BourbonStreetShots.com New Orleans Pelicans information, analysis and discussion 2018-10-25T00:35:46Z http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/feed/atom/ WordPress Jason Calmes <![CDATA[Working Smarter and Harder]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57138 2018-10-23T06:40:48Z 2018-10-23T06:18:58Z Fatigue makes cowards of us all. — George S. Patton, Jr, War As I Knew It If you just look at the number of games or minutes played by the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018-2019 regular season, you are left with the impression that the sample size is small, and that no conclusions . […]]]>

Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

— George S. Patton, Jr, War As I Knew It

If you just look at the number of games or minutes played by the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018-2019 regular season, you are left with the impression that the sample size is small, and that no conclusions . . . happy, sad, or otherwise . . . can be drawn. That’s likely true if you just look at the numbers. However, there is more information than what’s recorded in the box score or what exists only as rumor or innuendo.

The team is moving. No . . . not like the Sonics returning to Seattle . . . . The players are moving all over the court. They’re not just running, which is the common and not-quite-right description. The team is always “on.” The guy with the ball is moving, off-balls guys are moving, people are cutting, screeners are rolling. They are also hustling. On defense, as was on display in the Portland series, but also elsewhere, the players are pesky and frenetic. On offense, they are now grabbing offensive rebounds, too.

The results are impressive. However, I have a pretty standard response when people ask if I’m impressed with some feat: “if you want to impress me, do it again.” I’ve said this often, including about some of Davis’ scoring outbursts. It’s a flippant answer that’s meant to inject both a little humor and a little truth into the conversation. But, in this case, the point is this exactly: impressive as these wins and performances are, they do not matter if those performances can not be duplicated, at least in the spirit of play if not in actual results. There needs to be some predictive value to the performances when you describe them or they are simply reports of events that transpired.

Working Hard

How do we know the team is working hard?

  • By watching them work (hard)
  • Their pace is 107.2, 4th in the NBA
  • Their offensive rebound rate is 30.6% (4th)
  • Their defensive rebound rate is 82.5% (3rd)

The pace not being the top one in the NBA does not mean they are getting “out-run” or “out-worked” or “out-hustled” or whatever. None of them alone tells the entire story. Rather, the numbers work together to paint the entire picture. It’s easier to pick out extremes, which is why you see such things done often . . . so and so leads the whomever in whatever. This misleads the audience, and the analyst in some cases.

Here is a plot of pace, so far, in the NBA versus both OREB% and DREB%. You can see that the pace adjustment does a good deal to create a jumble of mid-pace teams, which makes sense . . . you can get middle paces in many ways. On the extremes, the underlying trends bite harder. That’s not to say only extreme rebounding should be tied to extreme pace, just that its difficult to “go” the other way than that the formulae say. Higher OREB% decreases pace since it lengthens the current possession rather than creates a new one, and higher DREB% increases pace since it creates a new possession and ends the current one rather than lengthen that possession. Complicating this is any relationship between the rebounding categories.

The Pelicans are the X in each data set.

You’ll notice that they are above the trend in both cases, particularly in OREB% since they buck the trend. Remember when I said that this happening is difficult? The DREB%, while good, it is not surprising and is perhaps expected. That OREB% is surprising, however . . . and informative. That number might just have something important to say.

It’s also likely unsustainable for the reasons given above, both mathematical and in terms of the physical exertion these sort of small-sample performance would require to sustain. In fact, that might be part of what it’s saying.

Working Smart

One way to sustain this is to just be awesome and never get injured. That would work, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, the universe does not cooperate. Then what? You can’t just exert your way to exertion. There is a wall.

Underneath it all, the success, while founded on the style of play, comes directly from the scoring. The Pelicans lead the NBA in FG%, 2P%, eFG%, and TS%, and are second in 3P%. That may not sustain across the board, of course, but it certainly will not sustain if the team loses its legs. If the scoring stops, the winning and domination stops. At that point, maybe the resolve to play this system cracks, maybe not. So, the smart thing to do is get ahead of the beast and head it off at the pass by limiting the fatigue, in-game in particular. You need to control the game-to-game fatigue, but that has gotten more emphasis around the NBA in recent years; there is no need to address it here.

Since each minute of play is more taxing in this style that relies on defense, power, energy and a cacophony of passing, it may seem that limiting minutes is the answer. Maybe it is a factor, and getting up and forcing the opponents’ concession is a great way to shave off minutes for major players, but that tactic to limit minutes does not help if it can not sustain to that point. Taking minutes away from better players and giving them to worse players without a good reason is foolish, so shaving minutes off the end when the outcome is decided is the only way this makes sense.

The move is then to break up the minutes played in more of a staccato fashion, setting a ceiling on each player’s playing stint in the “regular” portion of the game. You would simultaneously set a floor on the player’s rest stint. These may very from player to player, and they may change as conditioning improves over the season. You would also see exceptions in certain games and situations.

In the jumble of all this, you may find the need to have two of the three primary bigs on the bench. This means you need to either play small for a bit or play Okafor more. Either way, the example shows that the rotation should not be the 8-man rotation we saw in Houston (a special case) and maybe more than the 9-man rotation against Sacramento. Gentry addressed lengthening the rotation to 9 or 10 while speaking Sunday at practice, by the way.

Here’s what I hope to see:

  • Start with a normal rotation, set the tone, gwt some wins, make everyone believers, and let them feel the fatigue
  • Tinker with the rotation, perhaps lengthening it, to control playing stints and rest stints
  • Sustain this for many weeks, maybe some slight tinkerings
  • Begin to shorten the rotation to measure conditioning, improve it, and prepare for the Playoffs
  • Short rotation in the Playoffs, aside from tactical matchups

Additionally, I think this may be done during each half, since there is significant, blanket rest for all players at halftime. This may be why we saw the Pelicans surge at the end of the first half of each game. Neither game was really competitive at the end, so while we did not see them go hard until the very end of the second half (though pretty late in Houston), one has to believe that if necessary, they would. Jrue and Elfrid said this emphasis is a conscious choice, but they are hoping to increase their consistency so the choice is not necessary.

Michael McNamara just wrote about why Gentry needs to explore the three big men playing together. Lengthening the rotation is likely necessary to enable this, but so is controlling the stints for which each player is in the game. The tinkering I expect to see is a great time to check in on the three bigs playing together.

Additionally, while the pace may cool as the season wears on, it should still be high and the Pelicans should hope to be playing that hard. The high pace is in part due to trying to get a shot before the defense is set. While this is strictly speaking about taking early shots, it’s really about getting the ball down to a relatively open man quickly. If limiting the pace serves to limit these opportunities, this is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Those possessions are precisely the type they hope to generate. Keeping players fresh while keeping the best players on the floor as much as possible is a tough task given all the variables in play.

These are all things to watch as they further explore this brand of basketball.

Statistics per basketball reference, gathered on October 22, 2018.

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Michael McNamara <![CDATA[Gentry Needs To Find Out Now If The Three Bigs Can Play Together]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57132 2018-10-22T04:46:35Z 2018-10-22T04:46:35Z When Julius Randle unexpectedly became a free agent on July 2nd, the Pelicans put in a call to his agent half expecting to get blown off. They had no cap room left, and only had the mid-level exception to offer to the 23 year-old unrestricted free agent. Even in a slightly depressed market, guys like […]]]>

When Julius Randle unexpectedly became a free agent on July 2nd, the Pelicans put in a call to his agent half expecting to get blown off. They had no cap room left, and only had the mid-level exception to offer to the 23 year-old unrestricted free agent. Even in a slightly depressed market, guys like Randle usually have multiple suitors offering multi-year deals starting at 10-12 million, but Randle was interested in the Pelicans and Anthony Davis did a good job selling him on the franchise. Hours later, he was signed.

For the Pelicans, it was a pure talent play. There was literally no chance that they could get anybody else that talented for the MLE, so they happily signed Randle and started to dream up all the different ways they could utilize him in their system. And so far, the results have been fantastic, as he has looked good no matter which stud big man he has been paired with. And while it is a coach’s dream to be able to have two elite bigs on the court every minute of the game, Alvin Gentry needs to find out over these next few months if those three can all share the court together effectively.

When you are paying three front court players a combined $45 million dollars, you can do what the Pelicans are doing now with them and still have enough money and resources to fill out the roster with good enough players to allow one of those bigs to be on the bench at the most crucial part of the game. But if the Pelicans are lucky enough to keep all three, they will be paying them a combined $75 million dollars or so per season, and at that point those three plus Jrue essentially become your team. The rest of the role players come and go, with very little chance of any of them giving even half the production that any of the Big 4 give. It’s acceptable to have your $8 million dollar power forward on the bench now to close games, but a future that sees Randle, Niko, and AD eating up a much larger chunk of the cap only works if those guys can play together.

And because of that, Gentry needs to start testing that now, because the Pelicans have decisions to make on all three men this summer. Anthony Davis is the easy one – they will offer him the super max on July 1st. But decisions on Mirotic and Randle are a little more nuanced. The Pelicans have Bird Rights on Niko, so he will be easier to keep but they can also clear out cap room to bring back Randle if they need to do that. Or, they can offer him another 1+1 deal, with the idea being that they can give him big money in the summer of 2020 when they have Early Bird Rights on him.

