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Trades, Trades, Trades

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Published: January 18, 2019

Yes, it’s that time again. The NBA’s trade deadline is just three weeks away, and the worst kept secret in the NBA is that Dell Demps is working the phones in an effort to improve the team and keep Anthony Davis long term. As usual, the Pelicans first round pick is on the table and the hope is that a bad contract of a player Dell overpaid for in free agency goes out with it. With this team, history consistently repeats itself.

But even though the Pels find themselves backed into a corner again, the team can take solace in knowing that these deadlines have gone pretty well for the franchise in the past. Yes, you can blast the DeMarcus Cousins trade in retrospect now that Buddy Hield is playing well and Cousins got hurt, but that was a terrific trade that was likely to change the course of the franchise forever for the better. Until terrible luck intervened, of course.

Last trade deadline, the Pelicans were able to deal Asik’s awful contract and a pick that ended up 22nd in the 2018 draft for Nikola Mirotic – who helped lead the team to a 20-8 finish and a four game sweep of the Blazers. Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole helped tremendously in past deadlines as well. Point is that when Dell identifies a guy, he usually gets him for a quality price and he makes an impact.

This trade deadline will be especially difficult for Demps, however, because of the uncertainty that looms regarding Davis and his future in New Orleans. If AD was signed for 5 more years, they could likely afford to be a little more patient, knowing that if they can’t get a needle mover this deadline for a fair price that they can try again in the summer. Or, they could try again next February, when Solomon Hill will be a positive, not a negative. Frank Jackson might also be more of an asset then, as could their 2020 draft pick if teams view that class as superior to the 2019 one.

Demps probably does not have that luxury, however. Anthony Davis is going to take some time off to reflect once the season is over, and then he and his agent are going to meet with the Pelicans brass sometime in early June most likely. If this season ends in disappointment and the future does not seem incredibly bright, Anthony Davis will undoubtedly tell the team that he will not sign the extension this summer. That is a certainty. But it is also possible that he goes one step further and demands a trade. The Pelicans are likely expecting the former regardless of what they do, but they have to do whatever it takes to avoid the latter.

The Pelicans goal should be to put a contending team around Davis that is sustainable, and they have 12 months to do so. The first step is to make a move or series of moves that helps the Pelicans surge in the second half. Regardless of how the season ends, be it playoffs or barely missing it. First round or second round defeat, whatever – you have to sell Davis on upward trajectory that will continue the following season. You ask him to give you a few months and if the Pelicans aren’t clear contenders in January of 2020, you will work with his agent to find him a great situation.

So, now that we have the objective, the question is: What is step one is this multi-step process that will end in a roster good enough in January of 2020 to get AD excited enough to confirm to you that he will sign the extension in the summer of 2020? Well, let’s start by looking at the different windows the Pelicans have for talent upgrade. They are as followed:

2019 Trade Deadline

The Pelicans have some assets here. The best asset is the 2019 first round pick. Currently, it looks like it is very likely that it will be a lottery pick. Lottery picks are very rarely traded in this day and age, and when they are, they have high value. Last year, the Bulls undoubtedly thought the pick they were receiving from the Pelicans would be late lottery, and they took a terrible contract and returned a very good player on a great contract, controlled for one and a half seasons (plus Bird Rights)

Other assets for the Pelicans include Wes Johnson’s expiring contract, E’twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic, and future first round picks (starting in 2021) that they could also add to a package, assuming they send out 2019 in the package as well. The biggest question right now is whether Julius Randle is a trade asset. He is putting up huge numbers, but the team acquiring him wouldn’t be getting his bird rights, so in effect, they would have almost no advantage in re-signing Randle this offseason. You can argue he has value as a rental. Or, you can say that it is an advantage to get a guy in your building five months early so you can start recruiting him before anyone else. So, Randle can have some value, but it will be a very select group of teams that will really want to give up value for him.

2019 Offseason

If the Pelicans get creative, you can see a way that they can enter the offseason with only Jrue, AD, Frank Jackson, and Jahlil Okafor on the books. An All-NBA first teamer, a borderline All-Star, and two solid prospects on minimum level deals plus 50 million dollars in cap room would be a dream situation for most GM’s. Here’s the problem: Free agents just don’t come to New Orleans.

In all likelihood, the most value the Pelicans can hope for in the offseason will come in the form of guys they can sign with exceptions, after they re-sign a few of their own. This is a time to build depth, not to get a star.

2020 Trade Deadline

If Anthony Davis gives the Pelicans enough time to get to this trade deadline before he demands a trade, this could be their best chance to get a top level player. First and foremost, there will be more sellers at this deadline. There just has to be. No deadline in history has as few sellers as the 2019 deadline, and I can’t imagine it will happen two years in a row. The other major factor here is that Solomon Hill could go from a negative asset to a positive asset at this point. E’twaun Moore can go from a neutral to a positive. Frank Jackson could have some value at this point. If Durant is gone, the West truly could be open and perhaps the ownership would be willing to part with multiple picks (something they don’t seem willing to do right now) for the right player.

Looking at all the factors, this is the time to really strike – if AD gives the team this long and gives them assurances that he is truly open to re-signing that summer. The Pelicans need to make all their moves with two focuses: Be very good over the next 12 months and put yourself in position to make a big move in February of 2020.

