A Blueprint for Blowing It Up

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Published: December 13, 2015

Mark Borchardt is arguably the greatest subject in a documentary film, possibly ever. But before he was the centerpiece of American Movie, he was an aspiring director with a series of movies under his belt titled, “I Blow Up.” (see video here) The footage is grainy, and there is no sound, but essentially the victims in the film consume some kind of soup and they combust from within. There is no deeper meaning, no allegory for life or how we should live it. People just blow up and the movie ends.

At some point, the Pelicans will have to consider eating the soup. Sitting at 6-17, without many signs that it will get much better, the front office brass will have to at least think about tearing down everything around Anthony Davis and starting over again. Anthony Davis is just 22 years old, and would have just graduated college six months ago if he would have stayed the full four years. Basically, he is an old school rookie. He is around the same age Tim Duncan was in his rookie year, and Duncan has played in the league for 18 years. Long story short, Davis has plenty of time to dominate this league, so there is no need to rush the process.

The Pelicans locked Anthony Davis up to a five-year deal that kicks in next season, and he can’t opt out for at least four seasons. They have all the leverage, and don’t have to appease him to keep him from leaving anytime soon. What they do need to do, however, is show him that this is the best place to be come 2019 or 2020. Swapping out small parts might not be enough to do that, and the worst case scenario is that they just dwell in mediocrity for the next few seasons like Kevin Garnett’s Timberwolves. If that happens, they have no chance of having him sign a third contract with the team, and that would be a death blow for the franchise.

If the team does blow it up, they have to determine what players can be a part of that process, what players need to be sent far, far away, and which players can fetch assets that can pay off long term. They also need to figure out what type of team they want to build exactly, and what kind of players fit perfectly with Davis. He is obviously somewhat dependent on his guards, and Gentry’s system relies on high IQ guards who move the ball and can move off the ball as well. Davis also doesn’t love to play center, but needs to play the position at crunch time to make the Pelicans as dangerous as possible. So, dedicated 15-20 minutes to a center that doesn’t eat up too much cap space would be ideal.

Davis hasn’t really evolved into a vocal leader, so adding a high-end player or two who can help him shoulder that load would really help the team – imagine a Kendrick Perkins or a Quincy Pondexter that were of All-Star caliber. Finally, shooters, shooters, shooters. Davis is going to draw a ton of attention throughout his career, and we see how his field goal percentages plummet when he is on the court with guys who the defense doesn’t have to worry about. Oh, yeah, and another young stud wouldn’t hurt either. But that stud likely only comes through the draft, and the higher you are in the draft, the easier it is to get that kind of player.

So instead of trying to make it work with a bunch of parts that might not be ideal, why not blow it all up and start from scratch with a 22-year-old locked up for at least 4 more seasons? It might not work, but what are the odds that this current path the team is heading down will all of a sudden not only go from bad to average, but bad to great? What are the odds that a 6-17 team just needs a minor lateral move like Ryan Anderson to Markieff Morris to become a contender all of a sudden? I would say those odd are very small. Maybe blowing it up won’t work, but you’ve gotta think the odds are slightly better.

So, how would they do it? Who would need to stay, and who goes? Well, it isn’t as easy as just keeping the best players. You have to factor in current contracts and, again, their fit in the system and with Davis. The guys I keep? Jrue Holiday, Quincy Pondexter, Dante Cunningham, and Alexis Ajinca. That’s it. Tyreke Evans is a tough as nails player who is improving his outside shot, but he is not a long-term fit in this system. You want to believe that a player can change, but if you ever think Evans will be a ball mover who comes off screens and pindowns all night, you are lying to yourself. He likes to dribble…and dribble…and dribble. And maybe some team can use that, but the best version of this team will see far more movement.

Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson will be free agents this summer, and they are going to each command 14-18 million per season in all likelihood. The Pelicans don’t need to pay that kind of money for high usage guys with below average defense. Davis should be getting the lion’s share of the touches moving forward, so it would be wise to spend your money on guys who can defend at a high level and play off Davis, rather than guys who need the ball in their hands a ton to have a positive impact. As for Omer Asik, that contract needs to be shed immediately. It was a massive mistake, and the Pelicans need to do whatever it takes to free themselves of it. They can’t give him away, but maybe they can get rid of him without taking too much back. The other role players are welcome to play out their contract, or can be moved for other small parts – it really doesn’t matter. But those four should be available right now, with the goal of moving them without taking back too much long-term money, and adding a pick or two. You also don’t want to add players that will help you win this year, because this is probably your last chance with Anthony Davis to land a top five pick.

