Next Post:

Rules For a Boogie-Less Offseason

By:
Published: May 22, 2018

 

Every organization needs a contingency plan if the primary option does not pan out. Make no mistake, DeMarcus Cousins is plan A. As I detailed last week, the Pelicans best path to talent is through Cousins. It is extremely unlikely that any player near Cousins’ caliber will be available to them this summer, and if the Pelicans aspire to truly raise their ceiling in the playoffs, not just get there, Cousins is still the best bet. But in free agency, even the best laid plans unravel. Cousins could very much demand more than the limit the Pelicans have set for themselves, and the Pelicans need to think hard before complying with those demands and saddling themselves with potentially crippling future salary. In this piece I’m going to lay out a few ground rules for the Pelicans to follow should Cousins choose to walk. We will be operating off the cap sheet below.

Note, I am operating under the assumption that the Pelicans will function as an above-the-cap team should Cousins choose to walk. If you renounce all possible holds, the Pelicans have about $4 million in cap space with little opportunity to free up any significant space to sign players. The Pelicans gain the most amount of flexibility by operating as a below-the-apron, but above-the-cap team due the the MLE and BAE exceptions. Any additional space under the hard-cap can be used to take back additional salary than is sent out, pursuant with the rules of the CBA. One important thing to consider if the Pelicans choose to go this route is that the Pelicans are functionally hard-capped at the tax line due to about $6M in pending incentives that need to be baked into the frontend of this calculus. If you want to read more in depth about why this matters, make sure to check out Jason’s, The Pelicans’ Glass Salary Ceilingpiece from last year.  Current incentives can also shift the cap sheet slightly, but equally in both scenarios above.

Lastly, I chose not to include the hand full of traded player exceptions the Pelicans hold in the cap sheet because they do not impact the message of this post. The exceptions provide an additional layer of flexibility to the Pelicans but can be difficult to use. Roster charges were also not included for the same reason, but the Pelicans will need between 13-15 players rostered. Without further ado, here are the rules the Pelicans need to follow in order to maximize their cap space this summer.

Rules

Rule 1: Avoid the Sign-and-Trade

This rule may be the most counter intuitive of all the rules. Instinct screams that we cannot let Cousins walk for nothing in return, but I urge you to take a look at the Pelicans cap sheet above. Any trade that ships Cousins out will likely bring back a significant chunk of salary in return. Take for example the popular example of Otto Porter. Porter is slated to earn just over $26 million next year, a hair under Cousins’ cap hold of $27M. This trade in a vacuum would vault the Pelicans into tax territory, leaving the Pelicans only the taxpayer-MLE and minimum exceptions to fill out the roster. The Pelicans could attach picks to contracts like HIll’s to get under the tax, but then you are using assets to merely accommodate contracts financially and not getting better tangibly. Ask yourself, is Otto Porter worth this hassle? Is Porter worth going into the tax for? Porter is likely the best player available in any sign and trade scenario the Pelicans might face, and this doesn’t even consider the cap implications for the other team who will be subject to the hard-cap when receiving Cousins. There just isn’t a great market that is conducive to both teams. Unless the Pelicans are getting a bonafide star back, it just isn’t worth going through with a sign-and trade. There are better options on the table.

Rule 2: Rondo Must Be Signed Using the Non-Bird Exception

The non-bird exception allows you to sign a player, whose bird rights you do not possess, to 120% of their previous salary. For Rondo, this number translates to roughly $3.9 million and is equivalent to his caphold. Not only is this a slight raise, but it is more than the Pelicans can offer via the bi-annual exception. The moment the Pelicans use any portion of the MLE, tax-payer or full, they are hampering their ability to sign an additional player with that money. Rondo’s market is slim if he is interested in competing in the playoffs. Most playoff teams have established guard rotations and few teams will be willing to give him the freedom that Gentry afforded. The non-bird deal should be one that allows a happy compromise between both parties.

