LeBron’s move to Cleveland allows Dell Demps to get creative with Asik trade

Published: July 12, 2014

What a day, huh? As soon as LeBron announced his decision that he would be heading back to Cleveland, the NBA free agency period quickly kicked into overdrive. Among the flurry of deals to take place this afternoon was the announcement of a trade between the Cavaliers and Pelicans that sent veteran small forward Alonzo Gee to New Orleans for future draft considerations (recent reports are calling that a top-55 protected pick in 2016 from the Clippers).

Without James’ decision to take his talents back home, there would have been little incentive for the Cavs to dump Gee’s contract so quickly, but with the addition of LeBron, they have gone into full salary-shedding mode (the move also may give Cleveland a $3 million trade exception depending on how their moves are arranged). Before going on, let’s be clear – Gee will never play a minute for the Pelicans. He has played pretty terribly each of the past two seasons and belongs nowhere near a legitimate team’s regular rotation. However, he is entering the final season of his 3-year contract which owes him $3 million – ALL of which is non-guaranteed, and that is the key.

Acquiring Gee is important because doing so allows the Pelicans to inch even closer to accumulating enough “dead weight” unguaranteed contracts to trade to Houston (along with the 2015 first round pick protected 1-3 & 21-30) without having to part with any meaningful players. New Orleans now possesses the non-guaranteed contracts of Gee ($3 million), Melvin Ely ($1,316,809), & Luke Babbitt ($981,084), totaling up to $5,297,893. In order to trade for a player despite having the requisite cap space to take in his entire salary, the amount of salary traded out x 1.5 plus $100,000 must equal or exceed the amount of salary coming in. In purely mathematical terms:

Outgoing salary x 1.5 + $100,000 > Incoming salary

For example, if a team with no cap room is trading a player making $4 million, the salary that they receive in return cannot exceed $6.1 million (6 million is 150% of 4 million, plus the extra $100,000). If the Pelicans were to utilize only the three contracts mentioned above (Gee, Ely, & Babbitt), they could take in up to $5,297,893 x 1.5 + $100,000 = $8,046,839.50. Unfortunately, Omer Asik’s 2014-15 salary is $8,374,646, meaning New Orleans is just a little bit short. Working backwards with Asik’s incoming salary in the equation, the outgoing salary necessary to complete a trade for Asik is $5,516,431, meaning the Pelicans are $218,538 short.

It is very difficult to imagine that the Pelicans pulled off this trade only to come up short and have to trade a player that could help them on the court to make it work. Adding Ajinca makes it work, and now that the Rockets aren’t in play for Bosh, they would be more likely to accept a contract that they wouldn’t be able to instantly shed for free. However, Ajinca took legitimate strides in his first season with New Orleans, and it stands to reason that the team would prefer to keep him if possible. Assuming Rivers is also staying in town, that leaves the Pelicans with two options to accumulate the outgoing salary necessary to trade for Asik:

  1. Sign and trade a player (likely either Al-Farouq Aminu or Jason Smith). As mentioned above, the Rockets all of a sudden may have some cap space to play with, and therefore could be interested in adding a player like Aminu or Smith to the deal if either will agree to be signed and traded to Houston.
  2. Acquire another non-guaranteed contract from the Cavaliers (Scotty Hopson or Matthew Dellavedova). With news that the Cavaliers still have an agreement with the Hornets to trade for Brendan Haywood, it is likely that one of those two contracts listed above will be going to Charlotte in exchange. As a result, it may be difficult for the Pelicans to acquire one of them, but not impossible. Of the two, Hopson’s contract would be ideal, as his $1,450,878 non-guaranteed salary would be enough to combine with just Gee and Ely’s contracts to get Asik. If Dellavedova was the guy, then Babbitt would still need to be included for the trade to work, as his non-guaranteed money only amounts to $816,482 (they would be $383,140 short).

As a result of the Gee trade, as it was a trade into cap space, the Pelicans have lost their non-taxpayer mid-level exception and bi-annual exception, but are left with the room mid-level exception ($2,732,000 this season and the contract cannot exceed two years in length) and a small amount of cap space instead. In an ideal world, that could be used to get a serviceable stopgap small forward, or – potentially an even better use – to bring back Anthony Morrow. The fact that Morrow has not signed yet is encouraging, and you can be sure that Dell Demps has been keeping him in the loop in hopes of having him return to New Orleans next season. (UPDATE 7/12/14 at 1 PM: Anthony Morrow has reportedly agreed to a 3-year, $10 million contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.)

Speaking of Dell, the moral of the entire process I have described is this – the Pelicans have been working for far longer than was realized to make a trade like this one possible. Luke Babbitt and Melvin Ely were both signed to contracts with non-guaranteed second years, the latter with just a few days remaining in the regular season. Many questioned the significance at the time, but now the motive becomes inescapably clear. Chessmaster Dell Demps and the rest of his basketball ops team have once again found a way to create something out of what most initially thought was nothing. Their hard work should not go unnoticed.


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