If those three can play well together, it is a no-brainer and you do what it takes to keep them all. You make sure at least two of them are on the floor at all times, and you have all 3 on the court for 10 minutes or so per game – including the final five. But if they can’t play well together, it becomes hard to justify the dollars and opportunity costs it will require to keep them all together. What the Pelicans have right now is the ultimate luxury up front, but if those three can’t play together, their tremendous advantage lessens as early as this postseason.

In the postseason, rotations shrink and the minutes of elite players go up. But when there are only 96 minutes available for these three players, each of their minutes can’t go up. In fact, when AD’s minutes go up, that means that both Randle and Niko’s minutes will go down slightly or one of their minutes will reduce significantly. No championship team plays their 3rd and/or 4th best players LESS in the postseason than they do in the regular season. That simply doesn’t make any sense.

So while it is hard to mess with something that clearly isn’t broken, Gentry needs to start playing the three bigs together and finding out the kinks in that unit. Then he has to go to work on smoothing out those kinks and getting that unit to not only be good, but to be great. If it can’t be, then Dell has to start considering his options. That doesn’t mean he has to trade one in February, or even let one walk in July. He can bring them all back, knowing that eventually he will have to move on for a wing.

But the team needs to start collecting that data now. They need to get as much of it as possible, and they need to try to find different guys who can compliment those three guys when they are on the court together. They should be doing everything possible to create lineups that feature those three guys that can compete with the best closing five man units in the league. Because it is much easier to make it work with what you already have in house than to hope and pray that you can land something better down the line.

Find out now, because before you know it, a luxury is going to turn into a necessity.

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Jason Calmes <![CDATA[Thoughts on the Ajinca-Johnson Trade]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57121 2018-10-19T15:42:55Z 2018-10-19T15:42:55Z 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 […]]]>

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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Kumar <![CDATA[In The NO Episode 6: The Pelicans Beat The Brakes Off The Rockets]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57118 2018-10-18T17:45:12Z 2018-10-18T17:43:31Z First pod of the season. Mason and Shamit react to the Pelicans whooping the Rockets on opening night. Listen on iTunes Listen on Spotify RSS Feed Direct Download]]>

First pod of the season. Mason and Shamit react to the Pelicans whooping the Rockets on opening night.

Listen on iTunes

Listen on Spotify

RSS Feed

Direct Download

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Jesse Brooks <![CDATA[Born to Run: Pelicans fly higher than Rockets in season opener]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57107 2018-10-18T13:32:44Z 2018-10-18T06:09:26Z If you are fan of New Orleans sports and you felt confident enough in the Saints that a few months ago you told people not to judge the team by their preseason performances, then you can apply that same rule to the NBA. After going winless in preseason, the Pelicans open the season with a […]]]>

If you are fan of New Orleans sports and you felt confident enough in the Saints that a few months ago you told people not to judge the team by their preseason performances, then you can apply that same rule to the NBA.

After going winless in preseason, the Pelicans open the season with a blazing 131-112 victory over Southwest Division opponent, the Houston Rockets, a team that finished last season one win shy of defeating the Golden State Warriors for a trip to the NBA Finals. The Pelicans appeared to have picked up every bit of where they left off from last season when they swept the Portland Trailblazers out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

The Pels started the game off fast and furious and never trailed for the duration of the contest.

It should be noted that the Houston Rockets look worse defensively since wingman Trevor Ariza departed for Phoenix. The Rockets also did not get much of an added element from Carmelo Anthony, who scored nine points in 27 minutes of play in a bench role. However, comparatively the Pelicans look as if they have taken steps forward despite offseason departures of center DeMarcus Cousins and point guard Rajon Rondo. 2017-18 MVP candidate Anthony Davis got the better of the reigning award-winner James Harden (18 pts/ 10 ast/ 9 reb) with a stat line of 32 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 steals.

Let’s break down all the facts that went into an opening night win.

Are the Pelicans better than last year?

Coach Alvin Gentry was pleased with his team after the win but warned that they must have to focus on the games ahead instead of being overly excited. He’s right. However, it’s hard not to get hyped up over an offense that featured four players scoring 20 points or more and collectively finishing with a 104.5 pace. The numbers in pace are comparable to last season in which they finished the year as the league’s fastest team. There’s reason to believe that portion of their game has room to grow and has not peaked. Rondo starting at PG had a significant role in the development of this system last season, but Gretna native Elfrid Payton appeared comfortable as an aggressive pace pusher in the open court against Houston. Payton setting the pace clicked with his starting five, opened up things for his teammates, and he ended his night with a 10-10-10 triple-double. His skills are comparable to Rondo’s, and look for recent addition Tim Frazier in the coming games to bring that element to the reserve units. Pels have begun the process of replacing Rondo with a playmaking Payton and Frazier for less than 1/2 of the cost.

What should be considered is that no matter who departed from the Pelicans this offseason, the leadership and core remained, Davis and NBA First Team All-Defense guard Jrue Holiday.

How did the Pelicans do it?

What’s unique about the way the Pelicans are playing right now is that it’s like an inverted version of what’s currently trending in the NBA. When the team says they #DoItBig, they mean it literally. While most teams are getting smaller by utilizing multi-guard lineups with high volume outside shooters, the Pels are leaning on their frontcourt players and creating mismatches to get easy buckets in the paint, mostly off of fast breaks.

Power forward Nikola Mirotic was on absolute fire, stretching the floor by going 6-of-8 from 3-point range and finishing with 30 points. Offseason signing Julius Randle did most of his damage inside and running the floor, totaling 25 points and 8 rebounds. What makes this three-man rotation so dangerous is that they’re all versatile, able to run, and have better than average ball handling that allows them to start fast breaks on their own after defensive rebounds. When these guys are rolling, they’re attacking inside and out and creating open shots for teammates waiting in the wings.

The Pelicans will host the Sacramento Kings on Friday and look to build on their performance from the season opener.

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Jason Calmes <![CDATA[The Offseasons Loom]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=56789 2018-10-18T14:28:05Z 2018-10-17T19:00:57Z “Then out spake brave Horatius, The Captain of the Gate: To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better Than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his gods.” — Thomas Babington Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome Summary This is not […]]]>

“Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods.”

— Thomas Babington Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome

Summary

This is not a season preview. This is the plan. This is the game that is being played of which all the other games are just the dice, the cards, the pieces moving around the board.

The prize: Anthony Davis . . . for a couple more years.

For the first time, there is a clear air of quiet confidence emanating from the franchise. I believe this is because there is a specific plan or framework they have committed to, and while not without uncertainty, the calm after leaping from a great height is very different from the anxiety about the jump itself, particularly when it is dispelled so quickly.

Then, you just wait. You let the falling happen and prepare to hit . . . what looks like water . . . but, what lies beneath? You wait for the splash or the pain or the cool or see what is hidden by the distractions on the surface, the reflections of a too loud and too bright world.

You can direct your limbs so things go as planned, but you can also direct your eyes. You can look away or forward, or close them and stare at nothing. You can accept the unknown or just refuse to know. You prepare to do your best, to transition on your terms, or you clam up. Perhaps you make a mistake or misjudge, but you are falling nevertheless, and you go faster and faster as the impact draws near.

And you hope that you did what was necessary for “this” to work.

The Pelicans have set themselves, essentially, on a two-season plan. All the moves and deals are lining up around this time frame. It can all go south before that, of course, but the team is showing some strength by betting on a two-season plan.

Eyes open.

Of course, the success of it all comes down to Davis and getting him to extend his time in NOLA (as I said back in 2013), but here is everything that goes into that plan, including just why it is as I claim it is.

Introduction

The New Orleans Pelicans had a hell of a run this past season, with the up-up-down-down-B-A-select-start sort of feel that left us all, and I think the Pelicans themselves, wondering just what it was that cracked the code.

You can bet your ass 29 other teams are wondering, too, rounding out the total to 30.

This team is . . . uncomfortable . . . for everyone. This team can land anywhere from the pinnacle to the pit (hey, Ghost!) with all the factors in play from this offseason and next. So, I’m going to touch on ALL of it. ALL of it. Anything less does a disservice to the work that has been done for years to make this happen.

I’ll leave it to others . . . and maybe me, too . . . to work out the details afterwards. There is just too much going on not to have the table set correctly . . . which means by me.

The Lens

Look. I’m not the only one to say it, and I probably wasn’t the first, but I’m going to keep beating certain drums (pah rumpahpumpum). One of them is that Davis is the lens through which every single thing about this franchise must be judged, at least in part.

Period.

Without exception.

Thinking about bringing in or sending out a player . . . How does he affect Davis? How does Davis affect him?

Same deal with a coach . . . same response.

How about which hot sauce on the table in the snack room . . . Better put crushed red pepper in the trade space since Davis likes pizza. How about that Parmesan while we got pizza toppings on the rack here?

