A Small Win for the Pelicans at the Deadline

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Published: February 7, 2020

The 2020 NBA trade deadline came and went and the Pelicans did not participate in a single transaction. You maybe wonder, how do the Pelicans “win” if they didn’t do anything? Well sometimes the actions of other teams just create fortunate situations for your team. During this deadline, the free agency market for Derrick Favors evaporated.

Perhaps the biggest indicator from the deadline is that most teams are preparing to operate above the cap. This may be the summer of sign-and-trades and the summer of the Mid Level Exception. Because there are less teams with money to spend this off-season, this bodes well for the Pelicans when negotiating a contract with Derrick Favors.

The value of big men such as Favors has never been lower across the league. Andre Drummond was traded for salary ballast and a 2nd round pick. Cleveland was unable to secure anything meaningful for Tristan Thompson – yet another free upcoming free agent. With only about 5-6 teams projected to have cap room, the number of teams that can sign Favors to a lucrative deal are few. What’s more is that virtually none of these teams with cap room are teams one would consider good in the traditional sense. None of these teams really have a need for an oft-injured, paint bound, 29 year old big man.

So where does that leave the Pelicans with Derrick Favors? Don’t get me wrong, he’s been an instrumental part of the Pelicans course correcting over the season. He provides valuable minutes where alternatives, Jaxson Hayes and Jahlil Okafor simply aren’t ready. But Favors has a few issues of his own. Perhaps the most problematic is availability, Favors has already missed 19 of 52 possible games so far. There is risk in committing large sums of money in a player that may miss significant time in the future.

Secondly, there is the question of Favors’s on court fit. So far the Pelicans have had limited sample to evaluate his fit with Zion, but one can take a gander around the league and notice virtually no good team is trotting out a front line of two non-shooters. Zion, Ingram, and Jrue all do their best work in the paint. Good teams use Favors’s inability to space the floor against the Pelicans’s offense. Beyond spacing, the Pelicans have already leaned into small ball Zion. Whether this is with Zion at the 5, or while sharing the floor with a spacer in Nicolo Melli, Favors is losing minutes. He is also going to continue to lose minutes to promising upstart Jaxson Hayes.

Knowing only a reduced future is in store for Favors, the Pelicans should look to be conservative about any deals they hand out to him. On the open market, it’s unlikely he nets more than the Non Taxpayer Mid Level Exception, as teams with room have little need for him. But with the Mid Level being really the only tool most teams can use to sign a player, there will be many players targeted before Favors. Could it be possible his market is only the smaller, Taxpayer MLE?

The Pelicans have Favors’s bird rights and are in prime position to play hardball. They can offer him the most amount of money and thus are in great position to negotiate a very team friendly contract. Personally I would want to limit the contract terms to 2 years, and I would push strongly for non-guaranteed money, or a team option on that second year. I would be fine giving Favors a small premium on the MLE as the Pelicans have so few mid-sized contracts that can be used in a trade.

Because options are so limited market wide, it is possible the Pelicans might see a sign-and-trade opportunity develop. This also applies to any of their incumbent free agents, particularly E’Twaun Moore. Teams are going to work all kinds of cap gymnastics to make improvements this summer and it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

In conclusion, by doing absolutely nothing, the Pelicans watched how the market evaporated for their free agent to be, Derrick Favors. If they are able to retain him on a cheap deal, that is indeed a small (perhaps big) win.

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