At what point in the off-season do they have to choose between these strategies? Won't they be above the cap once they re-sign Jrue? At that point, they cannot do the trades into cap space. So if they go that route, they have to do all the deals before Jrue signs his contract?
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2017 Offseason Possibilities Part Two: Operating Above the Cap
In part one of the offseason possibilities piece, I took a look at the Pelicans options if they were to try and operate under the salary cap this summer. That route opened up the possibility of the Pelicans getting another top-end player, but also make the roster very top-heavy, with very little quality depth beyond the top five or six guys.
Operating above the cap will likely do the opposite, as it gives the Pelicans a chance to add several quality rotation players but no single high impact difference maker. Trades can still be made above the cap, but salaries have to come close to matching, and in those trades the Pelicans will have to send more bad salary out. When that happens, the Pelicans are less likely to get a quality player in return, even if they are attaching draft picks.
Operating above the cap, the Pelicans would likely make a series of smaller moves, using exceptions and future draft picks in trades to get a handful of rotation players. The other decision the Pelicans will have to make is what they intend their identity to be moving forward. When you look at the crop of players they can get by going this route, you see players who have one thing the Pelicans need on the perimeter, but not both. This Pelicans team needs guys who can stroke the three on offense, but also guys who can stay in front of their man on defense. One foot in both camps won’t work; The Pelicans will have to decide this summer if they want to be a more skilled Memphis Grizzlies ‘defensive minded’ team, or if they want to try and outscore their opponents.
All positions are on the table, save for possibly power forward, as the Pelicans will have a slew of players who can get minutes there. With that said, let’s look at what tools the Pelicans will have at their disposal to add to their roster.
Players Under Contract or With Cap Holds/Bird Rights: Jrue Holiday, Tim Frazier, E’twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis, Dante Cunningham (PO), Alexis Ajinca, Omer Asik, DeMarcus Cousins, Quincy Pondexter
Free Agents w/o Bird Rights: Donatas Montiejunas, Hollis Thompson, Jarrett Jack
Available Exceptions: MLE (Deal can be 2-4 years, starting at $8.3 million), Bi-Annual (1-2 year deal, starting around $3 million), TPE (Can absorb a player with a salary less than $3.6 million without trading anything back. Can not be combined with other exceptions or players)
Mid-Level Exception (All or Partial)
Sergio Rodriguez, G, Philadelphia 76ers – Rodriguez can play next to Jrue, and allow Holiday to play more shooting guard while “Spanish Chocolate” runs the offense. He is a solid defender and shoots the 3-ball at least well enough to be respected (36%).
Patty Mills, G, San Antonio Spurs – Mills is a knock down shooter who can get crazy hot from behind the arc, and who can also take some playmaking duties off of Holiday’s shoulders. He has taken nearly 1300 three’s in his six seasons with the Spurs and has made 40% of them.
Darren Collison, G, Sacramento Kings – Like the others, Collison can move Jrue off the ball, but he also brings more defense to the table. On top of that, his outside shooting has continued to improve, as he is at a career high 43% this season
Shaun Livingston, G, Golden State Warriors – He is not the shooter some of the others are, but he can run an offense and he is familiar with what Gentry wants to do offensively. He and Jrue would create a massive back court that could post up the smaller guards in this league, creating mismatches the team could exploit while swallowing up space on the other end as well.
Tony Allen, G, Memphis Grizzlies – If the Pelicans decide that slowing the game down and winning 95-92 is the way to go, then why not bring the staple of the Grizzlies perimeter defense into your locker room and do it the right way?
Kyle Korver, F, Cleveland Cavaliers – Kyle Korver isn’t getting any younger, but with the wide open three’s he would get playing with AD and Boogie, he wouldn’t have to be his once nimble and agile self. The spacing he would create for everyone else would be invaluable.
CJ Miles, F, Indiana Pacers (PO) – Miles is a solid defender who is shooting a career high 43% from deep this year, and he can actually finish at the rim when given wide open lanes (looking at you, Solomon)
Ian Clark, G, Golden State Warriors – Clark has been underutilized in Silicon Valley (elite show, BTW) these last few years. About to turn 26, Clark is ready to break out, as he has shown he can be a quality defender who can score at the rim and hit the outside shot (39% this season).
Andre Roberson, G, OKC Thunder (RFA) – If the Pelicans want to go the Memphis route, why not get a younger Tony Allen? Roberson can’t shoot, but he can defend the heck out of the ball and get out into transition. Maybe an offseason working with Fred Vinson could make his perimeter game respectable?
Jonathon Simmons, F, San Antonio Spurs (RFA) – Simmons outside shot has been streaky, but he is an energetic defender who can score in a multitude of ways. And making the Spurs just a tad bit weaker never hurts, either.
