Should Dell Wait for the Summer of 2015?

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Published: April 1, 2014

This team is close. Forget about the record and look at the talent GM Dell Demps has assembled. There are four key pieces who area all locked into contracts for multiple years that have played fantastically together when they have been on the court. There are also young pieces on bargain contracts who show solid upside, and “old guys” who are only in their late 20’s, but have proved to be tremendous leaders. This team is close.

From here, a combination of internal growth and the addition of a few more pieces will take this team from the lottery to the playoffs, and finally, to title contention. The four core pieces – Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, and Jrue Holiday – are just now approaching their primes and should continue to refine their skills, while also improving because they learn how to play with their teammates over time. Austin Rivers has made a leap of his own, and two second-round picks from last year (Jeff Withey and Pierre Jackson) have given the team reason to believe that they can be solid rotation players down the line.

What this team lacks in-house is a defensive minded wing player with length that can knock down a perimeter shot consistently and a big man who can defend large center’s without being a liability on the offensive end. For this team to move from an exciting, young squad that can beat anyone on a given night to a legitimate title contender, they will have to add at least one of these two pieces. The problem is that, with Eric Gordon’s massive contract on the books, the team lacks the flexibility to be able to get an elite version of one of those players this summer.

The team could grab a middle-of the-road version of one of these types by using the mid-level exception this summer. And if they are really creative, maybe they can move one or two of their young assets to get two second tier guys this summer to temporarily fill in the gaps. But the 2014 free agent class really isn’t that strong, and quite frankly, New Orleans hasn’t made themselves a premier free agent destination. So, I propose an alternative: Dell Demps should wait one more year, using this next year to set himself to dive head first into the 2015 free agent class.

Before we take a look at the class and the guys who might fit, let’s take a look at some obstacles and possible solutions that can get the team in position to make a splash.

Eric Gordon’s Contract

I know, you are sick of hearing about it; I am sick of writing about it! But the fact remains that Gordon’s contract is an obstacle that Dell Demps will need to overcome in order to get the final piece or two he needs. The evidence is simply undeniable at this point, as we all have seen that Gordon’s skill set is redundant and when you combine that with the fact that he is scheduled to take up 25% of our salary cap over these next two years, it is clear that he has to be moved at all costs.

Some might say that the team can just wait until it expires and move on, but herein lies the problem – the year that it comes off the books will be the same year that Anthony Davis’s new max contract goes onto the books. Once that happens, it will become much harder to have the Core Four on the books AND add another big contract using cap room. Long story short, the Pelicans have to either make a big splash this summer or next. Otherwise, they would have to dump one of the Core Four to get the space needed to add another marquee piece.

But if the Pelicans can get Gordon’s contract off the books, they can go into the Summer of 2015 with 15-20 million dollars in cap room depending on what they do with some other minor players. The Core Four are on the books for about 37.5 million dollars that year. The Pelicans will also have an option on Austin Rivers for $3.1 million that they are likely to pick up. Even if you add in Pierre Jackson, Jeff Withey, and a role player or two like Anthony Morrow, the Pelicans could have plenty of space to go get a major piece. They will have no space if they can’t get Gordon’s contract off the books.

The Gordon Contract X-Factor

The final year of Gordon’s deal is actually a player option. Gordon can either pick up the final year at $15.5 million or he can opt out and become an Unrestricted Free Agent. Now, when hearing of this for the first time, most people automatically dismiss any possibility of Gordon opting out. But it is not as absurd as you may think. There have been plenty of precedence recently, as Richard Jefferson, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko, and Gerald Wallace have recently opted out of huge option years to get multi-year deals as an unrestricted free agent. And it worked out for all of them, except for Kirilenko.

There are three other factors you have to consider as well. One, the last time Eric Gordon was a free agent, he had two teams willing to give him a four-year max contract. And that was after he only played 9 games the season prior! Imagine if he plays 70+ this season and next. In his mind, why wouldn’t he believe teams would be falling all over themselves to get him again? Two, Eric Gordon’s desire to have a major role. He can’t get it on this team, so why would he chose to opt-in and play for a team that doesn’t need him and a fan base that doesn’t want him?

Finally, an agent has added incentive to encourage Gordon to opt out, as they usually get their fees based off of new contract negotiated. Add all these things up and it is possible that Gordon opts out. Heck, I can even argue that it is probable if he stays healthy next season. But, is it worth taking that chance? Do you want to pin all your hopes on getting that next piece on Eric Gordon making that decision? Or pin your hopes on Gordon’s knee holding up for that season? Pretty risky, don’t you think?

