A Guide to the New Orleans Pelicans Offseason Possibilities

Published: March 1, 2014

“Once the Pelicans traded for Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, they lost all flexibility and Dell Demps essentially tied himself to this roster long term.”


This is a narrative that you have probably heard on talk radio or read on some other national site, but now that the Trade Deadline has come and gone, it is time to actually lay out the facts of what lies ahead for the Pelicans this summer. Seeing that there is so much misinformation out there, I think it might be best to do this in a Q & A format, so I will tackle some of the most frequently asked questions to see if I can shed some light on where the Pelicans really are with relation to the cap and how much wiggle room they have this summer.

1. So How Much Cap Room Will the Pelicans Have This Summer?

I start off with the most important and most complex question of the bunch. How much do they have? Well, there is no fixed amount, but this question can be answered. The Pelicans have seven guys on the roster with guaranteed contracts next year – Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and Alexis Ajinca. Those seven contracts count for 54,088,513 against the cap. The projected cap for next season is $62.1 million, meaning that after cap holds, the Pelicans can have about $6 million dollars in cap room next summer if they renounce everyone else on the roster.

In all likelihood, however, the Pelicans will exercise their options on Jeff Withey and Luke Babbitt, which adds $1,764,645 to the books, which brings the cap room down to about $5.5 million after cap holds. Brian Roberts has a qualifying offer of $1.1 million dollars, and extending that to him would bring the Pelicans to about $5 million in cap room. This is where the Pelicans will have two options:

1. Keep Al-Farouq Aminu and/or Jason Smith’s cap holds on the books and have the full MLE to use on a free agent


2. Renounce the rights to Aminu and Smith and have $5 million in cap room PLUS the room level exception

The full MLE gives you the ability to sign one or multiple players into a slot that averages approximately $5 million a year for up to 4 years. The room level exception allows you to sign a player to a contract up to two years in length for a little less than $2.7 million dollars a year. So, either way, the Pelicans can sign a free agent to a 4 year/20-22 million dollar contract AND either bring back Smith (or Aminu) or sign another free agent for about half of that.

Both Smith and Aminu have cap holds that can push the team over the salary cap, which is what you need to qualify for the full MLE. Of the two, you would have to think that Smith is more likely to return, though Demps seems to have an irrational love for Al-Farouq. In fact, he can bring both guys back at salaries similar to what they make this year and use the full MLE and still be well under the luxury tax. Heck, bring Morrow back too. This might be the best way to maximize their resources, in fact.

2. What if the Pelicans Can Unload Eric Gordon?

This is where it gets interesting. As you see from the numbers above, if you can just dump Gordon’s 14.9 million dollar cap number on somebody this summer, the Pelicans would have over $20 million in cap room. This is why so many people were excited about the prospect of a Eric Gordon for Ben Gordon swap – not because Ben Gordon can play, but because a swap like that would provide an enormous amount of flexibility this summer.

So, are there any teams that can absorb Eric Gordon’s contract without giving anything back to New Orleans? There are a few, namely Boston, who might be interested if they land an NBA ready player in the draft and want to start winning next season. But more likely than not, anybody trading for Gordon will want to send some salary back to the Pelicans, and that will obviously change the cap dynamics.

The most obvious trade when looking at the landscape is an Eric Gordon for Danillo Galinari or Javale McGee swap. The Pelicans have two areas of need – a shooter on the wing and a big who can defend Centers to put next to Davis. The Nuggets, meanwhile, have a glaring need for a shooting guard while possessing a plethora of small forwards and serviceable bigs. Either swap would save the Pelicans approximately $4 million, giving them nearly $9 million to spend in free agency PLUS the room-level exception.

A Jazz trade featuring Enes Kanter could work if Utah takes a big man in the draft, and a sign-and-trade swap of Greg Monroe for Gordon could make some sense as well for both teams. The point is, that moving Gordon could potentially create more room for Dell or the Pelicans could actually take back more salary in an uneven trade and go over the cap, thereby allowing them to use the full MLE after said trade is completed.