Justin Holiday, G, New York Knicks – If the brothers want to play together, why not in New Orleans? Justin has shown a respectable outside game (36%), while also rebounding the ball quite well for a guard and defending at a high level.
PJ Tucker, F, Toronto Raptors – Tucker is a hard-nosed defender who can also stroke the 3 at a decent rate. You want someone who can check Boogie and not back down if Boogie gets out of line? PJ Tucker is that guy.
Tony Snell, G, Milwaukee Bucks (RFA) – Snell is another quality shooter (40%), who doesn’t give you much else. But when you got AD and Boogie on the court, I don’t know how much else you need.
Bojan Bogdanovic, G/F, Washington Wizards (RFA) – Bogdanovic might be the best pure scorer on this list, and while he wouldn’t improve the defense, the Pelicans offense could be downright scary with him added to the mix.
Joe Ingles, F, Utah Jazz – Ingles is in the top-five in 3-pt% this season, shooting an impressive 43.2%. He also is a gifted passer, and an all-around high IQ player. Something this team needs desperately.
Andrew Bogut, C, Cleveland Cavaliers – Gentry loved using Bogut in Golden State, and here in New Orleans, Bogut could be a rotational big who spells both AD and Cousins while giving the team rebounding, defense, and another high post passer.
Joffrey Lauvergne, F/C, Chicago Bulls (RFA) – Potentially an excellent third big, who can play with both guys due to his ability to rebound on defense, while stepping outside occasionally on offense. Young, with upside, Lauvergne, could allow New Orleans the luxury of not having to worry about the front court positions for years.
Langston Galloway, G, Sacramento Kings – Sucks that he had to go in the trade, but he loved playing in New Orleans and could have a nice spot as a bench gunner here if he was willing to come back.
Jodie Meeks, G, Orlando Magic – Meeks, when healthy, can knock down the three. He has only played 27 games over the last two seasons, and he isn’t giving you much else. But that is why you get him for the bi-annual, as opposed to the massive contract the last time he was a free agent.
Anthony Morrow, G, Chicago Bulls – Normally a reliable three-point shooter, Morrow’s percentages have fell off a cliff this season. Last time he was in New Orleans, he shot 45% from deep, and in his first two seasons in OKC, he shot over 41%, but can’t hit the broad side of a barn this year. A gamble on Morrow would be saying you think this year is a fluke, and not a sign of things to come.
James Young, G/F, Boston Celtics – Young has been a massive disappointment for the Celtics so far, but he is only 21 and has shown flashes in the handful of minutes he has been given. Coming out of Kentucky, he was a shooter with some potential on the defensive end. Might be a nice little developmental project with Diallo, who would be bar far the two youngest guys on the roster.
Shelvin Mack, G, Utah Jazz – Mack isn’t spectacular but he is rock solid. He can play on or off the ball, defend both backcourt positions, and fills out a stat sheet.
James McAdoo, F, Golden State Warriors – McAdoo is another upside guy that could be worth a gamble. He barely gets run with the Warriors, but when he does he is efficient and plays solid defense.
Jeff Withey, C, Utah Jazz – Withey has seen a reduction in his playing time, but his year and a half with Quinn Snyder has improved his defensive fundamentals. He is also a slightly better rebounder and shot blocker than he was when he left.
Traded Player Exception
Will Barton, G, Denver Nuggets – A trade of a 2018 first rounder for Barton straight up would work, with the Nuggets not having to take anything back. The Nuggets open up some playing time for Jamal Murray while collecting another asset and the Pelicans get a gunner off the bench who could provide a major scoring boost.
KJ McDaniels, G/F. Brooklyn Nets – The Nets were gifted McDaniels for free and might be fine sending him to New Orleans for a 2nd if the Pelicans want to go the Memphis Grizzlies route. KJ is not the most effective scorer in the world, but he can be a defensive terror who cuts and attacks the rim on offense.
Troy Daniels, G, Memphis Grizzlies – Daniels is a three-point gunner who doesn’t provide much else, but his shooting is more than enough to earn him a place in this league. The Grizzlies have some payroll decisions to make this summer, and Daniels might be the odd man out if they choose other veterans over him.
Dewayne Dedmon, C, San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs might look to clear the books for CP3 or George Hill, and if they do, Dedmon can slide right into the Pelicans TPE. He is a solid third big who can rebound, defend, and unlike others, actually catch the ball.
Lucas Nogueira, C, Toronto Raptors – The Raptors are another team who are in a bind salary wise this offseason, and the Pelicans would be more than happy to put Nogueira in the Festus Ezili role off the bench. He scores efficiently and is a solid rebounder and shot blocker.
Kosta Koufos, C, Sacramento Kings – As the Pelicans look for a third big and the Kings look to get younger, a deal that sends Ajinca, Pondexter, cash, and a 2nd rounder for Koufos wouldn’t be so crazy. Both AD and Cousins like playing at the 4, and a traditional center like Koufos as the 3rd big would allow them to do so when they stagger.