DeMarcus Cousins bobblehead in the drive through at the Smoothie King across from the facility . . . Good reminder for Davis or do they need a Davis bobblehead in its place? Drop by, hook them up, and get yourself a Green Tea Tango with fresh mango (I tried the Chocolate Lean One on Mr. Lauscha’s recommendation, and that is good, too . . . I also like the Muscle Punch and the Power Punch Plus). Oh, and does Davis want one?

It doesn’t matter what’s real or what should happen or what is optimal according to some stupid spreadsheet (hey, nerds). That stuff is not beyond consideration and it’s not immaterial. It just doesn’t matter as much until it is run through the Davis filter. It’s a classic problem (and my Kant and Heidegger people in the house, this one is for you) that the world that we understand is different from the world that is, especially when there is thinking and “will” involved. You don’t understand the whole situation unless you understand those “objective” facts, how the thinkers are thinking, and that everyone may be misunderstanding all of it.

Davis, here, is the purpose, the objective of all of it. So, if you don’t agree with this, save yourself some time and find some pandering writer who is going to chase the reader market, not dictate to it. Let them tell you “just win” while the Warriors are worried about keeping Durant.

If you think I’m talking about you: I am.

“Shots fired.”

Davis

All that said about Davis, I still have not talked much about him. I really have not talked much about Davis in this article in particular or in articles in general. This is not because he is not important. It’s just that others usually cover him enough that my efforts are best spent elsewhere (“go where they ain’t”). For this piece, however, I’m going to talk about the position re-defining player.

Yeah, I said position re-defining. Before Davis played his first real game, we ran a series here about various comparisons for him. I chose Tim Duncan, and I stand by it. Duncan did a great deal to re-define the position, and I think Davis is, to some extent, doing the same.

Which position? Let’s call it Power Forward and be done with it, but it’s that position he plays in today’s NBA, not that he’s always in that one role.

I’m not the only one who thinks so, as Gentry himself stated relatively recently.

Davis is a generational talent with rare skills that allow him to help shape what a power forward is in today’s wing-and-perimeter-focused NBA. He’s not “evolving past” Duncan. He’s playing in an environment with different pressures. Davis is just pushing back because he both can and is being encouraged to do just that. He’s playing in an NBA that changed during Duncan’s time, in part due to Duncan, and continued to do so. Davis’ ball-handling and threes are part of the new wrinkles, his shooting-from-everywhere and garbage man skills are partly from the older schools though he’s blurring some lines. As his strength increases, he may continue to add more of that old school game in, too, especially as he finds defenses increasingly weaker (by comparison) there than on the perimeter where they can attack the ball better than him. Duncan was iron, and he could play just about anywhere on the floor, allowing the role players to play to their strengths. He was the star; he could do the hard work. Davis can handle and move the ball a little better, plays with more aggression. (For the Hegelians: thesis-antithesis-synthesis.)

As I said, Davis is the lens. He is the essence, the purpose, the means, the end, the foundation, the morning star. Any other view is simply inadmissible. He is the kind of player you can build a title team around and you would be insane not to do so (as opposed to having him “fit in”). Without Davis, you pivot. Hard.

He is absolutely worth all the effort.

Davis is entering his seventh NBA season, and after this season, things start to get interesting. As I wrote in 2013, once we saw some hard NBA evidence that Davis was going to be something like what we all thought, his presence puts the team on the clock. Since then, the Designated Veteran Extensions and Designated Veteran Contracts are making it even more interesting.

Davis has 2 years plus a player option year left on his current contract. That 2+1 becomes a 1+1 after this season, and it’s right when he can sign a Designated Veteran Extension. He’ll have the 7 years experience and meet all the criteria. He can decline the player option, leaving just his $27,093,018 2019-2020 contract in place for that season and that season alone. He can then sign an extension that leaves that salary in place and adds five more years at a much larger salary. At that point, he will be ineligible for trade for a season, and his status will slightly restrict his ability to join teams with certain other player with Designated Veteran Contracts or Extensions. He will not be eligible for a no-trade clause at that time, by the way, which hopefully means nothing, but it’s something to note. The final year of this extension can be an option year.

The bit about the “not eligible for trade for one year” is important.

So, at the end of this season, if not before, “the discussion” can start to start. If it does not go well, you can either trade the guy or wait a year. If you trade him, sayonara to Davis and this third reign over New Orleans Basketball stardom (Pete and Chris being the first two). If he sticks through contract to its completion, he ends the season as either an unrestricted free agent or he picks up a player option worth far less than he could get on the free market in all likelihood (excepting an injury none of use should want to think about). So, the likelihood in the is case is that he is an unrestricted free agent. That leaves sign-and-trade (with Base Year Compensation complications), he walks, or he signs the Designated Veteran Contract. Max extensions can be written so that the value of the value of the Contract and the Extension route are equal. By waiting, Davis would make that following season, rather than the one “old contract year,” a trade restricted year (no trades allowed, period, per the CBA), but he could also get a no-trade clause i the contract by waiting. I do not see this clause being super valuable to a guy on a long contract, but long contracts become short contracts, so he might play the long game. Waiting for this reason alone leaves open the possibility for a horrible injury, so there is risk there. See: Cousins. I know Davis did see Cousins.

Why go through all this? Well, no off-season is an island, but these particularly not so, ergo we need to consider everything, as I said, through the Davis lens. In this case, it means getting him to ink another extension or equivalent contract, as I noted so many years ago.

The incentives line up, given the performance this season, to prove said performance was not a fluke, maybe improve a bit, integrate new pieces if possible, further shine up NOLA as a destination for some players, get Davis to sign that extension in the 2019 off-season, giving them effectively two full seasons to build a contender once you factor in that year of trade restriction. Note, this effectively lines up with many contracts on the roster and in the front office. So, they can sell Davis on the flexibility they will have over, say, a team like Cleveland, in their day, when they had to arm up against the Warriors, in their day. We’ve seen what Houston has done this offseason. The Lakers exist. In two seasons, there’s no telling if the Warriors’ end up at some Schwarzchild tax bill that crushes them or if some other juggernaut emerges. There’s also the opportunity to clean house in the front office there to make the next couple years more palatable before the remaining years on Davis’ contract gets too short to make the situation tenable.

Worst case, you try, it doesn’t work, and you have a team set up to dismantle neatly by Demps or his successor.

So, either way, the franchise is ready, and the franchise will go on.

The line is drawn.

All of this presumes a few things, such as a top talent not just deciding to come here this offseason and fixing it all despite the best laid plans of mice and men, that Davis’ thinking is not bent by other factors not considered here. For example, if he just wants to, for example, play in Chicago or play with Player X, then there’s no substitute for that. There is simply nothing to be done about that. It’s irrational, and that’s fine. If just wants to live by his favorite magazine stand in Milwaukee, they’ll roll out the green carpet.

Things are coming together for Davis here in New Orleans, however. There has been a good run for smaller markets holding onto stars, but that’s reversed a little recently. How much of all that was coincidence versus how much is market driven is to-be-determined, but I tend to think it is more coincidence or a kind of secondary effect.

I land on the Pelicans needing to take a steady hand here over the next couple seasons, staying on their toes for “the move” if a player of stature wants to come here, shining things up reaaal nice to encourage that, and trying to hold the gains while showing off their assets: Davis, Holiday, stats, a player-friendly environment including media that is effectively an arm of the team’s PR either because they literally are, figuratively are, they are clinging to access and are not positioned to risk it, knowing they dry up without it, or they simply lack the ability to mount effective challenges to the party line down on Airline. (To their credit, my few questions are not always met with joy, but they keep letting me in . . . thank you, and it is a job well done.)

So, if this season goes well, I expect Davis to sign that extension, burn through that one year of trade restriction, and then let the games begin. He may not have a ton of leverage at that point by conventional wisdom, but waiting too long can lock the player in . . . see: Minnesota. There’s a sweet spot, and you can bet that after that second year, the leverage is with Davis and will shift to his favor maximally before that deal even runs through half its remaining years. So, he’ll always have more leverage than it seems to the casual eye because time will be on his side. Other teams targeting him and crafting plans to do so are effectively contribute to his leverage, too. Signing the extension buys some time, but it’s very much holding the Pelicans accountable in short order while locking in a pay day, and he’d get to decide half-way through that plan.

Also, if he’s chasing a title, there are only so many places he can go this offseason to do that. Sure, teams will do anything to get him, but you have to have a team there to actually compete. It can happen, but it’s not a given that something acceptable will appear this offseason that would beat the appeal of grabbing the cash and waiting out the trade restriction while the NBA powers du jour crack a little more, creating a window for Davis to enter the breach at a more favorable time, with New Orleans or without.

Timing is everything. You can counter with location, location, location, but I think that only matters at the right time.

If the season does not go well and the two-season plan is obviously a bust, we’ll see, but this “best player” rhetoric is very much putting everyone, including the Pelicans on notice that Davis is the one telling the world just what he’ll be doing.

This is a long-expected party.

The Plan

Great. So what?

Given the options and incentives impinging upon Davis, we have this reasonable bet on a two-year plan. What is it?

