Do The Pelicans Need To Save Cap Space for Julius Randle?

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Published: July 14, 2018

It was all smiles at the introductory press conference. Julius Randle spoke about making New Orleans his home long term, and Dell Demps spoke of Randle as if he was a core building block moving forward. And while both men were being authentic, the NBA’s pesky little salary cap could put a thorn in the reality of Randle being a Pelican for the foreseeable future.

Julius Randle signed a two-year deal, with a player option for next season. The contract starts at a little over 8.6 million dollars this year, and his option would be for a touch over 9 million dollars next year. If Randle has a season as good as the one he just had, or better, he is a lock to opt out of his contract and seek another one. The problem for the Pelicans is, that if they do not have cap space to use, then the most they can offer Randle for next season is $10.4 million. If the market for Randle is closer to 15 or 20 million dollars, and the Pelicans want to keep him, they will need to shed some salaries and operate under the salary cap to make an offer that high. And while that’s certainly possible, it is not optimal.

The Pelicans have Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday under contract for the 2019-20 season at a combined salary of $54 million (give or take a few million based on Holiday’s incentives). Everything else is moveable or dumpable, if need be. The projected salary cap for that season is likely to be between 108-110 million dollars, so if re-signing Randle becomes top priority, then the Pelicans can make it happen. But if they need to prepare for that future, then it limits how aggressive they can be between now and next summer. If the Hornets offer them an opportunity to get Kemba Walker for the price of taking on Nic Batum, they would have to pass. If Dallas is willing to give them Harrison Barnes for expirings and picks, Dell would have to say no.

And even if Dell passes on those kind of moves to maintain space, there are still opportunity costs over the following summer. He loses the right to use the MLE by being under the cap. He likely would have to sacrifice Mirotic’s bird rights, and he also would probably have to either dump Moore for free or use a pick to get someone to take Solomon Hill. If Randle is going to cost 15-20 million dollars, Dell Demps is going to have to face an incredibly tough decision: Build around a great, but expensive core of AD, Jrue, and Randle (with little else) or let a blossoming 24 year old Randle walk and have a balanced team with less upside.

It’s a quagmire, for sure. And it’s one the Pelicans have to start preparing for today, as they assess how aggressive they want to be between now and the February trade deadline. The optimal situation would see the Pelicans add talent between now and the deadline, operate over the cap next season, re-sign Niko and bring back Randle as well on another 1+1 that allows him to be paid $10.4 million in 2019-20, then opt out the following summer, where the Pelicans can use Early Bird Rights to sign him to a contract that starts around $18 million.

But if Randle gets offers in the 15-20 million dollar range from another team next summer, he can not pass that up, no matter how much he wants to make New Orleans home. But my question is: How realistic is it that Randle gets an offer like that? It obviously wasn’t there this year for the 23 year old Randle, who was coming off an amazing second half of the season. Yes, there will be more money available next summer, but there will also be more quality free agents absorbing all that money. If you are going to give a guy 15-20 million dollars, he is your prize gem in that free agent class. He is a major building block that starts and finishes games for you. Looking around at the league, are we sure that there is a team that is going to look at Randle and do whatever it takes to get him because they know he is the key to taking them to the next level?

Julius Randle is an undersized big man, with limited range on the offensive end. This is in a day and age where the league is moving towards playing wings at the 4, theorizing that if I am going to have an undersized 4 anyway, I want him to stretch the defense. So, no team looking to fill their 4 position is going to lob a ton of money at Randle. Unless, they have a Unicorn at 5 who can protect the rim and also hit from the outside. You know, a guy like Anthony Davis. And nobody is going to pay him a ton of money to be their full-time 5. He can finish games there, but nobody is going to start him there for 82 games, next to a traditional 4.