3. How Likely is it that the Pelicans Keep Their Pick, and Who Would they Take?

So, in all likelihood the Pelicans will finish somewhere between 7th and 12th in the race for ping pong balls. That will give them a 3-15% chance of keeping their pick (which is top-5 protected), depending on where they finish. If all the top players enter their name in the draft, the Pelicans board will look like this:

1. Joel Embiid, Center, Kansas

2. Andrew Wiggins, Forward, Kansas

3. Jabari Parker, Forward, Duke

You might be able to debate Wiggins and Parker a bit, as Parker is likely the more NBA ready player with the higher floor, but Wiggins’ upside is enormous and he would provide New Orleans with the athleticism on the wing that they so desperately need. The clear stud at #1, however, is Joel Embiid. An Embiid/AD combo would give the Pelicans the most dominant Twin Towers combo since Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olaquwon (before he became Hakeem). People often cite Robinson and Duncan, but the Admiral was on the way down when Duncan arrived. The Sampson/Olaquwon combo, however, featured two young and athletic bigs that were a nightmare to match up with. Embiid and Davis could destroy the league for the next 12-15 years if paired together.

The more interesting question would be – What would the Pelicans do if they got the 3rd pick, and either Embiid or Parker went back to school? It is a possibility both men have brought up, and if it were to happen, it would cause the Pelicans to look at several options if none of those Big Three were on the board when they picked. Aaron Gordon would be an interesting choice, since he could defend four positions, and Julius Randle would have to be considered as well. The most likely outcome would probably be a trade – either to move down in the draft or to snap another young veteran. Al Horford would be interesting. Maybe make a trade for Pekovic or Love if the Wolves start rebuilding. Nikola Vucevic would look real good next to AD too.

Regardless, having a top-3 pick would be a good problem to have, but since the odds are so unlikely, there really isn’t much use spending a ton of time on this question.

4. So, Let’s Say we Don’t Keep the Pick; Who are Some Players We Should Target with the MLE?

The first few days of Free Agency are generally exciting, as the big names are in rumors with multiple teams and trades are being discussed. Eventually, however, things settle down a bit and after some of the big dominos start falling, the mid-level guys are snatched up somewhere around day 5 or 6. If the Pelicans can’t move Gordon, they will be targeting mid-level guys, specifically at the wing or big position.

The question is: If they can only land one free agent, do they go after the small forward or the center? Well, the answer to that question depends on where they can get more value. Maybe they prefer a center, but if they can get a small forward that they rate as a 7 and the only centers available for the MLE is a 5, then you go with the small forward – and vice versa.

So, who is out there? The sad part is that the cupboard is bare, but here is the best of the lot that fits the need and the profile of players Dell Demps usually targets.

Thabo Sefolosha – The Thunder are grooming Jeremy Lamb to be their shooting guard of the future, with Reggie Jackson getting combo guard minutes behind both he and Russell Westbrook. This leaves Sefolosha as the odd man out, and if New Orleans is serious about improving the defensive side of the ball, they would be wise to get a guy who defend at a high level on the perimeter, even if he is a little small to play the three.

Sefolosha can do the dirty work on the defensive end, and he also possesses the ability to knock down the occasional three-point shot. His percentage is down a bit this year, but he is still a threat and he has actually improved his ability to finish around the rim. But it is on the defensive end where he will prove his value, as he is one of the top isolation defenders in the league, holding opponents to just 32% shooting. He also is a terror in the pick and roll, as opponents have an even lower score percentage and average fewer points per possession in those situations.

The main question with Sefolosha is whether he would be willing to come to a lottery team when it is likely that several championship contenders will want his services. Demps would have to hope that money and minutes win out, and that he can convince him of the bright future that lies ahead for this team.

Jordan Hamilton – Hamilton is a guy who started off the season hot, but has since cooled dramatically as Brian Shaw drastically changed his role in Denver. Since being moved to the Rockets at the deadline, however, Hamilton has played like the guy we saw in November as he is averaging 14 points on less than 10 shots a game in his two appearances as a Rocket. He is 6-11 from deep, and is showing the exact skill set the Pelicans need – a knockdown shooter who can play off the ball and make the opposition pay when they leave him.

Hamilton is a good rebounder, too. He’s not Aminu good, but he would be among the top 6-8 rebounding small forwards in the league if given regular minutes. Defensively, he is nothing to write home about, but he does not impact his team negatively on that end either.

Marvin Williams – Marvin Williams has had a renaissance of sorts this season, as his eFG% is a at a career high 54.9%, due in large part to the fact that his 3-point rate is insanely high (44.2%). His defensive rebounding is the highest it has ever been, and his turnover rate is a career low. Basically, he has transformed himself into a 3-and-D small forward who can occasionally play the 4, and has looked good doing it.