We’ve seen stars expectedly stay, unexpectedly stay, expectedly go, unexpectedly go. “Win, baby, win” is not the answer, and that’s obvious to anyone who pays attention. So, you probably have not read that much (whooosh, right across the bow). If you reflect on recent player movement, you will see this not to be . . . the whole truth.

Here’s what I think is important:

  • Not regressing from last season
  • Stable team foundation
  • Roster flexibility, including a chance to land another major player
  • NBA Award Recognition for Davis and another player
  • Reasonable progress on a major endorsement
  • Stable Leadership

What follows is fair stab at showing that, all things considered, the Pelicans should be fine taking that bet.

Bear in mind, there is no causal, deterministic way to force the desired outcome. It’s a complicated world, and you get through it by taking calculated risks. All you can do is do your best, try to better that best, and take the right bets. The rest is in the dice and Davis’ free will.

Anthony Davis is a man that deserves some say in his life. It’s best if all parties want him to be here, and he deserves to be in a situation he wants to be in.

Endorsements

Endorsements are a good place to start. This is not a consideration for many players, but it has to be for Davis. Endorsements have the potential to outweigh NBA salary for some players, but that pie is being more and more cut up as it expands, and other players are getting pieces while Davis is not. There’s this idea that big men just do not get significant endorsements, but this was false and continues to be.

It’s not clear that Davis would leave New Orleans due to a lack of endorsement money. After all, the big deals are not necessarily market dependent. The power of the top-tier athlete is to transcend typical market boundaries just enter the culture. Davis is not a classic spokesman and may not be an ideal candidate for many companies for reasons that are their own, but if he ties that failure to playing in New Orleans, that is one reason to leave. It might be enough alone, it might not.

If he were to land a major deal (or more), that is not something that cements in the city either. It is just one less discriminator on the board.

There was much overreaction to his changing his agent to Rich Paul and Klutch Sports. Some jumped to the conclusion that this was, on some level, him looking to leave or at least inviting those conversations, intentionally or not. There are a few reasons to change agents. These include personality conflicts, the agent deciding to move on, wanting to change team, negotiating a deal, connecting with other players, and non-NBA matters. Of all these, the most likely is exactly the last one, and, specifically, endorsements. On it’s face, Davis does not need an agent to handle his contract or connect with players, and teams will do what it takes to get him to his satisfaction, and any agent can handle that. We have no reason to suspect any issues with the agent and will not speculate on that without some reason.

So, as I stated at the time, I read this change of agents as positive for New Orleans, because now it is more likely he gets the endorsement he wants, removing that discriminator in his decision-making.

Ownership

The much discussed change in ownership, from the franchise perspective, was more of a change for the people than for the franchise. People’s legal association with shares in trust changed upon the untimely death of Tom Benson, but the real running of the franchise and larger empire was handled by others before just as it is now.

You heard me say for a while that Loomis acted as the owner in many in-franchise situations (Lauscha in other matters), and now you see that played out. I think you’ll see Lauscha, Loomis, and Bensel playing a major role in the NEXT succession, too, as it stands now. Think about it, and there’s always a next succession . . . or the team is not here . . . so it’s a valid analytical topic.

Though nothing will change, including their continued stance on the tax, which is “we’ll pay it,” in a major way, there will be some minor changes. Loomis will have more on his shoulders in terms of the responsibility of various decisions stopping with him, not with Mr. Benson, so there is more weight even if the duty is mostly the same. This will affect his time, as will more owner-like duties, like representing the franchises in various capacities, especially as time goes on. With hope springing for both franchises, it’s a good time to shore things up, let the organization re-equilibrate. Long-term plans have to be reconsidered, with the nearer-term plans shifting accordingly. There is a good bit to consider. They want stability. If they need to pay to get it, they will.

I look for some changing roles, and with those, some additional lower level roles added. They may not be highly advertised, but look for the staff to grow and shift some. Danny Ferry, for instance, seems to be out representing the franchise some, not just advising in the strict sense, and seemingly has not really being out there looking for other work. I’m not sure if Associate General Manager is a thing, but maybe it is a nameless thing.

Demps

Dell Demps got an extension. His commitment from the Pelicans is likely going to be no shorter than his commitment to Gentry until Davis is locked in. It would not make a ton of sense to have Demps as a lame duck GM during the coming two seasons, even less with a coach the next GM did not hire. So, just believe that if you do not believe me.

He’s been able to grow his staff over the years, even after some have moved on to other teams. There are many little consulting roles going on, and I expect that continue and continue to grow.

Full disclosure: I’m not nor have I ever been a consultant for the team. I’m not even sure I would even accept such a role, and they are uneasy enough about me as it is. I’m not sure they’d want some active writer they do not have a thumb on (and can not put a thumb on) walking around with not only their secret sauce, but the actual recipe for it. I mean, Dell, you can try me, but I’d rather just come in from time to time to give an independent assessment than get bogged down in all that. That said, I bet I could help you. I’ll do it, free of charge. That said, it’s clear that some of what gets typed up by me ends up in front of certain eyes at certain times and is considered as it should: good, fair thoughts from someone who truly wants the best for New Orleans (not talking the city limits here), and, in this case, by way of this particular piece of city.

At any rate, Dell has really grown as a GM. He’s often talked about as equal to his past deals, and this is just lazy on the part of whoever utters that. We have enough information on all fronts to see trends. He has stayed true to his Young Vets philosophy at its core, blended that with the team needs (or, Davis’ needs). Thus, he’s stayed true to himself. If you can do that while pleasing your bosses, you are “winning.”

He’s really done a great job in embracing game theory and economic principles, likely intentionally (if the latter, let’s grab a bite). He’s looked for players that had some sort of knock on them, and found value there. He’s worked the restricted free agent market (e.g. Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson), gone after guys a year early and locked them up, then held them or flipped them for a better fit at the time (e.g. Diallo, Jackson). He’s launched and revived careers, foreign, domestic, or expatriated (e.g. Smith, Belinelli, Babbitt, Miller).

He’s gone from being not-great at negotiating from a position of weakness early on (which is to be expected) to employing correct, consistent negotiating techniques, such as lowering the deal for Cousins after the first was refused . . . after such a refusal, Sacramento signaling to him that the Pelicans had the best offer, so he could counter and might still be the best offer while still inviting them to demand the original one or between if it was close. His negotiations with Chicago regarding Mirotic were widely misreported, largely because that is what the Pelicans wanted; Dell was just negotiating finer points, while Chicago was trying to use the press to create leverage where there was none.

He’s built relationships around the NBA, with agents, with the broader community, and in the franchise. He and his family embrace the city on top of it, so this is not a stepping stone job, at least at this point. He’s committed to this era of basketball in New Orleans, at least in that the incentives are aligned.

Dell is well-positioned to demand patience from those around him, to make tough calls, and to play the information game. This position is what he’s using to make this wager on the two-season plan. Not everyone gets to take these risks.

As I said before, the leaks about Cousins while true to some extent, and there and heightened to serve the purpose of protecting the franchise should they lose Cousins. The media is a tool he has learned to use, and they just allow it. I tell them when they are being hooked (e.g. Mirotic flap), but their life is firmly attached to the rolodex, and they exist in a state of dependence or desperation. He’s figured that out and wields the power the franchise encourages and fostered using the sibling franchise.

Bravo.

And as the media keeps turning over along with GM’s around the NBA, Dell is steadily becoming not just a veteran General Manager, but a brand unto himself, an individuated figure to be studied, appreciated, admired, and interacted with as opposed to just another guy with a desk, a phone, and a blue ink pen.

Gentry and Staff

Alvin Gentry and his staff had their options picked up, then they got extensions. There’s a bit of a raise there, but the main feature is tacking on more time consistent with the 2-year time frame I laid out.

Gentry in and of himself is a fine coach. He’s not one of the icons, nor is he the poor talent many fans and writers painted him to be for so long. He’s in the vast middle ground of “fine.” It’s hard to improve from “fine” in an overall sense, but you can improve the fit. With Gentry, however, it may be hard to do that since he seems to fit pretty well. He and Demps certainly do not see things with the same eye, but they are not so far apart to create a cesspool. Rather, there is a healthy tension that keeps them from converging on bad ideas because they mutually love them. Both see the value in a decent pace, in talented guards, in players with character and intelligence. Both are happy to rely on input from others.

Gentry is pretty much on the “hands off” end of the in-game-control spectrum as far as coaches go. He does his work behind closed doors. He does fine managing rotations and minutes. Some will quibble, but someone is always going to quibble. The overall amount seems about typical, so I do not give it special weight.

He is pretty good with player personalities, which is a good fit on this team and where it is likely going. I like to imagine that Rondo told Gentry, “Hey, Coach, you know I’m about to get tossed out of this game, right?” and Gentry replies, “Yeah just keep it to this game and get over it, ok?” when Rondo went after Isaiah Thomas during a matchup against the Lakers. I have no idea if this happened, and there have been zero reports of it. However, the fact that I can see it fitting is the point. I like that. (I like that about Rondo, too, actually.)

