2017 Offseason Possibilities Part One: Using Cap Room

Published: February 26, 2017

Teams with a “Big 3” rarely have cap room to add more. The Clippers, for instance, have had little to no flexibility ever since adding Chris Paul. The Heat had to try and fill roster spots with minimum players for years, and the Warriors were only able to add a stud like Durant because they happened to have underpaid stars on the books just as the cap had a massive explosion, in an outlier of a year. The norm is that if you have multiple stars, you are operating above the cap, and building the fringes of your roster with the mid-level exception, bi-annual exceptions, and minimum contracts.

But as I pointed out the day after the DeMarcus Cousins trade, the Pelicans big three will only count for $59 million dollars this summer, giving them the chance to add one or two more significant pieces if they can unload a couple of contracts. Moving forward, the cap is not going up significantly, but the salaries of Jrue Holiday and DeMarcus will, so this might be the last chance to use cap room to add a significant piece next to them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the specifics of how the Pelicans can accomplish that this summer.

Salary Cap: $103 million

Big Three Cost: $58.74 million (including Jrue’s cap hold)

Empty Roster Spot Cap Hold: 816K

Players with Salary on the Books for 2017-18

Solomon Hill – $11.75 mil

Omer Asik – $10.6 mil

E’twain Moore – $8.45 mil

Alexis Ajinca – $4.96 mil

Quincy Pondexter – $3.85 mil

Dante Cunningham (PO) – $3.1 mil

Tim Frazier – 2.0 mil

Cheick Diallo – 1.31 mil

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, the Big 3 are a lock to stay. In addition, we can probably pencil in Diallo and Frazier since their salaries will actually be lower than the new minimum contract. That brings the Pelicans to about $62 million for those five. If they could magically unload everybody else, they could theoretically add another max player to the roster. Gordon Hayward would be ideal, but the chances of him coming to New Orleans are slim and none. Add to the fact that unloading all those salaries for nothing will be near impossible, and we can walk away from that dream.

As a collective, it looks like it would be a lot of work to have significant move, but as you look at them individually, it isn’t that big of a deal. Let’s take a look at each individual case.

Omer Asik – Let’s get one thing straight; No team wants Asik. They wouldn’t even want him at half his price. Yes, there might be a couple of contracts out there worse than Asik, but that means nothing for trade value. The Pelicans would want to dump Asik and take nothing back in return. That is not possible. Even if they attached a first rounder to Asik, a team wouldn’t take him and I will show you why — First round picks usually have a market value of $3 million dollars. Maybe 5-7 if they are in the middle of the first. Why would you pay $25 million dollars (the remainder of Asik’s guaranteed salary) for something worth $3 million or so? There is one option, and one option only with Asik, stretching him. You take him $25 million and stretching it over 7 years and have about $3.5 million in dead money every season until those seven years are up.

Quincy Pondexter – Insurance is paying Quincy’s salary, not Tom Benson. The Pelicans can trade him and give the team taking him a couple hundred thousand for their troubles and completely clear him off the books. Or, if Quincy is healthy and ready to go somehow, a solid 3-and-D wing on a 1 year, tiny deal will be easy to dump.

Alexis Ajinca – He will have two years and $10 million left after this year. He is a solid offensive big that will basically be making the new room exception. Is it possible the Pels would have to attach a 2nd to dump him, or maybe a guy like Frazier? Sure, but it could be well worth it if they get an actual needle moving piece.

Dante Cunningham – Again, the new minimum contract will be over $2 million. Dante has a player option for $3.1. It’s highly likely that he opts out, and even if he doesn’t, that contract would be extremely easy to dump.

E’twaun Moore – Moore is a quality 5th, 6th, or 7th man who combines good shooting with quality defense. His salary is almost exactly what the new MLE will be, and Moore is superior to what teams tend to get with the MLE. He wouldn’t be hard to dump or make a part of an uneven trade.

Solomon Hill – The Pelicans probably can’t just dump Hill without attaching something or taking something back as part of a trade. But the Pelicans are not letting Hill go anyway unless they get a significant upgrade on the wing, and that upgrade is not coming in FA. It will have to be a part of a trade anyway.

So, let’s assume the Pelicans keep the Big 3, stretch Asik, keep Diallo, Hill, Moore, and Frazier, while clearing Pondexter, Ajinca, and Cunningham from the books. That is about $86 million dollars on the cap plus $5 million in cap holds, giving the Pelicans about $12 million in cap room. That is not nearly enough to get a needle mover, and if this was all they were going to do, they might as well operate above the cap because they would get to use the MLE ($8.4 million), their trade exception from Sacto ($3.5 million), and the BAE ($3.3 million). They lose all those things if they operate below the cap.

So, why would they operate below the cap instead? Two words: Uneven trades.

If you don’t have cap space, you can’t trade Solomon Hill for Nic Batum. But if you have $11 million in cap room, you can. These are the kinds of moves that the Pelicans can make, if and only if, they have cap room to play around with and use as an asset. Mid-Level Exceptions or Bi-Annuals can’t be used to trade for guys on contracts, and they can’t be combined with the TPE the Pelicans received in the Cousins trade, to get a major piece. Basically, if you work above the cap, you are looking at a bunch of average guys, but don’t really have a shot at any needle movers.