So, who will have the cap space, and the need, and the fit? Who will offer up the chance to win and all these other things that Randle will have to get from another team to leave Anthony Davis and New Orleans, if all they offer is the 1+1, starting at $10.4 million? Projecting forward, here are the most likely candidates.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are clearing the decks to go after two max players next summer, with their eyes apparently set on Kyrie, KD, and/or Jimmy Butler. But what happens when they (likely) miss out on them? Do they just turn to the next tier and get themselves 3 guys from the next level so they can be relevant again? If so, Randle could be a target simply because of his age and offensive output.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs will have cap space and a spot open in the front court after Dirk retires. He would be a young player that fits their timeline, and they can give him the uptempo style he prefers. But again, Dallas will have 8-10 other guys on their list ahead of Randle. Maybe they offer him a big contract if they miss out on all those guys, but what we have seen the last few years is that if a team misses out on their prize gem, they just sign guys for one year and kick the can forward. They don’t overpay guys on their B or C list for multiple years. They believe ‘Next Year Will Be the Year we Strike Gold!’

Philadelphia 76ers

They will likely be going after much bigger fish, but they are on this list because they have a big man and a style of play that Randle could flourish with. But again, he won’t be anywhere near the top of their list and even if they miss out, they aren’t likely to sacrifice all future flexibility for a guy like Randle.

New York Knicks

The Knicks are another team with a Unicorn that can pair with Randle. They will have cap room, and a coach in Fizdale, who would appreciate Randle’s toughness. But again, they will have their sights set on Kyrie and KD. They will be saving their space for the elite free agents. And if they don’t come, they would be another team likely to kick the can down the road because they are New York, and they likely believe that they will be a player in the summer of 2020.

Conclusion

Often times, people think too simplistically when projecting future contracts. They look at a good player who is young and assume he is going to get a big deal the following summer. But a team doesn’t hand over a huge contract unless they see the fit, and as good as Randle is, he doesn’t fit seamlessly with a lot of teams. Sure, every team would take him, but you give a guy 15-20 million dollars a year (for multiple years) because you feel that you NEED him. Not because you want him. I am not so sure that somebody will need him next summer.

Let’s look at the guys who received 15 million dollars or more, for multiple years, from another team this summer: Lebron James. End of list. Zach Lavine and Jabari Parker received stupid offer sheets from bad teams after free agency settled down, but that is not likely to be the case for Randle. Even dating back to last summer, let’s see the list of guys who changed teams – getting 15 million or more for multiple years. Danillo Galinari (in a S&T), Tim Hardaway Jr., George Hill, and Paul Milsap. That’s it.

So, based on logic and recent history, I am not so sure that the Pelicans needs to worry about losing Randle next summer. Even if all they can offer is a two-year deal for $21 million, with a player option for year two. It’s possible that one team just falls in love with Randle and the Pelicans lose him, if that’s all they can offer. But it’s unlikely. The smart move would be to be aggressive between now and February, building the best roster possible, even if that means that they will operate above the cap next summer. No path offers certainty. You have to run the numbers and take the path that gives you the best chance for success. The path that requires saving cap room for Randle offers little to no upside. Dell can not operate under the presumption that he will lose him next summer. Doing so would forgo the opportunity to be great, just to lock in the ability to be good.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    July 14, 2018 at 8:18 pm

    Nice analysis and a really good read. Thanks.
    Now send it to Dell. 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    July 15, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    Wonder who will more valuable to the team by the end of next season: mirotic or Randle

  3. Charlie Gonzalez

    July 16, 2018 at 11:52 am

    Nice Piece MM. Personally I want Randle to fully blossom in NOLA as the multi-positional defender, rim running, rebounding floor spacing menace I believe he can be. A sort of Draymond Green/DeAndre Jordan hybrid would be the peak level. If that player is in there it also makes Niko more expendable, as much as we love him, to move for an available wing.

  4. Shawn

    July 21, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    Great piece Mac! Thank you for continuing to contribute!

  5. zombian

    August 8, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    Nice read. Sums up a lot of your thinking that is difficult to find, separating the player from the vacuum into the reality.

    I was definitely thinking he was a one year rental, but I agree that at least compared to his value at the moment, it seems unlikely another team will blow us out of the water with an amazing offer.

    There’s also the possibility that being on a playoff team (we hope) will become important to him as well. How many of those other teams are playoff locks by next offseason? One, if Embiid continues to stay healthy?

    It’ll be great to see the three man big rotation that Asik, Ryno, and AD were supposed to be.

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