Gentry is personable and passionate, too. He definitely scored points with me when he went off about officiating after a loss to the Rockets. There was commotion prior.to the media availability. Gentry was so effective in his criticism, with the passion and the specifics and the contrasts, I like to think he called up the NBA and said, “Turn on the TV, because I’m about to get fined.” Again, this is just my fancy, but it illustrates how I think of Gentry and what I like about him. I said before, and I’ll say it again: the team needs more of Coach Gentry out in the world. He’s an underused asset as a personality. I got flak for saying they hid him, but they did, even if it was at his wish. Just keep trying to find the right formula and the right opportunities.

I’ve asked him a few questions, and he was pretty frank (if caught off guard by the question). I’m particularly thinking of when I asked him if he was happy with the rebounding (around Christmas). He said, “Yes,” and coachspeak-ed it a bit, but indicated they could improve. He knew it was an issue and addressed it periodically. I know he knows that’s an area that needed and needs attention, just like I know he values defense more than is commonly held to be the case.

He’s compartmentalized and hand-off approach is a choice made by Demps. It is a good fit with players that make the right decisions and are accountable. The Pelicans did not start off that way, but they potentially made strides recently.

Moreover, going after teams that are very efficient with their shooting is difficult at least in part because the pool of available elite shooters is smaller and smaller as time goes on. To counter, you need to go after possession efficiency. You generate shooting with choices for good shots, good passing to set up not-great shooters, rebounding to give you more attempts, your opponent fewer, defensive effort, managing both lines, and more. Versatile, teachable, team-focused players are key here, and few coaches if any can micro-manage all this. A hands-off in-game coach who will put a staff in place who do not mind teaching the fundamentals, emphasizing the same points to the stars as to the greenest role player, is one way to try to build a team that can play and have a shot at going after the modern, guard, wing, and shooting-focused NBA.

He has a stable staff that is talented and is allowed to really express themselves. They can explore and tailor and, frankly, learn. His patience and trust allow him to attract and keep top staff. Finch has gotten some love because of the bigs on the team and how they move the ball, but Erman was and will be the real key (he’s also the lone Associate Head Coach). This team needs to realize that its soul is its defense. They simply can’t compete any other way. Defense has to be the identity, the calling card, the brand. Defense, power, relentlessness need to shape the opponents’ game plans and break their resolve when it cracks. That’s Erman. He broke Portland (and it was hilarious). It needs to happen more and more the same way. Dudes need to be watching for Jrue and Davis to trap them by the pantry and slap the cookie out of their mouth when they walk to kitchen for a late night snack for about a month after the post-season ends.

Holiday

Jrue Holiday signed a large deal last off-season that had people’s eyebrows raised in skepticism to put it mildly. By the Playoffs, it was their hands that were raised in jubilation to put it mildly. By this off-season, people are in love with Holiday and just hope it continues.

Holiday is in no real danger of being traded. He seems happy and to have found his role on the team. He also seems to have found his mojo. Demps has been a stalwart defender of the guard, and I get it. I was on the Holiday train from the trade to get him. His misunderstood injury soured him in the minds of some, but he should have proven his value as a rare jack of all trades with no overbearing ego. He is a star that can fit in any constellation. I think Dell always felt Jrue was part of the core, which is why he went after him, which is different from picking up free agents, restricted or not, when they happen to be available.

His contract comes with a series of incentives, both likely and unlikely, that cause his deal to loom larger when the hard cap is triggered, as it was last season. These incentives likely only affect tax payments otherwise, as the Pelicans are poised to be a capped team for the next few years.

Concern arose last season about his fit with Cousins. I think this concern was overblown. Cousins had trouble integrating in all line-ups, but this abated over time, as should be expected. The real issue was that Rondo and Cousins had trouble playing together. Rondo helped make Jrue great, and this caused the Holiday-Cousins pairing to appear worse than it was.

Inefficiency arises when stars try to play together until they get it sorted out, but when the do . . . watch out. I don’t see how keeping Cousins would have affected Holiday or how Holiday would have limited Cousins on this team. As I said, I think Holiday will fit well with any stars, and I think he’s one of several guys who can work with two bigs or either one of them alone.

This team needs time, and new Holiday is in a way a new player. It will take time for him to fit in, but not that long. I think “it clicked” for him. His performance over 82 games may not match your brightest memory of his highest highlight, but I think his overall level of play will be up from last season, and I do not think it will sink back down on a consistent basis.

Another benefit of Holiday is that as a versatile player in all aspects of the game, he help each role player on the team, especially in the backcourt. His all around game adds some entropy for the defense to react to after they try to deal with the Davis, if they go that route, since he is a triple threat: drive, pass, or shoot. If they try to stop him, Davis is there to clean up contested shots if Holiday does not find the role player of the moment to bail him out in either situation. Those down-roster options are a strength of this team perennially, and with the top of the roster starting to truly shine, they will only twinkle more brightly, little stars for a moment reflecting the light of the large ones.

Lastly, while all players are susceptible to injury, lazy fans and writers rely on outdated impressions rather than real data when assessing these matters. His chronic issue is resolved, as was the personal issue I will not detail. There is no reason to think he is even as injury-prone as the typical player, but we should not actually expect better than that just out of conservatism. I’m thinking we are fine pinning the Davis hopes pretty strongly to Holiday’s ability and availability.

Regarding the two-season plan: Holiday’s deal has three seasons on it, so if things go sour, he can return value in trade as the team rebuilds if they choose to part with the guard.

Cousins

Though he’s gone, DeMarcus Cousins is the big off-season topic for many people. Prior to his Achilles injury, he was a top talent in the NBA with a big personality. The injury occurred as some signs were emerging that his star was rising. All of this just before he enters his first unrestricted free agency period and while the Pelicans are entering into a critical two-year period in their attempts to keep Anthony Davis in town. It all culminated with his departure to the Warriors and with the Pelicans having to embrace their remaining options, which maybe is for the best, maybe not.

There are a number of factors that go into this.

First, concern over the injury is justifiable. Leaving aside inexpert writers and their medical-sounding opinions, the number of legitimate comparison cases to Cousins is right around zero. The cases of this are rare enough, but it happening to a player of this age, this rough size, and without suffering another (seemingly unrelated) injury just is not there. Medical science is constantly changing, as are rehabilitation techniques and protocols.

Cousins’ intelligence and size factor into his game significantly, but being able to push off that foot is of undeniable importance. Whatever we see this year, if it goes well, it will likely not start off the way it ends, and next season will likely be even better for Cousins. If it does not, it will not change that much, but we will not be able to judge that, again, for some time. This season, then, unless there are actual medical issues at play, is essentially nothing more than something that will provide a warm-and-fuzzy feeling about the end state. I would not project peak performance based on this coming season, just if there may be more improvement to come or not.

Second and related, the Pelicans would have needed to win some games while his salary is sitting on the bench. They did so last season, but stretching that over 82 games against re-tooled teams may be tough, especially when every game may matter significantly in terms of post-season placement. Needing to spackle over the holes this season may, in fact, make a material difference in how they perform next season (and next off-season).

Third and continuing, the winning last season was relentlessly reported as a partially a function of chemistry. The team was paying well with Cousins finally, not just mid-pack, then lost a few when he went down, then went on a tear. After the streak ended, they still had a good record, won tough games, and swept the Trail Blazers in the Playoffs, managed to get a good win over the Warriors. If the best performances of the season were without Cousins, it is certainly reasonable to ask if the team is better without him. Add to this the consistent reports of Cousins’ personality conflicts, and it becomes a more valid question.

This contract was a big deal. Not only is it a high value contract potentially, it could affect his future deals or act as a major insurance policy for Cousins. Athletes do not get many changes at the paydays Cousins seemed to have in his future when he joined the NBA, but he’s consistently missed out on top money due to a combination of bad management and bad luck and, perhaps, in part, the personality conflicts.

Cousins is a deeply charitable person, seems fiercely loyal, and appears to be distrustful of those with agendas. He’s carried teams in Sacramento, got the blame for the teams not performing well enough to make the playoffs, then did not get a full commitment or the mega-start treatment in Sacramento. Players consistently echo that he is a good, misunderstood person.

I do not blame him a lick for not trusting the media, either. That becomes a vicious cycle. His own team will cut off recording or broadcasting before he comes out because they do not trust what he might say (their words said out loud, I heard them clearly). I asked him a few questions, and he eyed me hard and sort of gave me an “unravel the question” sort of answer. I mentioned his rebounding seemed to be up the past few games, then asked if it was intentional or a point of emphasis or just the way it played out. He said he did not notice he was doing more. He gives such honest answers when he lets himself, it belies his character, which is good, of course. This is not exactly optimal when you are trying to control the message, though.

We had been exposed to leaks from inside the organization about feelings regarding Cousins. We were told, on multiple fronts, that the players and staff were ok with Cousins leaving. We were also told the players only admit this to the staff but that it was pervasive. They did not say it to each other, so the claim went. We were also supposed to dismiss Davis wearing his jersey at All-Star and their personal interactions. We were supposed to believe what the players told the franchise but not each other, what they tell their opponents in negotiations, not their union peers.