Tarik Black, C, Los Angeles Lakers – A similar package might land you Tarik Black, who could also absorb punishment while making the Pelicans an elite offensive rebounding team.
Jared Dudley, F, Phoenix Suns – Wouldn’t it be nice for Dudley to finish his career with Alvin Gentry as a spot-up shooter, playing off of the best big man tandem in decades? Would Phoenix say no to Ajinca, Q-Pon, and a top-18 protected first for him? Highly doubtful. Dudley isn’t a great defender, but he is a great locker room guy and has shot 42% and 43% from three the last two years.
Terrence Ross, G/F, Orlando Magic – The Magic have Fournier and Hezonja, not to mention whoever they draft or sign this summer. Ross could be expendable if the Magic want to hold onto the other two, and a protected first plus Ajinca and Q-Pon would likely be enough for Orlando to part with him. He has been pretty steady throughout his career, shooting right around 38% from deep, and would bring some much-needed athleticism.
Wilson Chandler, F, Denver Nuggets – Chandler has been on the block for years, and the Pelicans might be the team finally willing to give up a first round pick for him. Chandler is a jack of all trades, master of none. But that is still better than what they are getting from a similarly paid Solomon Hill.
Alec Burks, G, Utah Jazz – Burks has been a disappointment since returning from injury, and his value is at an all-time low. It’s so bad that you wonder if an Ajinca/Q-Pon for Burks swap would actually be accepted by Utah, seeing that the move can save them some money.
Lance Thomas, F, New York Knicks – Who the heck knows what the Knicks are doing or what it might take to take Lance? But Dell should call and see if he can get this rich man’s Dante Cunningham off their hands. Thomas is a hustler who has turned himself into a solid shooter, and he still has a good relationship with AD. Oh yeah, and he buys fries.
Cory Joseph, G, Toronto Raptors – If the Raptors give Lowry the max, they might have to shed Joseph. A package where Ajinca goes to a third team, Q-Pon and cash plus a first goes to Toronto, and Joseph comes to New Orleans as a great backup who finishes games could make sense for everyone.
Avery Bradley, G, Boston Celtics – Make no mistake, it will take a good draft pick or two to get Bradley, but if the Celtics get someone like Fultz in the draft, while also knowing they are going to have to pay Smart and Thomas, he could be the odd man out. E’twaun Moore, Q-Pon’s contract, and two first round picks for Bradley could make the Pelicans an instant threat next year.
Nick Young, G, Los Angeles Lakers – The Lakers want out of Swaggy P’s deal and a swap of Q-Pon and a fake 2nd for Young helps save them some cap money, along with quite a bit of real money when insurance pays Pondexter’s deal. Meanwhile, Young gives the Pelicans a gunner off the bench who can change a game when hot.
First, the Pelicans will have to decide which kind of team they want to be: A slow down the game, defensive minded team, in the spirit of the Memphis Grizzlies. Or, a spread the floor, offensive juggernaut with two all-time great bigs dominating the paint and kicking out when doubled. Once they do that, they will have to decide whether they want to operate over or under the cap. The trade market should determine that, as the Pelicans will scour that market first to see who can be had with their 2018, and perhaps even their 2020 picks.
If the Pelicans choose to operate over the cap, they can get a lot of solid pieces that can make their roster 9 or 10 deep. They likely won’t have a fourth star, but they could have a lot of guys who can do little things to make it easier on AD and Boogie. Guard and small forward will be the biggest priorities, as the Pelicans will need shooters and/or perimeter defenders. Luckily, almost 15 of the top 35 three-point shooters (percentage wise) this year will likely be available in some form or fashion. Some quality perimeter defenders are available too.
The key will be extracting maximum value out of the future picks they want to use, and out of the mid-level exception. If they can use future picks and the MLE to get two sure-fire rotation players, then the rest should fall into place. Dell Demps is a master of the scrap heap, so he should be able to get a nice piece or two with the bi-annual and/or minimum contracts. If he can do all of the above, the Pelicans can be quite deep, and quite dangerous.
Doesn't this argue for being over the cap? A two superstar powered Big 3 of AD, Boogie, and Jrue needs a bunch of pieces, not a 4th star.
Also, isn't there a middle ground between the Pelicans being an offensive team or defensive team? The Pelican can pick up some offensive pieces and some defensive pieces and mix them into lineups to get several relatively balanced groups on the floor.
Finally, there is the PF Dante Cunningham question. He is fitting in really well when Cousins runs with the 2nd team, and he is the best 3-point shooter on the team at 40% (outside Reggie Williams' small sample size of 6 NBA games this season) while averaging three 3-point shots/game. What will it take to resign him and will that affect the dollars for other options?