Rule 3: Avoid Consolidating Salary

The Pelicans have several small to mid-sized contracts that can be used as salary base to acquire a bigger contract. For example, the Pelicans could feasibly package Solomon Hill and E’twuan Moore to absorb the Nic Batum contract. The space under the hard cap allows the Pelicans to operate with a salary deficit in a trade and at a glance Batum seems like a solid addition to the team. However trades such as these are likely to be available even at the deadline. There is no reason for the Pelicans to rush and make a move which consolidates multiple contracts into one large contract. Every move the Pelicans need to make in a post-Boogie world needs to have an eye on the future. Ultimately the Pelicans need to put themselves in a position to trade for the next star on the market. Teams are more likely to take on multiple smaller contracts than one large albatross. Less medium sized contracts on the books also limit your ability to upgrade on the margins. The Mirotic trade worked because the Asik contract was a great fit, along with a few minimum deals, in terms of salary. Would it have worked if Asik was slated to make $17M per year? Likely not. Likewise, let’s say at some point in the future the Pelicans identify they need to upgrade at a particular position. Would it be easier to trade a $12M sized contract in Solomon Hill with a pick, or a $24M sized contract in Batum? The same logic applies in trade scenarios the involve more than 2 teams. There’s simply more flexibility to your moves when you don’t have over $80M of your cap committed to just 3 players, especially if one of them isn’t a star. Smaller contracts matter, you heard it here first.

Rule 4: Avoid Spending the MLE on a Big Man

With Cousins gone, the Pelicans will need a big man or big men to absorb about 27-30 minutes per night. They should be able to find suitable ones via trade or via the smaller exceptions. The market is depressed for big men as teams are finding them difficult to play in the playoffs. Big men need to be able to run, switch on defense, and perhaps shoot a little. If you are big man who can do all three, you are a max contract player. If you cannot, you are slowly losing value with each passing season. Looking at the list of unrestricted free agent big men, the best available ones are Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors. Both are fine players, but neither is likely to help you win a playoff series, and neither will be that much of a functional upgrade over the bigs that Pelicans can acquire for lower salary slots or via trades. With Cousins gone, the Pelicans need to fully commit to the Davis-Mirotic pairing and only need a big to spell the two without being a total liability. Last year 35 year old Emeka Okafor and Cheick Diallo were able to satisfy this requirement adequately. The Pelicans can likely find upgrades if they look around.

Instead the Pelicans need to do everything they can to bolster the perimeter with the MLE. Last year CJ Miles and PJ Tucker both received close the full MLE and this is the mold of player that the Pelicans should seek.

Rule 5: Trade Solomon Hill for a Functional Big Man

This one isn’t as much of a hard rule as the others. But if the other rules have been followed, trading Solomon Hill for a big is the best course of action. As mentioned above, the market for big men has been depressed over the past few years. Several teams have a $10M -17M big man they are just looking to get rid of. Hill looked rough coming back from injury in the playoffs, but his fit with Rondo remains questionable even at full health. Neither can shoot, but at least Rondo is far superior with the ball in his hands. In order to maximize Davis, you need spacing. Adding Hill to the mix makes this venture difficult. Instead, the Pelicans should look for a team who has a big on the market and perhaps has needs on the wing or is looking to shed some salary. Again, the Pelicans have space under the hard cap that should enable them to absorb more salary than they send out. A functional big that can play about 27 minutes per game allows the Pelicans to focus their resources on the perimeter. This should be the goal.

Potential Targets

Mid-Level Exception (All or Partial)

Trevor Ariza – Ariza has been a pivotal player on the Rockets over the last few years and has been called upon to be their best wing defender. Ariza shoots threes without hesitation, rebounds the ball adequately, and provides good size at the SF spot at 6’8’’. However Ariza is 32 years old and will likely be looking for his last payday.

Danny Green (PO) – Green is another versatile wing defender who can shoot threes. While Green’s shooting has fallen off over the last few years, Green remains a force on the defensive end, leading all guards in blocked shots. Green has a player option for about $10M and will likely have many suitors should he decide to opt out. It’s unlikely the Pelicans will be able to afford him, but it is worth a conversation.

Wilson Chandler (PO) – Chandler is in a similar situation to Green in which he has a player option for about $12M. However, over the past few years Chandler has expressed frustration in a lack of a consistent role in Denver. Chandler isn’t a sexy name, but he provides needed size at 6’8’’, some positional versatility, some scoring, and some rebounding. Chandler is 31 and has a bit of an injury history. Nevertheless, he’d immediately be the best wing player on the Pelicans if signed, and slide into a starting role.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – This 25 year old wing chose to gamble on himself by taking a 1 year, $18M deal with the Lakers. The season yielded mixed results a Caldwell-Pope finished with averages of 13.4 pts, 5.2 rebs, 2.2 asts. Caldwell-Pope shot a solid 38.3% from three on over 5 attempts and at times showed defensive potential.