So, what do the trades in a “blow up” look like? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Trade 1

Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik for Joe Johnson and Shane Larkin

The Nets have no draft pick, and no incentive to tank. They also know that they won’t be a destination for free agents as long as they are this bad, so there only option is to try and trade talent in a trade. Tyreke Evans instantly becomes their best backcourt player and gives them a playmaker that they don’t currently have. The price for such a big upgrade is that they have to take on Asik. If he works out, they have a nice backup center for a few years. If he doesn’t, they can swallow the bill to stretch him. After next season, they can stretch his 25 million owed over 7 years – not a big deal for their ownership.

The Pelicans, meanwhile, get a veteran familiar with Gentry’s system that can play next to Holiday and take the playmaking responsibility off him half of the time. He can step right in and know how a guard needs to play in this system, and help Holiday get familiar. And who knows, maybe he sticks around for a few years on the cheap to be a locker room guy and a shooter off the bench. The Pelicans could also give Larkin a look and see if he is something they can groom as a 4th or 5th guard. If not, no harm, no foul.

Trade 2

Ryan Anderson for Channing Frye and a 1st round pick

The Magic get a clear upgrade that they can re-sign and put around their exciting young core. They also unload Frye in the deal, and bring back a fan favorite. The two teams can haggle over the pick and its protections. Interestingly, the Magic own a future pick from the Lakers with very limited protection. They can give that up in the trade or offer up a protected pick of their own. Top-10 or lottery protection would seem fair, and if the Magic sneak into the playoffs this year, I don’t think the Pelicans would scoff at the idea of getting the 15th pick for a guy they aren’t likely to keep anyway.

Channing Frye gives Gentry another guy who is familiar with his system, and who can help mentor young Davis. His contract is nice as the cap goes up, as he will only count for about 9% of the cap next season and 6% the year after that. He helps make up a four man rotation of bigs that includes him, Davis, Cunningham, and Ajinca. All of these guys allow the guards to have the space Gentry wants while playing solid enough defense to keep Gentry’s hair from falling out.

Trade 3

Eric Gordon and Luke Babbitt for Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary, Kyle Singler, and Steve Novak

The Thunder have to go all in this season, and their most glaring hole is at the two-guard position. They add a shooter to put on the court in crunch time, and for that it costs them a young prospect in Mitch McGary ¬†that might be perfect in Alvin Gentry’s system. McGary is a brilliant passer who can play next to Davis in small ball lineups, because he is a good rebounder too. The Pelicans also get Anthony Morrow back, who can light it up with the open shots Gordon has been getting, and was beloved by Davis and teammates. With Singler, you hope you get Quincy Pondexter 2.0 – a guy who struggled in a new system, but showed he could play in the past and just needs a change of scenery. If he does return to form, like Pondexter, he is locked up long-term on a great deal. Novak, you just ship off to some other team or release.

The Roster After the Trades

Jrue Holiday/Norris Cole/Ish Smith/Shane Larkin

Joe Johnson/Anthony Morrow

Q-Pon/Kyle Singler/Gee

Channing Frye/Cunningham/McGary

Davis/Ajinca

The Future

Ideally, in this scenario, the Pelicans own a top-5 pick and a mid-1st or two in the 2016 draft. They have to nail those picks, first and foremost. Imagine a draft like Golden State had in 2012 (when they tanked), when they got Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezili, and Draymond Green. They would also be set up to be major players in the 2017 and 2018 free agent classes. What they would need to do is put another stud next to Davis and perhaps Holiday, and then nail there next 2-3 free agent signings. Again, is it likely that they hit on all this picks and these free agents? No. Even the smartest decision makers strike out when it comes to 19 year olds in the draft and free agents who take their foot off the gas after they got their pay day. But show me the route for this team that is guaranteed to work. You can’t.

At this point, you just have to play the probability game, and the best path to contention long-term might be to eat our soup right now, and just blow it up.

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