The 2015 Free Agent Class

Before we go any further, let me show you the guys that could be available to fill those specific needs we talked about earlier. While everyone is chasing Kevin Love, these guys would be who Dell could be chasing:

Small Forward

Jeff Green, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Thaddeus Young

Centers

Marc Gasol, Omer Asik, Nikola Vucevic, Deandre Jordan, Tyson Chandler

Now, there are some other mid-tier guys too like Tobias Harris and old friend Robin Lopez, but I just wanted to put the studs up here. Even if you think that there is no way Gasol or Leonard escapes, you still have tremendous fits in Butler or Vucevic who will just be entering their prime. Omer Asik would be great in a three-man rotation with Davis and Anderson. Jeff Green fits the profile of what this team needs, and DeAndre Jordan would instantly make this team an elite rebounding squad that can play exciting, uptempo basketball.

Just think about replacing Eric Gordon on this team with any of these guys, even the worst one on the list. Isn’t that team infinitely better with one of those guys than Gordon? Heck, you might be able to get two if you target Green and Asik. Better than just using the MLE on a guy like Marvin Williams this year and scraping the bottom of the barrel for a big.  Now that we see what is at stake, let’s look at how we solve this problem.

Moving Gordon

If you want space in 2015, you have to move Gordon for guys on the final year of their contract. Ideally, you want to add a guy who can help next season so that you can make the playoffs and become a free agent destination. Dwight Howard saw a Rockets team that was young and made the playoffs without him, so it was easy for him to sign there that summer. Making the playoffs and possibly even winning a round or coming close with a young squad that features a future MVP, would make New Orleans a free agent destination in 2015.

Some teams that have a need for a scorer like Gordon that also possess a player on a one year contract include: Knicks (Tyson Chandler), Cavs (Andy Varejao),  and Denver (W.Chandler & T. Mozgov). You have to do whatever it takes to get a package like this in return for Gordon, whether it is a two or three team deal. And by whatever it takes, might that mean throwing in Pierre Jackson, Withey, or even a future 1st round pick? Yes, yes, and yes.

As hard as it might be to part with an asset or two, again, look at that list. And then, think of the timeline. The summer of 2015 is your last chance to add a big piece to your Core Four without losing one of them. Picks are nice, but their allure wears out when they actually become players. And Jeff Withey and Pierre Jackson both look like they can become solid players, but Dell pulls solid players out of thin air all the time. He can get another role player, but he can’t just manufacture elite players like the ones in the 2015 FA class.

Or, he can risk it and keep all those assets and just hope Gordon helps the team out by opting out. But if he opts in, you are stuck with him for another season and then don’t have the cap room to get a great player in the class of ’16 unless you let Ryno walk. One step forward, two steps back.

Are Dell and Monty in Position to Be Patient?

Here is the million dollar question. If Dell has the opportunity to trade Gordon for Danillo Galinari and then sign a free agent like Spencer Hawes this summer, will he take it or can he hold patient for one more year? And if Monty has a say in the decision, which does he advocate for? All signs point to both guys being on the hot seat heading into next year, and if the team does not make the playoffs, the likelihood is that one or both would be fired.

Now, put yourself in their shoes – Would you be willing to fill the roster with one year guys who might be 70-80% as good as guys you can get on multi-year deals just for a chance at getting someone in 2015? Would you be willing to let Anthony Morrow go because he wants a multi-year deal or trade another first round pick, again, just for a chance at a bigger fish in 2015? And then, how would you feel if the Pelicans did get one of those guys in 2015 but you weren’t around to see it because you got fired after the team missed the playoffs?

You can see why the decision is not easy for those two men specifically. It is easy to say that they should just put the franchise before themselves, but it isn’t always that easy.

Getting It Done

In addition to moving Gordon for an expiring contract, the Pelicans would have some other tough decisions to make this summer. What do you do with unrestricted free agents Jason Smith, Anthony Morrow, Al-Farouq Aminu, and (most likely) Brian Roberts? Smith would likely agree to a one year deal because he has to prove he can stay healthy before anyone gives him a multi-year deal, but the other three probably all (rightly) feel like they deserve some security, and there are probably teams out there who will give it to them. Do you risk losing them all just for a chance at 2015? And how about Austin Rivers? You have to decide by October 31st of this year whether you want to pick up his $3.1 million option for 2015-16.

Some tough decisions lie ahead for Dell Demps if he wants to take this route. The moves that he can make becomes incredibly limited, and the amount of growth this team could experience in what might be a make or break year for him and his coach would be limited as well. It is a high-risk, high-reward proposition, but one that Dell will have to carefully consider if he wants to turn this team into a perennial contender for 2015 and beyond.

 

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