Well, I am sure anyone is fine with just about anyone else leaving . . . under the right circumstances. I think we were dealing with narrow, nuanced comments being casually repeated until the nuance was eroded. I think it was intentional as part of the broader negotiation between the Pelicans and Cousins, between the team and fans. The Pelicans entered as the favorites to sign the big man, but they needed to protect themselves if he went. One aspect of this was making it appear, true or not, that’s fine either way. Cousins’ camp had been trying to drum up the market, or the appearance of one,

This brings us to the real transaction, which was somewhat debated in the media after-the-fact. Let’s start with the consequences from the perspective of offering an extension or short free agent deal, the kind of thinking that drives the offer to make . . . clearly, what’s in this thinking did not happen, and that is part of why the situation went the way did . . . along with the two-season plan. If Cousins walks, it is likely for a better deal, not to ring chase in his condition, not just to escape this team or be some in some particular locale. If he goes as a free agent, this, to me, is likely irrecoverable for the Pelicans. They need to add talent, and that takes salary. There are only so many exceptions and trade pieces to work with. You need salary to flip, time to make that happen, repeated used of exceptions to grow your books. Cousins walking sets that back likely to the point there the two-year plan is toast. The salary dropping does not instantly create room. Room is a function of the cap and all your contracts and some other things. That Cousins money only affects Cousins in terms of that kind of money. The total salary picture also pushes them not only to the neighborhood of the tax but the hard cap, if they trigger it. A significant Cousins deal puts the team in the position to use only the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($5,337,000) and not the large Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($8,641,000). They also would not use the Bi-Annual Exception or be able to accept sign-and-trades. At any rate, the effect of how much is makes is not too critical, and moves can be made, likely, to get under the tax line.

If there was a sign-and-trade, the Pelicans may have gotten something back and would likely generate a trade exception. These are difficult to use for various reasons, but it’s not nothing. Also, if you generate one with a plan to use it, things go more smoothly on that front. This is easiest with a room team, but those are drying up. Base Year Compensation makes it harder to match these sorts of deals if they are for big money with a big increase in salary. If the deal is not that large, there is no reason for the Pelicans not to outbid, so we are only talking about those cases.

If they got Cousins, there were two bad things that can happen. If the deal was long with high salary, this is bad if he does not play up to the contract value. The lesser-considered bad thing is if the deal was too short for too low a salary and he got good quickly. He’d walk out grinning and laughing.

Even if the Pelicans wanted to move forward without Cousins, the best move was to sign him to a contract tied to the market, then try to further shine up his health and personality concerns. Once the value is increased . . . and maybe you find a different kind of magic with the new Cousins in the mix . . . you trade him then. This way you can help maintain your salary war chest and your options long-term, not just right now on the difference between a TMLE player and a NMLE player.

So how much should he have gotten? Well, that depended on the market in part, on his last deal in part.

So, moving on with how it played out in real life . . . with Dallas out of the picture and the Lakers reportedly in the picture, the market for Cousins had experienced a net-contraction. The Lakers got LeBron, so them going for Cousins at all is, of course, up to Mayor-Elect James at that point, but this was just made up, and we all know it. I could not see them offering more than ~$25m total on a one year deal if they make it that far down their list. Pelinka may also see the Pelicans as future direct competition and wants to put a thumb on the salary scale at no real cost to him, score points with Cousins, players, fans just in case. Their timetable is too short even without James. If they landed just Kawhi, I feel the same, just less emphatically.

With max money off the table the natural nails in the market go from ~$18m (prior salary . . . so injury does no harm, no foul in raw salary terms), ~$22m from the sign-and-trade-market (roughly, and it’s complicated), ~$25m from the free agency market, set by non-bird-focused deals, and ~$30m (max) to just the first three of those. I’d pegged the market at ~$25m since that nail is close to the midpoint, pretty reasonable. Now I see it perhaps down a peg, more like ~$22m. Then, if LA goes away (or never comes), then it’s down to $18m. This can all be boosted up a notch or two with incentives. Deal length, options can affect it, too. As mentioned above and by me elsewhere: if you wait for the market, you are waiting on its timeline, not yours.

That’s the analysis going into the offseason. So, what happened? 2 years at $20m annually was offered and declined (nice analysis). When the market did not materialize, the unlikely thing happened: Cousins went ring chasing and he was accepted by the Warriors for the TMLE, or about $5m. Why? Well, that has a good deal to do with pride. We can see that market was not huge for him, but that he had some offers, including some sign-and-trades, but they weren’t to his liking. So, he took the $5m deal with the ring and time off, pissed off all the teams that didn’t offer him a deal he wanted, and has the chance to try to earn a max deal next year that would bring his two-season salary total back up to $40m (nice analysis, if you wanted to keep him). This was, of course, the risk in offering too low a deal. The risk in offering to high a deal is regression and lack of flexibility. These were the horns of the dilemma.

Well, I predicted disaster if that happened. As it turns out, maybe things lined up where the Pelicans, thankfully, have fighting chance.

Rondo

Before we get into that, one more piece not on the roster. Rondo’s importance to the roster this season was overblown, but, make no mistake, his departure was a blow. He left for an amount it was simply impractical for the Pelicans to match since it was above the NMLE (they would have had to dismantle the roster to create cap room even if they wanted to pay him anywhere near that much, and that certainly was not the plan). Rondo impressed many with his IQ and the quality of his leadership (this is not to say his is an optimal leader, but people lead in different ways, and Rondo’s brand of leadership is not something that is easily found in the NBA). Some of his contributions are residual, such as the leadership and “veteran” lessons he provided to the team. Others were just role-oriented. By freeing up Jrue a little, Jrue got better. This would be true for players that were not Rondo doing the freeing. That said, his passing ability certainly was a help, and, I think, an inspiration. He provided a stark example, and perhaps one that no one else could, of just how what this team could do with good ball movement across all 94 feet, not just for a couple plays in the half-court.

Part of the loss on Rondo was just that his departure was on the heels of losing Cousins. The personal blow to his teammates, as this was not expected, can not be ignored, but there is also the idea that resurfaces that any good player, given the chance, will leave. I do not see this as truly damaging in their context, largely because he left for a surprising amount of money. The Lakers are being led by a man who came from a team whose basketball IQ was not up to snuff. So, he sought Rondo, who had shown himself “worthy.” Leaving for a pile of money when one is not available in your current location (there was an inquiry on that front) is perfectly understandable.

The door is open for Rondo to return for the minimum.

Randle

In the offseason, I was saying this comes down to Mr. MLE. I had no idea how true this would turn out to be. Losing Cousins meant the loss of a great deal, but it also meant salary just coming off the books. Life over the cap is one where it takes time to build up enough salary to have a competitive roster. Losing that salary would represent a concurrent loss of talent (rare and difficult to acquire) and the loss of salary (requires time to build up).

Then, suddenly, Julius Randle was available. The Lakers, largely tied to the decision to go after Rondo, made Randle available, and he decided New Orleans was the place he ought to be, so he loaded up the truck and moved to the Big Easy. Randle, for whatever reason, did not fit the plan in Los Angeles, but this lack of fit is not a knock on him. Rather, Randle is nearly a perfect fit in New Orleans. He’s got fire, hustle, rebounding, effective play on both sides of the ball, play making, the right attitude to play with Davis, and an ever-impressing character.

Randle signed for the full NMLE ($8,641,000), and he has a player option for next season. This provides him a little insurance. The Pelicans will only have his Non-Bird Rights, so his next deal can only start at $10,369,200, which is not THAT much money. $8,641,000 got him this season. The cap is not rising 20%, so it stands to reason that this might retain him. Players like him are less-and-less in demand, but it only takes one offer to put the Pelicans in a position to have to become a cap team to retain him. If the Pelicans can navigate this coming off-season with Randle, his Early Bird Rights will almost certainly be enough to retain him thereafter.

if Randle performs the way many of us hope he will and think he can, he could very well price himself out of the Pelicans’ reach, but hoping he underperforms is not acceptable. So, they have to make sure this team is the place for him. Again, patience. Give the guys their wins, build their stats, get them some recognition, make the team experience a commodity that is hard to replace. They can not and will not just rely on “Davis.” That kind of attitude will drive Davis away. His game is one that will complement Davis’, and they can run the two-man game just like Davis and Boogie were starting to do. He also provides that guy that can take on physical centers when Davis does not want to.

They must make New Orleans a place players want to be. Period. Like Oklahoma City. The media love affair with the Thunder has been wrong-headed from the start, as many of them have just missed that fundamental point: It’s a team players want to play for DESPITE the limitations it has (every market has some issues, by the way). The stupid “market” thing is lazy and tired, as is “history.” It’s about a reputation among the players of a certain stature. Davis needs players and agents telling him at enough of a rate, that New Orleans in a fine place to be, and the telling needs to be both in words and in deeds.

Randle is the best MLE acquisition by this franchise. The minimum acquisition, as I’ve tracked for a while and mentioned before, continuously improve in quality, reclamation and rehabilitation players are finding success in the NBA. I do not know if it will happen, but the massive effort geared toward this is there and producing something that can not simply be ignored.

