Thoughts on the Ajinca-Johnson Trade

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Published: October 19, 2018

Just before the start of the season, Alexis Ajinca was traded to the Clippers for Wesley Johnson. It was a straight up deal with no other assets changing hands. The trade, I think, is potentially very helpful, but not for the knee-jerk reason, which is “The Pelicans got a player who can help them more than the one they sent out.” Rather, I think the real significance is how it potentially increases the options for keeping Randle, which may be a factor in Davis signing that extension this off-season.

The Trade

As noted, the players were traded straight up. Ajinca’s expiring salary of $5,285,394 is close enough to Johnson’s expiring salary of $6,134,520 not to require anything else to make the trade work mechanistically. The trade was completed using the Traded Player Exception for both teams. The Pelicans just get Johnson, but the Clippers get Ajinca and created a trade exception for the difference in their salaries, $849,126, which can be used to receive a player in trade or make a waiver claim on a player making up to $949,126 this season. The Clippers waived Ajinca, leaving his entire salary on the books this season, but allowing them to keep a younger player on their roster as part of the roster trimming from camp to the regular season. The move lowered their dead money this season. The Pelicans simply got a healthier player that is a better fit, since they already have Okafor and Diallo as the fourth and fifth bigs.

The Pelicans take on more salary, but taking on salary is a goal, not a problem, since they need that salary to help with potential trades. While it’s true that a smaller salary like Ajinca’s could end up being useful, the Pelicans have smaller pieces to send out in trade; adding salary was the bigger need. Since Johnson was acquired using an exception, he can not be aggregated in a trade for two months, which is fine, since most big trades the Pelicans can get in on will not happen before then for various reasons. Additionally, since Johnson can in fact play, a deal with him included rather than Ajinca is less likely to need higher value secondary assets to make it palatable, to make a deal work on a value level.

The Pelicans’ overall cap situation is unchanged in any important way . . . over the cap, under the tax, etc.

The Importance

Much of that information was “out there,” I just pulled it together. While the facts are important, the real importance is the effect of the trade on the Pelicans’ options.

  • By providing value to the Clippers in absorbing some salary and helping them create a trade exception (this is potentially of no great importance to them, admittedly) while sending out nothing else, Demps has preserved his assets and sweeteners for other deals. So, those other deals, potentially, just got better.
  • Since Johnson is healthier and has a decent shot to remain so, as he is not set to see many competitive minutes at this time, he is therefore a better asset than Ajinca. So, other deals, potentially, just got even better.
  • For roster purposes, you almost had to either waive or send out Ajinca in some trade. Now you can send out Johnson instead. Moore is already a guy with trade value, so deals with those two just got better in most cases compared to the same trades with Ajinca in Johnson’s place. Or, just focus on Moore and smaller pieces to make a trade work.
  • As noted, Johnson is a healthier player. He’s a defensive swing that does the little things. He’s slightly less beefy than Solomon Hill, but they can provide similar skill mixes on the court when interchanged. Most have taken this to mean, “Oh, now we can bench Hill.” No. Clearly. It could happen, but that is not the plan. If it motivates Hill, well, that’s fine. He’s also a decent insurance policy.
  • Combining all this, however, what you really can do is move Hill out, which was going to be hard. With Moore and assets, the Pelicans can perhaps do one of two things:
    • Bring back a player of real significance
    • Open up cap space next season

These both potentially help you keep Randle. If you bring back a significant player, staying for a small raise with a reasonable expectation of a payday when his Early Bird Rights kick in (a similar message that the team may have sold to Ian Clark this past summer, just on a smaller scale) becomes more attractive to him. If you have the room, you can pay him this off-season and, perhaps, keep more of the down-roster as intact as you want, since you would give up the larger MLE’s in this case (no Bi-annual, regardless).

And all that feeds into keeping Davis.

Very good move there, Dell.

Kudos.

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