2017 Offseason Possibilities Part Three: Jrue Walks

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Published: March 5, 2017

Let’s get one thing out of the way….. Jrue Holiday will be overpaid next year. Whether it is by the New Orleans Pelicans or by some other team, he will receive a contract that makes him one of the top 3-5 highest paid point guards in the league. And nobody would claim that Jrue is a top five point guard. Heck, he isn’t top 10. He is a middle-of-the-pack starting point guard in the golden era of point guards, but he is about to get paid like a superstar simply because he is becoming a free agent in the year where the salary cap exceeds $100 million for the first time ever.

So, what are the Pelicans to do? In my first two pieces (operating below the cap and operating above the cap), re-signing Jrue Holiday was a forgone conclusion. Since the day the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, they referred to him, AD, and Jrue as ‘The Big Three.’ In fact, a big part of the rationale for being so aggressive at the trade deadline in the first place was to get another significant talent so that Jrue would re-sign this summer. It would seem foolish to jump through all those hoops, reject offers for Jrue at the deadline, and call them ‘The Big Three’ if you were just going to let Jrue leave.

But who knows what will happen on July 1st. Maybe Jrue gets wined and dined by an NBA team for the first time ever and falls for it, the way Eric Gordon did with Phoenix. Maybe he and his brother become determined to play together and want to do that back in LA or Justin lures him to New York. Maybe the Pelicans expect the sticker price to be more like 4/80 and it turns out to be 5/140. In any event, it is at least a possibility with Jrue being an unrestricted free agent, and the Pelicans have to come up with a plan B in case Jrue leaves, or they just decide they don’t want to pay that price.

If Jrue does decide to go elsewhere, the first thing the Pelicans have to do is find out if the team signing him is willing to acquire him via sign and trade. If they are willing to do that, it would allow the Pelicans to still operate above the cap if they want, giving them not only a massive TPE for Jrue, but also the ability to use both the MLE and the bi-annual. If the Pelicans just let Jrue walk and operate under the cap for the rest of the summer, they essentially forfeit the MLE and it would be unlikely that they could both add somebody to replace Jrue AND upgrade in the other positions that so desperately need help.

The Sign and Trade route would really be best for the Pelicans if Jrue walks, but you have to give the other team incentive to do that. Why would they help you out if they could just sign the player themselves? What the Pelicans might have to do is take back a contract that the other team doesn’t want, for the ability to get the TPE and operate over the cap. For example, let’s say the Knicks get Jrue for the max. The Pelicans can do a sign and trade to them for Lance Thomas, allowing the Knicks to get out from his remaining 3 years and $21 million. Meanwhile, the Pelicans get Thomas and a TPE for around $18 million dollars. They also get to keep their MLE and bi-annual.

Compare that to the world where the Knicks just sign him and the Pelicans get nothing in return. Well, in that world, they would have about $15 million in cap room, no Lance Thomas, no MLE,  no huge TPE, and no bi-annual to offer. Now, they could try and shed a bunch of contracts, stretch Asik, etc. to get to about $30 million in cap room, but they would need to upgrade at least 3 major areas with that money AND round out their bench. It simply wouldn’t be enough.

After they know whether Jrue will be leaving via sign and trade or not, the Pelicans would have to scour the market for other point guard options. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the starting caliber point guards who could be available if Jrue is dead set on leaving.

Via Trade

Ricky Rubio, Wolves (Remaining Contract: 2 Years/$29 Million) – The Pelicans could have him just slide into cap space or the TPE created if they sign and trade Jrue. Or they can swing an uneven trade involving QPon and a protected pick. Either way, it shouldn’t take a ton to acquire Rubio, who was reportedly almost dealt for underproducing point guards like Reggie Jackson or Derrick Rose in recent months. Rubio is still a very good defender and terrific playmaker, but would kill the spacing even more due to his complete inability to knock down outside shots. Rubio would only work if the Pelicans were dead set on trying to win games 90-88 or if they got super elite outside shooters at the 2 and the 3.

Jeremy Lin, Nets (2 Years, $24.5 mil) – The Pelicans were interested in Lin last summer, and the Nets would love to get an asset or two for a guy who likely isn’t in their future plans. Lin has only played 16 games this season, but he was a dynamic scorer in those games and probably played the best ball of his career in Mike D’Antoni’s wide open system — something Gentry is trying to run here. If the Pelicans can get him for say Quincy Pondexter, cash, two future 2nds, and part of their TPE, they could replace Jrue’s offensive production if Lin stays healthy. Defense would suffer greatly, but there are always tradeoffs.

Dante Exum, Jazz (1 Year, $5 mil) – If the Jazz give George Hill the massive contract that he wants, then it would be wise to trade Exum before they have to pay him. The former top-five pick really hasn’t done anything so far in his career, but if you watch closely, you can see a guy about to take off. He is almost a year and a half removed from ACL surgery and the explosion is starting to come back. This would be a pure boom or bust gamble, but if you can get him for Q-Pon and a lottery protected pick, and you can go spend the rest of your money improving three or four other spots, while grooming this kid to eventually take over, it could be the kind of risk that pays off big in the long run.

Elfrid Payton, Magic (1 Year, $3.3 Mil) – Like was the case with Rubio, Payton was on the block several times this year. He is a poor shooter who doesn’t get to the line, but he can see the floor, rebounds the ball very well for a PG, and can finish at a high level at the rim. This is another high upside candidate that could probably be had for little to nothing. Have Fred Vinson work on his stroke like he did with Tyreke, and you could have a better rebounding, higher IQ Jrue in 2 years.

