Is Dell Demps in “Win Now” Mode?

Published: October 8, 2013

There is no question that Pelicans GM Dell Demps spent assets and cap space this year to stock the team with talent. That has resulted in many pundits declaring that Dell Demps was responding to directives from an Octogenarian owner to “win now”.  The question – is that an accurate statement?

First, what does “win now” even mean?  Can you call trying to become a playoff team trying to “win now?”  That seems wrong – because then you should apply the phrase to Portland, Golden State, Dallas, Atlanta – or any other team that can make the playoffs but probably won’t contend.  Personally, I think what Boston did in 2008 was “win now”. What Brooklyn did this off-season is “win now”. They are/were trying to win a championship this season and cashed in every future asset to acquire at-their-peak (or close) assets to try to accomplish it. The Pelicans spent the off-season acquiring 23 year olds. Their team has no one older than 28 on it.  So, the Pelicans in “win now” mode? Please.

I don’t even think we are seeing a shift in priorities.  Demps hasn’t changed what he said he was going to do from the moment he arrived in New Orleans. He’s trying to obtain “young veterans.” He’s used that phrase to the media when trades happened, when he signed Eric Gordon, during Chalk Talk events, and to guys asking a few questions at Summer League. It’s his plan, and it’s been his plan.

Of course, a lot of people probably ignored the statement as a throwaway description of the players he had acquired, but not a strategy. That is wrong, it is a strategy, and it means Demps is trying to minimize risk while maintaining potential.   I.E. He wants young players who can still grow, but that have proven they will not bust.

Consider his draft night trade of Noel and next year’s pick for Holiday.  Is anyone other than Nerlens Noel’s mom positive Noel won’t bust?  What about Ben McLemore?  Trey Burke? (comment storm bait)  In fact, every one of the best prospects available when the Pelicans picked were a 60-40 proposition at best.    Next year’s pick?  Like every late lottery draft pick, a 60-40 proposition might be being to optimistic – despite the boner every scout has about the top of the 2014 draft.  Have you seen the players projected to fall to the 10th or 11th spot?  Montrezl Harris?  Mario Herzonia?  Isaiah Austin?  Chris Walker?  Gary Harris?  Any of these guys scream low-risk, high ceiling at you?  Not me.

So instead of piling up assets that could fail, Dell instead went for young veterans, importing a pair of young guards in Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Both of these players have already eliminated any worry they can’t handle the NBA.  More importantly, neither feels like a finished product. (and both are shy of the leap seasons most players enjoy at age 24-25)  Maybe the fact we’ve seen them play for several years lowers our ceiling for them.  We know Evans isn’t the next Wade or Bryant now.   Still – the draft is a crapshoot.  20% of all top 5 picks bust entirely.  Half of picks between 6 and 12 don’t work out.  a 20% and 50% chance at garbage – or 100% chance at a solid player who could be really good?  Dell has chosen the latter.

Still, other than the lowered ceiling, there are other costs to the plan – and those pose more concerns to me.  Young players still possessed of unrealized talent are not cheap, as both of the deals this summer made clear.  Exchanging risky, high-ceiling assets for low-risk, high-ceiling assets costs cold, hard cash.  Those players will not be on their cheap rookie contracts, and that results in a lot of money tied up on a few players.  That can be a problem.

If you don’t have a lot of options among those players.

That’s why I am in support of the plan.  Dell has spent most of his money on Anthony Davis and four potential side-kicks: Anderson, Evans, Holiday and Gordon.  He only needs two of those guys to turn into second and third banana’s for this team to be scary dangerous.  Then he can move the others (well, maybe not Gordon) if they are a bad fit and regain flexibility.  Evans, Holiday and Anderson are all eminently trade-able.  This is not a team locked into a few seasons trying to win now.  This is a team building around a superstar and trying to figure out what pieces work.  That makes sense to me.

How do you feel about it?


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