The Case for Keeping and Re-Signing Ryan Anderson

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Published: January 16, 2016

Conventional wisdom says that Ryan Anderson is not long for New Orleans. He is on the final year of his four-year contract and will likely be a hot commodity this summer, as over 20 teams will have max salary cap room and very few quality players to spend it on. With the cap setting to rise even more the following year, a four-year deal approaching 80 to 100 million dollars is not out of the question for Anderson, and many don’t believe the Pelicans will be willing to pay that kind of money for a guy who plays the same position as their franchise cornerstone, Anthony Davis.

Next season, Anthony Davis’s extension kicks in, and depending on whether or not he achieves the benchmark for the Rose Rule, he will count for between 21 and 25 million dollars. Tying up 40-50 million dollars in Davis and Anderson would greatly limit the flexibility of the Pelicans moving forward, and would only make sense if those two perfectly complimented each other and could be sold as foundational pieces on a great, possibly elite, team.

The main argument against this proclamation is that you can not start the two together, as Davis has made it clear privately that he has no desire to be a full-time center. This leaves Ryan Anderson as a reserve – a 20 million dollar a year reserve. Amongst elite teams, it is certainly not the norm to tie up so much of your cap on a bench player. Currently, the Golden State Warriors are paying Andre Iguodala approximately 18% of their cap. The Spurs did the same back when Manu Ginobli was in his prime, but again, both those guys were outside the norm, and they didn’t force the star players on their team to shift positions.

Building a championship roster with Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson as your two highest paid players would require quite a bit of luck in the NBA draft and some shrewd free agent and/or trade moves. It might also force the Pelicans to make some tough decisions on Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, who will be free agents in 2017. Keeping those four guys together likely costs the Pelicans 90-100 million dollars a year, and makes it impossible for the Pelicans to be active in the free agent market. And while those four are all skilled and have impressive offensive numbers when playing together, they don’t even have a .500 record when they are all healthy together, so assuming that those four can be the core of a championship team is borderline psychotic.

So, with less than five weeks to go before the trade deadline comes and goes, the Pelicans have to figure out who will be the core pieces around Anthony Davis moving forward. The current core can’t win a title, or likely even contend for one, and the worst thing they can do is limit their flexibility while sticking with a core that is going nowhere. And as the clock ticks down, making no decision IS making a decision. Allowing Ryan Anderson to hit free agency means that you either: Lose him and get nothing or Pay him market value, which significantly limits flexibility.

Again, the conventional wisdom seems to say that the Pelicans need to move Anderson, either for players on longer contracts that could help, or for prospects and picks. Despite just having a few months on his contract, Anderson has good value around¬†the league. He has a skill set that opens up an offense, as he draws big men out of the paint, and can hurt opponents with a post game and offensive rebounding if they put a smaller guy on him. The Pelicans have chosen not to crash the offensive glass a lot this year, in favor of defensive transition, but in a league that is playing more small ball, Anderson could tilt a series down low. Any team that traded for him would also have bird rights, and would have months to show Anderson that their organization is the right one for him long-term. Long story short, the teams that would be trading for him likely wouldn’t see it as a rental.

But I want to make the argument for rejected the overtures of other teams and not only keeping Anderson this season, but signing him for 2017 and beyond. First and foremost, Ryan Anderson is in his prime and likely won’t decline significantly over the duration of his next contract. He is first on this Pelicans team in true shooting percentage, and trails only Anthony Davis in points per 36 minutes. He is first amongst the standard rotation players in offensive rating, and again trails only AD in offensive win shares. Now, this is where somebody chimes in about his awful defense, and while that can not be argued, my contention is that if you keep Anderson, THAT is where you spend your remaining resources.

A foundation of Anderson and Davis all but guarantees that you will have an explosive offense. With either on the court, you have a go to big man capable of carrying you for stretches. With both on the court, you force teams to pick their poison, much like Charlotte had to in the closing seconds last night. Put a guard with decent decision-making skills on the court and two shooters that the defense has to respect, and that unit is unguardable.

The current problem is that the Pelicans have surrounded those two with a handful of other guys who need the ball in their hands to be effective, while simultaneously hurting New Orleans on the defensive end. Get rid of any two of the three high-priced perimeter players on the roster currently, and replace them with lower usage perimeter players who shut down the opposition on the other end, and all of a sudden you have the balance Gentry and his staff are looking for.

The other benefit with choosing Anderson as a building block, over say Jrue or Tyreke, is that you get his contract locked in before the next big spike. If you think that $20 million per year is insane for Ryan Anderson, how would you feel about $25-30 million per year for Tyreke or Jrue a year later? The cap will likely never be higher than it will be in 2017, and if you think the deals signed next summer are insane, just wait until you see what guys get in 2017. Anderson at $20 million might seem like a bargain, and who knows, maybe he takes a bit of a discount to stay in New Orleans after they stuck with him through the toughest year-plus of his life.

Ryan Anderson can change a game. He is atop the scouting report every time a team plays New Orleans, and I don’t know if the same can be said for Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, or Jrue Holiday. They are solid guards in a league overflowing with perimeter players who can score and play average defense. Those guys aren’t incredibly difficult to find – at least not as difficult as it is to find a 6’10” elite shooter who can also score in the low and mid post, while crashing the offensive glass. Yes, he has his deficiencies, but they can be overcome with the right roster. The current roster does not complement and/or balance out the Anderson/Davis duo. Shift the focus to a different kind of perimeter player, however, and this team can get the best out of a truly unguaradable duo.

The other thing that Dell has to consider is: Which one of these key players is most likely to be a positive asset in trade talks during his next contract? Perhaps none of these guys are destined to be key pieces next to AD when the Pelicans become contenders, and Dell is just looking for an opportunity to put these guys together in a package to get his second banana. If that’s the case, who is the most likely guy to be coveted by other teams? Well, average to slightly above average guards aren’t likely to be in demand in a league with so many similar players. But Ryan Anderson will always be a rare commodity, and will be a positive asset as long as he is healthy.

So, that’s the argument for keeping Anderson and trying to build around he and Davis. They offer you a potent offensive duo in the frontcourt that simply can not be matched, and offer you an opportunity to be an elite team if you can get the right perimeter players around them. Every one of the guards on the Pelicans is replaceable – at least more so than Anderson. The league is overflowing with guards, and the college game just keeps producing more and more every year. On paper, it is the easiest position to acquire, and the hardest one to sell for high value. Meanwhile, the only thing more rare than Anderson is a 3-and-D small forward, and if the Pelicans could get one of those for him, then of course they should make the deal. Boston calls and offers Jae Crowder, you take it. Miami loses their mind and offers Winslow, it’s a deal.

But those kinds of offers aren’t on the table, nor will they be this summer in a sign and trade. The best you can hope for is a late first-round pick that will allow you to possibly draft and develop your own 3-and-D guy, but if that’s the case, why not see if you can unload one of your guards for a similar pick and keep Anderson? He is the rare commodity, after all. They are not. You move Anderson for an equally rare commodity or you keep him. It’s that simple.

You want the other guys? Now we can talk.

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