Mirotic

Mirotic is one of the Pelicans above-NMLE non-stars (Moore and Hill are the others), and he is the most valuable of the three, making $12,500,000 in this last year of his deal. He was the big acquired after Cousins’ injury last season, but he likely would have been acquired anyway . . . see: current roster. Mirotic is a moderate usage guy who does some little things, is versatile, plays some defense, and fits the mold of what the Pelicans want to do. He’s a key piece of the “Do It Big” thing that is apparently being retained for another season.

Mirotic has the best outside shooting game of the three bigs, thus providing the most “modern” looking offense when he is with Davis, less with Randle, and the least when he is on the bench. He does more than just shoot threes (along with the rest of the NBA, nerds). He’s a smart guy with decent rebounding (particularly defensive rebounding), defends without fouling, finds himself in the right places. He does not generate a ton of assists, but he’s involved in more plays than this statistic would indicate.

The Pelicans have his Bird Rights, so he’d be easy to retain from a mechanism perspective, and I imagine the will is there unless there is a cause to trade him.

Payton

Elfrid Payton is a bit of a linchpin here. Clearly, there are players with much more absolute importance to the team than Elfrid Payton. Payton, however, is in the position of potentially being the player whose performance, for a variety of reasons, will drive the team’s performance from anywhere between borderline Playoff team to top-4 seed, thereby potentially avoiding the worst of the first-round matchups.

Payton is a New Orleans area native (Jefferson Parish, actually) who played his college ball in Lafayette, Louisiana. His first four years were spent in Orlando with a short stint in Phoenix after a late-season trade in 2018. He signed for a portion of the Bi-Annual Exception (so the Pelicans are without it next season for $3,000,000. His Non-Bird Rights will allow him to be signed to a $3,600,000 deal next year, or they can use a portion of their MLE.

Payton is point guard, and he’s a fair passer, but he’s not a great outside shooter. This causes the nerds to turn on him. He, however, drives quite well, can dish on the move, and rebounds well. In college, he was noted defensively, but in the pros, this has not been the case.

Asking that Payton “replace” Rondo in any way is just lazy and stupid. Payton, when actualized, will likely be a better fit than Rondo because of his more rounded game. As a point guard, his main benefit comes with the role, which is freeing up Jrue as much as he needs to be freed up. He’s also played a good bit of minutes with Davis, which is a sign of how important he will be on this team, as I alluded to above. The driving guards that can dish, as I noted many times, is key.

The defense will be fulcrum on which the team’s season tilts, and Payton’s defensive prowess is the tip of that fulcrum. He’s been largely schemed away from the tip of the opponents’ offensive spear in preseason, whether that be by their design, the Pelicans’, or mutual consent. So, the jury is out on Payton, but really that in itself is information, since he is not out there sharpening himself at their expense. The team has been good about developing guys and protecting them in the process. So, I’m going to be watching this closely. The defense can be good if Payton is passable on defense. If Payton really turns it on come January, February, March, the defense can be special: total smothercation. They get to that level, you are not going to be able to buy a pair of tap shoes in any NBA city as the writers start shuffle-ball-step-ing in an effort to avoid recanting their naive preseason outlooks.

Hill

Solomon Hill is now the player that is gets the most Pelicans fan’s ire. For the casual fan, he does not score much. For the slightly more adept fan, it’s the contract he was given. For the self-styled expert, it’s some drivel usually that covers up the combination of those two.

Hill is by no means the prototype of a wing in the modern NBA. Rather, he’s a guy that we are told does many little things that are not really measured by stats, and that’s why the value is lost. There’s some truth to that, but the mistake of a handful of nerds does not cause Hill’s deficiencies to disappear. Even among high-minute-low-usage players, he sticks out as not-too-productive, even just looking at his first season with the Pelicans, as he was injured last season.

Now, coming off an injury, he is in his third season for a four season contract making approximately $12.5m per season and having to fit into a team that is very different from that his first season here.

However, I think this is not the real determining factor. Hill is here to be a low usage guy and play defense. He’s fine at the one. He’s a fine enough fifth offensive threat, too, but the defense has to be better than we’ve seen. It has to be better than it was when he came back last season, and he needs to be more consistent than he was before that. The pressure is on for Hill for a few reasons, and his contract is a legitimate one. He’s got a generous contract, and his next one will not be nearly so large if he does not deliver in his own way. The market for those guys is not great, but his salary, tied to pick and another player, is a great salary dump. If he lands somewhere that he can’t show his value, if it’s large, then he’ll be leaving a ton of money on the table and the ride will be, in a real sense, over. Meanwhile, as noted, there is some pressure to move him regardless to bring in a higher dollar player. So, he needs to show it, and he needs to show it defensively. He needs to be tough, smart, dependable, and he needs to be doing what he can on the toughest wing assignment each night.

He needs to through in some garbage man stuff, like rebounding in there. I have watched him drill threes in practice, many in a row. He needs to more than fill his role as fifth threat, and I mean that sincerely.

I’m pulling for the guy, but this is the situation.

Moore

Moore is an interesting case. He’s probably the most overall-tradeable player on the roster. He contributes fine on both ends, though his defense has taken a step back having to guard more, larger wings last season. He came on to the team with a reputation for defense and people questioned if he could bring enough offense. Now it’s flipped. The truth is between, and he’s an all-around fine player. His contract has two seasons left, declining from $8,808,685 to $8,664,928. Not bad.

Given this and that the team is certainly going to be looking to upgrade, especially if some of their down-roster player take some strides, he’s the most likely gone pecan. The question will be, at the time, what can you get for Hill, parts, first compared to Moore, first, parts, compared to Moore, Hill, parts, and maybe a pick package. (Can you tell that I’ve kissed the first goodbye?).

He’s starting this season, and I can see why, and it’s potentially a negotiation point in trades, but I’d prefer to see him contributing more on the second unit. That can perhaps happen some. I’d like to see him get some stats there for a couple of reasons.

Clark

Clark tested the market and did not find a greener pasture than in New Orleans, so he came back at the minimum. Last season, he was up and down, but he finished on an up. He’s slated to be that “next guard” in the “co-lead guard” approach the team takes, with Jrue and Payton being the first two. He’s got some defense in his game, and he is fine taking a secondary role on offense. If he can pick up where he left off, he and the team will benefit surprisingly from his performance.

The Pelicans will have his Early Bird Rights after this season. This will allow him to sign for a much larger deal next season if that was called for. Also, they could use him in a sign-and-trade as it was possible to do with Crawford this past offseason (though nothing came of it).

Remember, we need to look at the coming offseason.

Miller

Miller is another guy who will finish the season with Early Bird Rights after this season (his prior time with the team does not matter in this calculation), allowing similar moves as with Clark. He had the highest TS% on the team (61.7, edging Davis by 0.05), among players with at least 800 minutes on the season. This is, of course, due to this threes (over 70% of his shots, made at over 40%). However, he’s also very good from the line (58 of 67 on the season), but he’s just not good at getting there (58 of 67 on the season).

Miller was a guy I certainly had data-driven reservations about. He was just a reluctant shooter, and when Babbitt came in and let it fly, Miller was given the chance to fly away, too. He did, and he came back more confident. It didn’t take him long, because he had an attention-getting game in early November, and after that he started to displace Clark as the nerds’ darling player. While he suffered from the loss of Boogie, he also started doing more with his game. Adding a little more of a step or a drive to his arsenal will take him to another level, and the Pelicans will thank the stars they have his Early Bird Rights.

Okafor

I have some excitement about this pickup. We need decent insurance among the bigs, and Okafor could be a very good insurance policy. He’s battled a knee issue and some off-court issues, then was traded and essentially discarded. He’s gone from the third pick in the draft to an Exhibit 10 contract in three seasons in which he played 53, 50, and 28 games.

If he can play some in garbage time, play a little in the “nicked up” games, and give the guys a little rest when they need it late in the third, early fourth, I’m beyond pleased.

If he does more than that, that’s great. He could be a nice piece to keep around or a nice sweetener to deal. The Pelicans will have his Non-Bird Rights next season, which could come in handy, but no if he plays well in all likelihood.

Jackson

Frank Jackson is, as McNamara told us all, being sold to us as the rookie this a season (which he is in some meaningful ways). He’s got a $1,378,242 this season with a $1,618,520 salary next season (partially guaranteed at $506,143 if waived this season). He’ll be a restricted free agent after that, and the Pelicans will have his Full Bird Rights.

Jackson’s career is off to a late start due to injuries, surgery, recovery, and patience. The team has taken a slow approach with Frank, and by all accounts it has paid off. We will see how he looks this season, but he looks to start the season outside the 10-man rotation I think they go with early. So, I expect the patience to continue as long as health is with the team. Like Okafor, I expect him to creep in in garbage time, to give breathers at times, and as insurance. That will be his chance to shine in front of fans.

What needs to be remembered is that he can get good time in front of coaches and players in practice. Decisions to give him time directly or indirectly as a necessary consequence of a move could be influenced by practice as much or more than the games fans see.

The consistent tag applied to Frank: Aggression.

You have my attention.