Rudy Gay (PO) – I call this the conservation of achilles. Gay had a decent year in San Antonio and looked capable at times defensively. We know Gay can provide scoring, but his positional versatility could be very useful to the Pelicans. He isn’t much of a shooter and it’s unclear how he will continue to age.

Avery Bradley – Bradley suffered a disappointing season in which he appeared in only 46 games. Bradley was kept out with injuries to the adductor and rectus abdominis muscles which required surgery. In the previous year, Bradley only appeared in 55 games. It is unclear how much value an oft-injured and undersized 2 guard will command, but Bradley is known for being a defensive hound with the ability to score.

Rodney Hood (RFA) – Hood is a restricted free agent with the Cavaliers who has had a disappointing stay thus far. With reports coming out that Hood suffers stage fright in the biggest moments, Hood may not be welcome back on a team likely to make another finals run. In New Orleans, Hood can enjoy limited media exposure and a lack of national games. Hood is still largely potential. He’s a poor defender who can sometimes get hot offensively.

Tyreke Evans – We are all familiar with Reke. While I doubt either party has interest in a reunion, Tyreke provides the go-to scorer of the bench the Pelicans sorely lack. Tyreke revived much of his value in Memphis this past year and is likely looking to get on a good team. Memphis does not hold Tyreke’s bird rights and is also limited to offering him the full MLE.

Will Barton – Barton is another guy who can score in bunches off the bench. All indications point to Denver seeking to re-sign Barton, but the 27 year old wing could find himself a great home in a Finch based offense he has seen before.

J.J. Redick – Redick is another player who opted to take a large 1 year deal ($20M) the previous year. He showed he is still productive and a valuable floor spacer. Philadelphia has a lot of cap space and will likely be able to retain him with little struggle, but he is another name the Pelicans should try to have a conversation with.

Brook Lopez –  I know I said to avoid going after bigs with the MLE, but I included Brook in the event the Pelicans find suitable wings via trade. Brook is a legit 7 footer who can score in the post and step out beyond the arc. He would fit well with both Mirotic an Davis and provide additional scoring in the paint. If you’re going to throw money at a big (please don’t), let it be Brook.

Bi-Annual Exception

James Ennis – Ennis is another familiar name who had a decently productive year. Ennis brings size on the wing, athleticism, and the ability to knock down an open three.

Vince Carter – Carter is at the very tail end of his career and can provide some veteran stability and offense on the bench.

Nick Young – The Pelicans were interested in Young before. Young brings shooting and entertainment.

Seth Curry – another possible reunion. Seth would seamlessly fill the void left by Clark and provide additional ball handling.

Joe Harris – Harris is a 6’6’’ shooting guard who can really shoot the ball. He doesn’t provide much else, but the Pelicans can always use more shooters.

Michael Beasley – Beasley had somewhat of a resurgence in New York. He would bring a scoring threat to the bench who could play either forward position and rebound a bit.

Jerami Grant – Grant had a big year in OKC where he showed off his defensive versatility. Grant is a solid small ball 4 or 5 who isn’t afraid to contest shots at the rim. He isn’t much of a shooter though.

Mario Hezonja – After several seasons of disappointment, Hezonja showed flashes of improvement over the last 2 months of this past season. Still largely a question mark, he may be worth a flier.

Jahlil Okafor – Okafor has disappointed in both Philadelphia and Brooklyn. It is unclear if Okafor will ever piece together his underlying talent into production, but there is a chance the potential is there. He’s another young guy the Pelicans might want to take a flier on as their spot big.

Nerlens Noel – Another disappointing ex-Philadelphia big (see the theme here). He isn’t known as the best locker room presence, but maybe he can find a home next fellow Kentucky players in Davis and Rondo.

Alex Len – Len failed to show much of anything in Phoenix and chose to take the qualifying offer last year. He is fairly athletic, can rebound, and can fill a role as a spot big.

