Trade Targets III: Setting Up the Next Trade

Published: July 10, 2018

Some people play checkers, others play chess. Dell Demps plays chess. He might not always win, but he’s always playing chess.

Most NBA fans are in a rush to judge every move in a vacuum. They rush to analyze a move the second it is made. But, in reality, each move is a domino that is playing off another domino. It will knock over another domino and provide a sequence of events that paints a bigger picture than the one people see when looking at the singular domino alone.

Dell Demps is making calls right now, and he is seeing what every GM has seen in the past – It is hard to get a steal via trade in the summer. The fact is that this is the time of year where teams are their most optimistic. At least 27 teams think they are playoff teams right now. Ask the Mavericks front office. Talk to the Grizzlies GM or Steve Clifford with the Magic. They will all tell you about the young guys on their roster and how they are in better shape and improved since the season ended. They love their new acquisitions and the injuries that plagued them last season are healed and will never return!

So, imagine being a GM and trying to convince them to take your expiring contracts and a pick that they don’t get to use for 11 months. And what do you want in return? One of their quality players who is going to help lead them to the playoffs. Thanks, but no thanks, they tell you. But you know when that conversation changes? In January or February, when the season is lost and their scouts are telling them about all these great college prospects who can change the fortune of their franchise in just a few short months!

People are stupid.

But this is the reality of the NBA. We would like to think that these 30 GM’s are all purely rational and objective. But they all have bias and see what they want to see. It’s not until reality sets in that they will be willing to move on from the quality players that aren’t good enough to help their bad teams but are good enough to help put a very good team over the top. And that is when Dell has to be in position to pounce.

So, this summer should be about Dell putting himself in the best position to do just that. And what will those teams be looking for? First round picks (which the Pelicans still have) and expiring contracts (which the Pelicans don’t have enough of). Dell has some big expiring contracts in Niko and Randle, but those are quality players and trading them just to get another quality player would be a lateral move. He has Ajinca and Darius Miller, but those only total to 7.4 million going out. Dell needs more.

What he should be looking for right now are deals that allow him to package Ajinca, and perhaps even Liggins and/or Okafor in exchange for bigger expiring deals that can be part of a trade in February. And if that guy can give you a few solid games early in the year, even better. Per NBA rules, a team not in the tax can take back 175% of the salary they send out or $5 million more then they send out – whichever number is smaller. This means that the Pels can send Ajinca out and take back 9.1 million dollars. Now, let’s think about how that helps in February. That same 9.1 million can be sent out and the Pels can receive 14.1 million back, as long as it doesn’t put them over the tax.

On top of that, the Pelicans can use their exemption to add a 3.9 million dollar player to their roster without giving anything back. Lets add that back to the 9.1 million dollars in expirings they just got in this theoretical Ajinca trade. Now they have 13 million dollars in expirings, which could be used to take 18 million dollars back. Now, all of a sudden, you can put a bunch of expirings together with E’twaun Moore and get Kemba and the MKG contract the Hornets want you to swallow. You couldn’t do that if you just had Moore and Ajinca. Wouldn’t be legal. But with this series of moves in July, it is now possible in February.

Here are some deals that can help the Pelicans get both better in the short term and pull off a great trade at the deadline

Alexis Ajinca, Emeka Okafor, Cash, and a second round pick for Milos Teodosic and Wesley Johnson

The Clippers have a ton of guards and wings, and no need for either of these guys who are guaranteed 8.3 million combined this season. The Pelicans send them 7.5 million in salary that they will either cut or let insurance pay (Ajinca). Pels give them an extra 1.5 million in cash, so the Clippers save 2.3 million (maybe more if insurance pays Ajinca), get extra roster spots, and a 2nd rounder – which has a value of 1.5-2 million.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans get two expirings that total nearly 12.5 million. And two guys who can help this year at the Pelicans biggest positions of need. Then, come February, if the Mavs finally see they need to move on from Harrison Barnes – those two guys and E’Twaun Moore helps the Mavs save a bunch of money, open up space next summer when they want to be a player, and gets them a solid role player in Moore for cheap. The Mavs wouldn’t take Moore and Hill for Barnes. But Moore and expirings? Makes sense if they are 18-29.

Alexis Ajinca, Emeka Okafor, and Deandre Liggins for Markieff Morris and Jason Smith

The Wizards get under the luxury tax and open up the power forward position for Jeff Green and Otto Porter to play as they embrace their true destiny as a 1-in, 4-out team. The Pelicans solidify their big man rotation and pick up 14 million dollars in expiring to use in a trade later. When the Magic realize they stink and want to just dump Fournier and the years left on his contract, here are some expirings for them to take.

Ajinca, Emeka Okafor, and Liggins for Kenneth Faried

Remember how good AD was with Faried on Team USA? Let’s run it back! No, in all seriousness, Faried is just a contract for you to use in February. If he gives you some energy and minutes before then, awesome! But in February, he gives you a 13.8 million dollar expiring contract to use in a trade. And the Nuggets save over 4 million dollars in salary, which helps them immensely when it comes to luxury tax payments.

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Basically, the Pelicans need to find teams who have motivation to save money and/or open up roster spots. Give them lesser expiring contracts for bigger expiring contracts and then roll over those contracts in February for bigger prizes when teams finally see the reality of their situation.

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