How To Get There: Steps

1. Don’t Trade Solomon Hill this February, Do Trade Randle or Mirotic

This seems counter intuitive, but hear me out. You need Solomon Hill’s contract next February to make the big trade that will net you the needle moving player required to keep AD. Don’t sell Solomon Hill now, where you are essentially losing value on your first round pick just to offload him. On the flip side, the Pelicans brass just has to know that there is no way Niko and Randle are both on the team next year. And even if they are forced to trade AD this summer, we have seen enough of the Niko-Randle lineups to know they can’t play well together. You have to trade one this deadline to get value and to also define roles.

2. Trade the 2019 with top-4 protection only

The better that the other team thinks the pick can be, the more you will get in return for it. The NBA draft lottery draws ping pong balls for the first 4 picks. After that, the order is set based on how the teams finished record wise. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs this year, it is unlikely they miss by much. Though the pick is only ‘top-4’ protected, it is essentially top 10 protected because the Pelicans likely won’t finish with a bottom 10 record. And history shows that when you are picking at the end of the lottery, the returns aren’t very good. Can you get a good player after 10? Of course. But the odds are against you.

3. Acquire a Player This Deadline with Positional Versatility

Again, you are planning on getting your stud at the trade deadline in 2020. The issue is that you have no idea who that guy will be. So, you don’t want to lock into high paid players that can only play one position. AD can play the 4 or the 5. Jrue can play the 1 or the 2. Whoever you acquire as a core piece between now and the 2020 deadline, make sure they can play multiple positions and/or would be good with coming off the bench.

The Trades That Make Sense This Season

Okay, this is where you all scrolled down to, and I get it. But if you are confused by any of these, I suggest you go back later and read the logic of how I got to these ideas, and the long term vision I believe the Pelicans need to be committed to.

Trade #1 – Short and Long Term

Hawks Receive: Wesley Johnson, Cody Zeller, T. Frazier, Pelicans 2019 pick (top-4 protected), future Charlotte pick swap option
Charlotte Receives: E’Twaun Moore, Julius Randle, Diallo
Pelicans Receive: MKG, Taurean Prince, Jeremy Lin, and Malik Monk

Hawks get one and a half picks for Prince and for taking on Zeller’s contract. The Hornets get players that will help them in their playoff push and get off Zeller’s deal so they can pay Kemba this summer. The Pelicans, meanwhile get two long term prospects on rookie deals that can help a bit now. They also get two veterans (and one of AD’s best friends) who can help with the current playoff push. Niko solidifies his spot as the starter next to AD short term and long term. Lin would be great in Gentry’s system and could be re-signed this summer with Bird Rights. MKG will also be an expiring next trade deadline when Pels want to make their big move.

Trade #2 – Fill Holes, Go Big in 2020

Magic Receive: Dennis Smith, Jr, Diallo, T. Frazier
Mavs Receive: E. Moore, J. Randle, W. Johnson, Magic 2nd, Pels 2nd
Pels Receive: H. Barnes, DJ Augustin, Melvin Frazier

Magic get their point guard of the future for their point guard of the present, a 2nd rounder, and a prospect in Frazier. Mavs turn the team over to Luka, get Barnes and Smith out of the locker room and get good value in Moore while also getting a look at Randle before he hits free agency. At worst, they are super flexible for the summer.

Meanwhile, the Pels finally get their wing, but only do this trade if Barnes agrees before the trade to opt into next year. They also get a great shooting point guard in Augustin who can play any role the Pels need. He is also locked up next year, providing cost certainty and a potential asset for the 2020 deadline trade. Best part of all this is the Pels still have their 2019 first round pick to use in another trade or shop in the summer. Or maybe they pick a guy who looks good and they add him to the 2020 deadline package.

Trade #3 – Get the Star Now

Memphis Receives: Wilson Chandler, Markelle Fultz, Wesley Johnson, Pelicans 2019 pick
76ers Receive: Niko Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore
Pelicans Receive: Mike Conley, Zhaire Smith, Bulls 2019 2nd round pick (from Philly)

The Grizzlies start their rebuild by getting a pick from the Pels and taking a shot on former #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. The Sixers get a massive upgrade at PF by going from Chandler to Niko and also add Moore for increased shooting. Meanwhile, the Pels get a stud (when healthy) to put next to Jrue in the backcourt. Smith is also a cost controlled rookie and the Bulls pick should be number 33 or 34, giving the Pels a chance to get a good asset to move in 2020 deadline trade.

This goes against my rule of position versatility, but Conley can defend multiple positions and give you a great core 3. Now, all you need is to find a great forward at the 2020 deadline.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

Look, there is no way the Pelicans are convincing AD to sign his extension this summer. But they can be good enough this year to intrigue him and then they can put the finishing touches on the roster during the 2020 deadline. If things go right, the Pels are a major contender that goes far in the 2020 playoffs, and AD signs the designated player contract that summer. That has to be the plan right now, and if it is, you are thinking about the 2019 and the 2020 trade deadlines concurrently, because those are the best opportunities you will have to add talent.

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