Trade Targets

Kosta Koufos  – Koufos has 1 year, $8.7 M left on his contract. Because of the Pelicans ability to take on more a salary than they send out, a trade for Ajinca, Diallo, and some cash might do the trick. The Pelicans could also add a 2nd round pick in order to sweeten the offer.

Jonas Valanciunas  – JV has about 1 year $16.6M left on his contract. The Raptors are moving in a different coaching direction and it is no secret that JV has been on the block. A trade centered around Hill, Diallo, and a top 18 protected pick might do the deal.

Nikola Vucevic –  The Magic have been on the mediocrity treadmill since Dwight Howard left. Never good enough to make the playoffs, rarely bad enough for a top 2 pick. Should they draft a big man in the draft, it might be time to move on from Vucevic. A package centered around Hill and a lottery protected pick works straight up.

Cody Zeller – A package similar to the one listed for Vucevic above would likely be necessary to make the trade work. Zeller provides fantastic mobility for a big man and does all the dirty work. Zeller and Davis would likely comprise the most mobile big man tandem in the league when it comes to defense.

Myers Lenoard  – Leonard has largely fallen out of the rotation in Portland. At $10.5M, Leonard could likely be traded straight up for Hill without a pick from either side. Portland might have to include some minor salary to offset the the minor salary differences. Calling Leonard a functional big is a stretch, but he does stretch the floor.

Gorgui Dieng –  Dieng comes with a pricey contract and is a questionable fit next to Towns. He can, however play adequate defense and is pretty solid from mid-range. The Wolves would have to throw in something to incentivize the Pelicans to take this contract. Hill+Diallo for Dieng and Tyus Jones is construct that works financially and saves Minnesota money in years and upfront. Jones would be nice bench piece to add for the Pelicans.

DeMarre Carroll – Carroll arguably had a career year in Brooklyn and is an expiring contract. It will likely take a protected pick to go with the Hill contract to acquire him. Carroll gives you a functional wing with some versatility and the ability to rebound.

Dennis Schröder – In another offseason event of unfollowing people on social media, Schröder deleted all traces of Hawks material on his Instagram. Shocking. Schröder is still fairly young and can get to the rim with the best of them. However it’s unclear how much value he actually provides to a team as analytics have painted a net negative every single year of his career. Schröder also potentially comes with a suspension due if convicted on  domestic battery incident he was involved in. He is a potential buy-low opportunity if the Hawks want to get rid of him at any cost and will accept Hill without any picks. Schröderr’s locker room fit is unclear, perhaps he can be mentored by Rondo who will eventually hand the keys to him. We know Rondo isn’t a long term solution, maybe Schröder can be?

Kyle Anderson – I’ll admit, this is more of a pipe dream. Anderson is a restricted free agent with the Spurs and would require a sign-and-trade to acquire. He likely isn’t coming for the MLE, and that amount is something the Spurs can easily match. However if the Spurs are not inclined to pay his market value, perhaps a trade can be structured around E’twuan+ Diallo traded for Anderson at a deal valued at $12M per year. Anderson provides size at the wing, defense, and some crafty playmaking.

Conclusion

The options without Cousins are not world beating. The likelihood the Pelicans strike gold in every area is slim. However, if Cousins is no longer an option, the Pelicans need pieces to push them across the finish line. In an 82 game season you need contributions from multiple players on the roster, especially in the event of injury. I’ve laid out some of the potential options for the Pelicans to pursue that will raise their current floor. None of these acquisitions replicate the ceiling Pelicans have with Cousins on board, but they do provide an opportunity for the Pelicans to move forward. The important thing here is to maintain flexibility and utilize the space under the hard-cap effectively. With how the close the West is, the Pelicans can’t afford to simply run it back and remain stagnant. Other teams will be looking to pursue some of these same opportunities for improvement and may have a better shot than the Pelicans. What I do know is that these moves could potentially set the Pelicans up in a more favorable position to acquire a future star. Retaining multiple mid-sized contracts and demonstrating sustained success in the win column is a a good recipe moving forward. We saw how Cleveland was able to retool on the fly with several mid-sized and expiring contracts. The Pelicans can eventually put themselves in a position to do much of the same.

 

 

 

 

   

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.