If the Pelicans want a big time name/talent to make this a Big Four, then working above the cap gives them the best route to do that. The problem with this strategy would be that the Pelicans would again have a very top-heavy roster. Let’s say they did the aforementioned Hill for Batum trade. They would have a very good starting five, with Frazier and Diallo, and their second round pick coming off the bench. They would have to fill out five spots with only a few million dollars and the room exception at their disposal, along with minimum contracts to offer. It would be up to Dell to work his magic and find a couple Terrance Jones or Brian Roberts, James Ennis, etc. just to have a bunch that isn’t terrible.

It is a risky strategy, but one that could pay off big if you can get a big four that makes you so appealing to other players that you can bring them in at well below market value like the Warriors did with David West, ZaZa Pachulia, etc. and like Lebron’s teams have done for years. To give you an idea of how a couple of these deals could work, let’s take a look at potential targets and possible trades that could be made using cap room.


What does this team want? Shooters. And beyond that? More shooters. I guess ball handling and perimeter defense would be good too, but shooting is priority A, B, and C. And if the plan is to make uneven trades, and perhaps use future picks to balance out the value, they will have to look to teams that aren’t trying to win the title in 2018. With that in mind, here are a few possible targets to consider:

Evan Fournier (4 Years, $68 Million Remaining) – A career 38% three-point shooter whose scoring has gone up every year he has been in the league. He is just 24 now, so he fits in the timeline and could take some ball handling pressure off of Jrue as well. Sample Trade Structure: E’twaun Moore and a 2018 Top-3 protected first for Evan Fournier.

Kent Bazemore (3 Years, $54 Million) – Bazemore isn’t a knockdown shooter, but he is good enough to be respected and is a good slasher that can play off AD and Boogie, while also providing tremendous defense. Sample Trade Structure: Ajinca, Q-Pon, and a top-10 protected pick for Bazemore

Nic Batum (4 Years, $97 Million) – Batum is a swiss army knife who is still only 28 and he could be the playmaker the Pelicans need while Jrue plays off the ball more. If Charlotte wants to blow it up a year after giving him a massive deal, the Pelicans could find several ways to use him.  Sample Trade Structure: Solomon Hill and a top-3 protected first for Batum

Jimmy Butler (3 Years, $58 Million) – This only happens if the Pelicans luck into the 1st or 2nd pick, but it is exactly the reason you save cap room to make a deal like…Sample Trade Structure: Moore, the #1 pick, and one or two future 1sts could get it done if Chicago loves Ball or Fultz.

Wesley Matthews (2 Years, $36 Million) – Matthews gives you the shooting and the defense you need on the wing and would also give another locker room presence that could keep Boogie’s head on straight. Sample Trade Structure: Ajinca and a lottery protected pick for Wesley Matthews

Wilson Chandler (2 Years, $25 Million) – Another solid three-point shooter who provides defense and experience, that could either start or be your main weapon off the bench. Sample Trade Structure: Q-Pon, cash, and a protected first for Chandler

Luol Deng (3 Years, $54 Million) – Yes, Deng might be washed up, but he is included on this list because this might be the only deal that allows you to trade Asik, rather than stretching him. The Lakers get to cut the money they owe in half, and if they want to become players in free agency in 2018, they just stretch Asik’s remaining $14 million over 5 years and they are good to go. Sample Trade Structure: Asik for Deng and a 2nd rounder

Goran Dragic (3 Years, $54 Million) – The rest of the list includes wings, but why not put another point guard next to Jrue? If the Heat want to blow it up and do a rebuild after this season, it could be on the table. Two point guards sharing the ball handling duty, who can shoot, might be the perfect thing to pair with AD and Boogie. Sample Trade Structure: Moore, 2018 and 2020 top-3 protected firsts for Tragic.

Carmelo Anthony (2 Years, $54 Million) – Maybe Melo is truly fed up this summer and maybe he is willing to bring Lala to the Big Easy to chase a title with AD, Boogie, and Jrue. Would there be enough balls for those four? Probably not, but that would be a heck of a lot of talent. Sample Trade Structure: Hill, 2018 and 2020 top-3 protected firsts for Melo

DeMarre Carroll (2 Years, $30 Million) – The Raptors can’t afford their current starting five after this year, once Lowry and Ibaka get massive paydays. The Pelicans could possibly add Carroll without giving up much, adding him to their existing core. Sample Trade Structure: Q-Pon and a 2nd for Carroll.


Operating below the cap offers the Pelicans more options for top-end talent, but greatly decreases the chances of them being a deep team next year. It is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which they add a significant fourth piece, while also having an above average 7th or 8th man, let alone good 9th, 10th, 11th men, etc. For the Pelicans to have the best of both worlds, guys like Frazier and Diallo would have to make significant improvements next year while Dell would have to hit on at least 2-3 low-cost free agents like he hit on Terrence Jones, Anthony Morrow, and Gustavo Ayon in years past.

But maybe the thinking is that they do the top-heavy thing this year and then use the MLE, BAE, etc in 2018 to get better bench players. The logic would be that you can always get quality reserves down the line, but this might be your last chance to get a quality starter. You are likely never going to get a Fournier or a Batum, for instance, with the MLE. So you get that guy now, win a bunch of games, and then lure guys for below market deals the following summer when you are operating above the cap.

No matter what path the Pelicans take this summer, they are unlikely to solve all their roster problems. They have three long-term pieces on their roster right now, but it is unclear if they have anything beyond that. They might need to overturn 8 or 9 roster spots in the next two years, and they aren’t doing that in one summer. In a league that is about talent, their best play might be to just go get the best singular talent they can this summer and then worry about depth later. If that is the case, then it is a strong possibility that they operate under the cap this offseason.




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