Cory Joseph, Raptors (2 Years, $15.6 Mil) – As stated in a previous piece, Toronto is going to have to unload some salaries if they want to keep everybody and Joseph is a guy who can definitely start in this league, but won’t when he is on the same team as Kyle Lowry. Joseph, like Holiday in some ways, is good at everything but great at nothing. He can run a team, but he won’t win you many games on his own. But with the money you potentially save on this poor man’s Jrue Holiday, you could upgrade enough of the other positions to give yourself a chance to contend.

Brandon Knight, Suns (3 Years/$42 Million) – The Suns would be happy to just give Knight away for nothing at this point, so he can easily be absorbed with cap room or the TPE. The question is simply whether he is a good basketball player, regardless of what it takes to get him. He is a below average shooter with a terrible assist to turnover ratio for a point guard, and nothing to write home about on defense either. Yeah, you can get him easily, but then what? Then, you just got an overpaid PG you are looking to upgrade from. What’s the point in that?

Reggie Jackson, Pistons (3 Years, $51 Million) – Two years ago, Reggie Jackson played like an All-Star. This year, Ish Smith has been significantly better. Which guy would you be getting? The former would be well worth his contract and the minimum assets it would take to get him. The latter would be no better than acquiring Brandon Knight. Prior to his injury, Jackson was more explosive, getting to the line more often and bending defenses with ease. If he can get back to that, he is a type of point guard Gentry would love. If he can’t, he is dead weight on your books.

Free Agency

Darren Collison, Kings – As I discussed in part two of this series, Collison would be very good in a Gentry offense. Especially if he continues to shoot the way he has these past two years. The Pelicans can probably get him with the MLE or something similar, and could use other assets and exceptions to improve several other positions.

Derrick Rose, Knicks – Maybe the Pelicans believe that the Triangle is the worst possible offense for Derrick Rose and that a move into Gentry’s wide open offense can bring him back to life. The overwhelming likelihood is that Rose is Penny Hardaway 2.0 and we are watching his Phoenix years all over again, but maybe you take a swing and get lucky.

Jeff Teague, Pacers – George Hill will be in Utah or San Antonio, but Jeff Teague is the one free agent point guard on a similar level as Jrue that the Pelicans might be able to acquire. He is pretty average across the board, but the one thing that he does much better than Jrue, is get to the free throw line and knock them down. If Boogie and AD are constantly getting the Pels in the bonus, this could mean a major upgrade for the Pels on the offensive end.

Patty Mills, Spurs – Mills is a combo guard who is probably best served coming off the bench, but you can see a scenario where the Pelicans get someone like Batum via trade and use the MLE on Mills to play off the ball in most sets. Mills only works in a scenario like that or in a scenario where the Pelicans massively upgrade at both wing spots and he is a placeholder at point guard, similar to how Mike Mahoney was on the Rockets team that featured Drexler, Pippen, Barkley, and Hakeem. That’s right, I just dropped a Mahoney bomb on ya!

Conclusion

The options aren’t great if Holiday walks, and the best you can likely hope for is that the Pelicans can sign and trade Jrue, then use the TPE to get another point guard basically for free while using the MLE and future first round picks to significantly upgrade the other positions enough to offset the loss of Jrue. Or, you use the TPE (or cap room) to get a bigger fish and then go cheap on the point guard, taking a chance on an Elfrid Payton or Dante Exum.

There is no sure-fire option, and that is why the Pelicans are in a precarious position. Nobody wants to overpay a player, but sometimes it is the best option when you consider them all. You can bring back Jrue and still get many of the guys listed above and/or guys that can help you on the wings. Or, you can downgrade at point guard, and probably not improve on the wings much more than you would in the universe where you keep Jrue anyway.

In a lot of ways, the Pelicans situation with Jrue reminds me of the one the Clippers were in with DeAndre Jordan two summers ago. Was he a max player in a vacuum? Probably not. But if they let him walk, they weren’t really going to have any cap room that year or in future years to get significantly better anyway. It’s not like if the Pelicans let Jrue walk and get a one-year stop-gap this summer, that they will all of a sudden have significant cap room next summer anyway. Having him walk would open up a few more tiny doors, but nothing massive that could lead to significant improvement.

The fact is that while there are several point guards in the NBA better than Jrue, none of them are available. You can whine about how he will be overpaid, but that doesn’t mean that the other available options are any better. Sometimes, you have to pick the lesser of two evils and hope to get a little lucky. If you bet on Holiday, you have to hope that the Jrue you saw pre All-Star break is the guy you will get for the next four years once he settles in with AD and Boogie. If you let him walk and gamble on someone else with injuries (Lin, Jackson) or upside (Exum, Payton), then you hope that they hit their ceiling.

It’s a gamble either way. Here’s hoping the Pelicans don’t crap out.

3 comments
dmaggard22
dmaggard22

Get rid of Jrue sign Teague, Mills, Tucker, Meeks

6thMan
6thMan

Thanks, Mc, for all 3 pieces & for explaining so clearly the advantages of staying above the cap. Keeping Jrue (even overpaying) becomes much more acceptable if I see Gentry start playing a 2nd PG alongside Jrue, esp in crunch time, even if it's Tiny Tim (Battling Timmy). Otherwise it's just too painful to watch the Pels with Jrue struggle to create any separation on offense. Alas, Kawhi's strip was really not a fluke, but indicative of the struggle Jrue has had at end of games in NO. The team just needs a 2nd ball-handler in these situations.