It seems like Williams has been in the league forever, but he is actually one of the youngest guys on this list (27 years young). He likes the wing three and the straight on three, and is surprisingly ineffective from the corners. This might be an issue, as Ryno likes to get his three’s from those areas, but then again, Williams could essentially play the Ryno role in the first unit, and exit when Anderson comes off the bench.

Defensively, he has lost a half a step, but he is still a smart defender and has the ability to guard both forward positions. He also is, historically, a guy who does not foul much and can get you the occasional block or steal. He has length and size, which are two requirements for wing defenders in Monty’s system, so in a lot of ways he would be a good fit.

Trevor Ariza – Well here’s a blast from the past. Like Williams, Ariza is having arguably his best season in years, putting up 14 points in just 11 shots due in large part to an incredibly high 52.6% 3-point rate. Nearly 35% of Ariza’s shots this year have been catch-and-shoot jumpers, where he is 42% from three in such situations. He is even more deadly in transition, shooting 46% from three while averaging 1.3 points per possession.

Defensively, Ariza has been good in both pick and roll defense and isolation defense, but he is not the elite perimeter defender he was once billed as back with the Lakers. The questions with Ariza are two-fold:

1. Is his performance a result of this being a contract year?

2. Would he return to New Orleans after the way he was treated in the 2011-12 season?

Number 2 is easier to answer than #1, as money always tends to talk in this business. But the first question is one that the Pelicans, and any other suitor, should be asking themselves. Ariza is having the best season of his career since 2008-09. What was 2008-09 for Ariza? It was his last contract year. Houston gave him a 5 year deal after his breakout season with the Lakers and he immediately regressed. Will the same happen next year?

P.J. Tucker (R) – You want to find the next Sefolosha? This is your guy right here. In fact, PJ Tucker is my first choice of every guy who Dell could realistically get with the MLE this summer for numerous reasons. First and foremost, he can impact a game without scoring. And on a team with this many players who need the ball in their hands, that is the exact kind of guy you should target.

Tucker can guard 3 and maybe even 4 positions. Remember last season when Ryno got hot on Phoenix, who did they switch on to him? That’s right, PJ Tucker. He certainly has the ‘D’ that the Pelicans need at the SF position, and he is slowly developing the ‘3’. Tucker’s 3-point rate has gone from 0% in his rookie year to 15% last year and 26% this year. He has hit about a three per game this season, and is shooting almost 39% on the year. Specifically, he is a beast on the corner three, where he takes more than 80% of his three-point attempts and makes them at a 42% clip. From the left corner, in fact, he is 50% on the year. (Shot Chart Here)

In fact, forget Sefolosha, this guy looks more like the next Bruce Bowen to me. In isolation situations, opponents shoot just 24.4% against him. But, of course there is alway a catch. Tucker is a restricted free agent this year and that means Phoenix can match anything the Pelicans throw at him. However, I suspect that Tucker is a guy the Pelicans can land if they throw their full MLE at him, seeing that the Suns will have 3-4 rookies on smaller deals that they will bring in via the draft and will be more concerned with another RFA of theirs – Eric Bledsoe.

Greg Oden, Emeka Okafor, Andrew Bynum – I might as well lump all these guys into one spot, seeing that the talent is there with each and every one, but their medicals are where the question marks lie. The center position is thin this summer, as Gortat figures to get more than the MLE and Spencer Hawes doesn’t seem like a fit for what Demps has said he wanted if he were to upgrade this position. Jordan Hill is another guy who fits in some ways, but not in others, as Monty and Dell seem to want a guy who can defend low-post centers. Hill defends mostly power forwards.

So one of these guys might be the Pelicans’ best hope to put a true center next to Davis. Bynum and Oden will likely have the ability to showcase their talents in the playoffs, but Okafor is done for the year, and will likely not get much attention on the free agent market. When you look at the landscape, it seems like the Pelicans are likely to get the most bang for their buck by seeing out a small forward, not a big man.

6. So, if the FA Market is Bare, What are Some Other Ways to Land a Starter?

This will likely be the last year of the amnesty, as very few teams still have players that they can use it on. There are a few guys that the Pelicans could snatch up on the cheap that they could plug into starter’s roles if teams decided to use the amnesty. The two specific targets would be Bulls forward Carlos Boozer and Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, two guys who have been long rumored to get amnestied by their teams. At their current salaries, the Pelicans would want no part of them, but as we have seen in the past, teams get guys for pennies on the dollar in the amnesty process. Wouldn’t it be wise for the Pelicans to take Boozer for a year at $5 million or Perkins at $2-3 million?

