be had for a young vet-minimum contract of $916,099 and would give the team some instant offense on a slow night, or slot in to play some heavier minutes if the team gets struck by the injury bug.
I’ve thought long and hard about moving Eric Gordon this offseason, but here is my reasoning for why the team keep him around for at least another season:
– The Pelicans won’t be able to bring back anything close to his value via trade, and would probably have to give up assets just to get him off the books.
– His health leads to offense, which leads to wins.
– His injuries lead to extended minutes for Austin Rivers, a player many of the team’s staff still have high hopes for.
– His two biggest fans are Monty Williams and Dell Demps.
This shift in personnel would give Crescent City basketball an entirely new look; with an extremely deep front court rotation, a potent starting back court and some exciting new prospects still learning how to play the professional game, this could be the foundation for what might one day be the best team in basketball.