Or if not the amnesty process, how about if Dell goes back overseas again to pluck some International talent? Joe Ingles is a player that James Grayson talked about last year, and is a guy they could explore yet again. Sean May is an ex-lotto pick that has played well the last few years, and Joey Dorsey is a name from the past that could provide some defense and rebounding down low.

7. What Should the Pelicans do with Jason Smith and Anthony Morrow?

Okay, this isn’t a question from any of you; it is actually one I ask myself quite a bit. They both play positions that are a bit overloaded, and in some ways they are unnecessary, but by all accounts they are two of the best leaders on the teams. Smith has been here the longest and embodies the sacrifice and determination that Monty wants all guys to give to the team. Morrow is one of the first ones to practice and one of the last to leave. Neither figures to command much of a salary, but this roster is chalk full of role players, and it just isn’t clear if either of these guys fit in the future plans.

Smith can’t stay healthy, but with the plethora of big men on the roster, would Smith be worth 2-3 million per year if he just gave you 50-60 games and 12-15 minutes per night PLUS the leadership? I tend to think so. And yes, Rivers and Pierre Jackson have tons of potential, but Morrow gives you an elite skill right now and likely will possess that skill for the next 8 years. Is it really necessary to jettison Morrow to get “upside” guys more playing time?

8. Will Pierre Jackson be a Pelican next season?

Our own Nick Lewellen recently did a great piece on Jackson and his future with the Pelicans, but I want to look at this from a financial perspective. If signed, Jackson figures to make about $500,000 next season, which is about half of what Brian Roberts qualifying offer happens to be. To take it a step further, he will only make about a fifth of what Austin Rivers will make next year, and the same probably goes for Anthony Morrow if he is re-signed.

When you look at the Pelicans list of guards – Holiday, Evans, Gordon, Morrow, Rivers, Roberts, and Jackson – it is hard to imagine that more than five of those guys are on the roster next season. The question with Jackson has always been, where does he fit if you already have so many guys who need the ball in their hand to be effective?

The Pelicans seem to have two choices here:

1. Place him on the roster and bring him along very slowly, similar to the way Dallas used JJ Barea early in his career. Barea barely played his first season and only got about 10 minutes per game his second season, as a 5th guard. But by his third season, he was ready, and was a fixture in the rotations.

2. Move him for a rotational piece at a position of greater need. Maybe you get a SF with the MLE and so you move him and somebody like Jeff Withey for a backup big man like Kosta Koufos or T. Mosgov. Something along those lines. Or perhaps you can turn Jackson into a future pick.

With Jackson, it seems to be a bad fit for this roster, unless Dell Demps is able to move 2-3 guys who need the ball in their hands to be successful. So, more likely than not, Jackson is not on the roster next season and if he is, expect little to no minutes for him.


This team has the ability to make a few moves, even if they can’t trade Eric Gordon. If they can, a whole world of possibilities open up, however. They have the ability to make some small tweaks to a roster that seemed to really be coming together before the injuries hit, but they will need to upgrade the small forward position if they have any chance of optimizing the pieces already in place. They have some guys on very nice contracts to go with the perimeter players that they are paying huge money to, and because of that they still have a good amount of flexibility.

The first domino to fall this summer will be when the results of the draft lottery are known. There is a very small chance that the Pelicans keep their pick, but if they do land in the top-3, that would be franchise altering, and would be the only way Demps could add a game-changing talent this summer. Otherwise, expect minor moves that could pay off in major ways. Upgrading Aminu to PJ Tucker or Marvin Williams, for instance, completely changes the way defenses try to play the team. Or getting a lockdown defender like Sefolosha or Tucker on the wing could catapult this defense into the top-10 while also improving our perimeter offense.

There will also be opportunities for Demps to find bargains, as he always does. If he keeps some cap space, he can bid on amnesty players, and you know that he will always be scouting the foreign market. He could move Pierre Jackson and/or cash for a draft pick if he falls in love with a player late in the first. My guy to watch out for? KJ McDaniels from Clemson. I see a little bit of Terrance Ross on offense and Kawhi Leonard on defense from that guy.

Regardless, there will be opportunities to improve a roster that is already loaded with talent. What is needed now are glue guys that can help connect all the parts that Dell assembled the last two years. Getting one or two guys who can impact the game without scoring is key, and there are opportunities to do that with the resources at our disposal. And with all that said, remember that Dell always pulls a move or two out of nowhere in the summer that we never saw coming.

So, what are the possibilities for this summer? In actuality, the possibilities are endless.


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