Johnson

Wes Johnson is a new addition to the Pelicans and did not make it to New Orleans for practice before travel to Houston. Johnson was acquired in a straight up trade for Alexis Ajinca. Both players were on the last season on their contracts, Johnson making about $6m per season compared to about $5m for Ajinca. Ajinca has been injured for some time but had returned to some activity after surgeries. The Clippers had to trim their roster, and part of their move was to shift their salary downward in the trade, then waive that smaller amount to save some money. Meanwhile, the Pelicans add some salary, which is good, and got a contract for a player that can is cleared for on-court action. They’ll also have his Bird Rights at the end of this season. He can be immediately traded without aggregation, must wait two months to be aggregated.

Johnson is swing that is known for defense over offense and is low usage? Sound familiar? This isn’t just a depth move or a nudge-the-cap move; it’s a direct application of pressure to Hill. Hill will have the first move, since he’s with the team now and has been. But if he falters, Johnson is the kind of player that could slip into his place. While slightly less beefy, he fits in with the other perimeter players in terms of a size profile, so switching would be as effective or more as other lineups without Hill.

Diallo

Diallo is on the last year of his deal, making $1,544,951, and the Pelicans have his Bird Rights. The problem is, he’s 2 seasons into this development, and hasn’t cracked the rotation meaningfully. Granted, he is likely on the wrong team to just bubble up the depth chart, but his minutes are not causing people to clamor for him. The most likely value of Diallo is in practice, garbage time, and in trade. At some point, you trade you potential upside project and get another one, as it’s best for both parties.

Tim Frazier

Tim Frazier is back. The point guard who was traded for a second round pick is a waiver claim off a summer contract. His contract is for the minimum and is non-guaranteed. The point guard played well with Davis in the past but was a casualty of some cap maneuvering. He’s smaller the rest of the guards, so I do not expect him to be a major piece to the offense, but I can see how he would be more valuable to this team than Troy Williams, whose non-guaranteed contract was waived to create a roster spot for Frazier, now that Johnson is with the team. Frazier is a fair defender for his size and is, frankly, fun.

The team will have Frazier’s Non-Bird rights if he sticks with the team.

Kenrich Williams

Kenrich Williams is rookie on a non-guaranteed minimum contract that guarantees for this season in January. He also turns 24 this season. He’ll also be 24 this season, but the swingman got a late start to his 2 year college career for a couple of reasons, including a knee injury. He’s not an obvious scorer, but the scouting report on him is that he is defensive-minded, unselfish, and willing to do the little things as a glue guy. In a system that needs low usage guys, he could be a good end-of-bench guy, especially if that helps his knees rest and become “knowns.”

Bluiett

The Pelicans lone two-way player at this time, Trevon Bluiett is more offensive-minded. He’s a confident player and can score and pass at an NBA level. He needs to work on his defense, and he may need to bulk up a little to play on this team, given their type. He’ll be a fun one to track if he gets some time with the team during some busy stretches.

Trade Exceptions, Cash, Draft Rights, Picks

All of the Pelicans picks are intact, though there is a pick-swap option with Chicago on New Orleans’ 2021, which is not a meaningful impediment.

No cash has been traded, so they have the maximum of $5,243,000 to work with each way.

They have the draft rights to Tony Carr (playing in Europe) from this season and to Latavious Williams, a Mississippi native who went from high school to the D-League (skipping college), to Europe, where he was playing as recently as last season but seems without a team. These are used as “trade mechanisms” more than as actual rights.

As for players that have signed an NBA contract, the Pelicans have Non-Bird Rights on Motiejunas and the Early Bird Rights to Jordan Crawford.

Some trade exceptions remain on the books for most of the season: $1,471,382 and $1,429,818 expire on 2/1/19, and another for $2,300,000 expires a week later on 2/8/19. These can not be combined, but they can actually be used to acquire a contract whose value this season is worth $100,000 more than the value of each exception. They can be used to claim waived player if there is a roster spot for that player. To be clear, they can be partially consumed.

The Pelicans have no roster spots, but they have non-guaranteed contracts that result in less of a financial impact when those players are waived. Tim Frazier, Jahlil Okafor, and Kenrich Williams fully guarantee on January 10, 2019. Okafor and Kenrich Williams have a $50,000 partial guarantee. Nearly all of the players (not Davis, Hill Holiday, Moore, Randle (Player Option)) have either no salary or partially guaranteed salary next season, which can be assets.

The Pelicans have no meaningful exceptions to use to sign free agents later this season. They can sign minimum contract players. They also have a single two-way slot available. They can trade for players and have the capacity and willingness to add salary.

The Tax

This is a topic that I am just sick of. First, the team will pay the tax, just like they would have last season, and the season before that, etc. This is a fact. The case has to be right, and the bar is not that high. Paying the tax is not solely a financial decision. Rather, it comes with mechanistic constraints from the CBA itself. Permission to spend is curbed even if willingness is not on top of all the financial implications. Many teams that can pay the tax choose not to for these reason (see the Clippers and the cost cutting moves, or the Warriors). Other teams learn the hard way that sometimes you just pay it (see the Thunder).

However, paying the tax will actually be difficult for the Pelicans. Because of the volume of incentives they have relative to the Apron, which sets the hard cap, the Pelicans will be hard pressed to even have a chance to pay the tax unless their players’ incentives really kick in and they spend close to the maximum allowed by the hard cap.

to be clear, the Pelicans have the hard cap this season due to their use of the NMLE and Bi-Annual Exception (either one would do it).

Looking forward, which is the point. They can start next season in the tax or move into it, and they’d be willing to pay it. They could also find cost-cutting moves to drop below it before the end of the regular season. For this to happen, they would need to sign and acquire players by avoiding the bi-annual exception (done, since they used it this season) and any amount of the MLE above the TMLE amount. They would also need to avoid acquiring a player in a sign-and-trade next season. Conversely, if their salary position is to high to start the season, those options would be off the table.

So, an eye on how this year affects next year’s tax outlook is worthwhile.

Reputation

The Pelicans’ reputation around the NBA is a factor in roster flexibility because that reputation influences the players that are live options for coming to New Orleans. The franchise’s reputation is sometimes considered to be an off-limits topic, but I think that is because people mistakenly think the reputation is poor. I disagree. I think it’s neutral to good, depending on the aspects of the franchise in focus at the moment.

In the time Davis has been here, the team has advanced its reputation considerably. There are still lazy takes and typical disparagement from those who have to resort to such things because there are not legitimate criticisms they are qualified to make, but in the circles that matter, the Pelicans have certainly found themselves coming up in the world. They have been among the NBA’s higher spenders. While not being taxpayers, they have often been well above the median. Trading away picks and the like has an effect like this. They have invested, often above the original budgets, in improvements to the facilities and the Arena.

In the player market, and I mention this periodically, the quality of their best minimum contracts has improved significantly. From players that did not make it in the NBA, up to Morrow, up to Lance Stephenson. Time will tell on the current crop, but they have more of a prospect kind of feel, except perhaps Okafor.

This has been reflected in the quality of their higher-dollar free agents, with the case in point being Randle, who, again, may be the best MLE-type signing in the franchise’s history. Cousins was certainly entertaining signing here prior to the injury, and he’s a high quality player.

Mr. Trade

The major way this team is going to improve is via trade. The best case is that some legit NBA superstar points to NOLA and semi-sings, “I’m walking to New Orleans.” Next best, he just says it or something like, “Kennahbrah.” Behind that would be the normal trade request to NOLA. The most likely case, as least in the coming year or so, is that Dell trades for someone who is open to NOLA but is not already eyeing the city that hard.

The team will likely not being able to hold their gains by becoming a cap team and signing a new free agent unless that star is something special, so it has to be a trade. For that trade, you need assets, and they have to be varied to open up the market as much as possible.

Before the offseason, I thought Mr. MLE was the big decision to make to set this up. That got derailed since Randle ended up just filling the Boogie void (“replace” is not quite right here, just as Payton does not “replace” Rondo). So, now Mr. Trade, who was always going to be the most important piece of the Davis-support puzzle, is just that much more important now since the situation is a little more tenuous. Though, compared to the world where Boogie is under contract, the team has more “bookspace” to work with (I do not want to send the wrong message with “room”).

So, what does this player “look” like? The player traded for has a big contract, and maybe he’s overpaid. He’s probably on a team that has cap issues or “success problems” and looking to make a change. The team is looking to win differently, not lose. The player is likely a perimeter player, and likely a guard or swing because of the market, but could be a small forward. He’ll be capable of bringing the ball up and initiating some, so, a point guard or point man or lead guard or whatever. Again, it could be a small forward, but a more defensive-minded one. This is not to say the player needs to be a lock-down defender, but they have to fit the identity of the team, and they have to be willing to be low usage as least when with Davis out there. Davis needs the points and stats to get the “legacy points.” The salary next season, whether agreed to or not, would likely be on to put New Orleans into the tax. This is a point that actually makes it easier to trade for the player, since it would be a fair negotiating point in NOLA’s favor (it could not hurt, certainly). After all, part of what sets value is the perceived value that can be extracted. Downward pressure on that, therefore, can be a factor.

Season Outlook

I mentioned that there needs to be no real regression from last season. The League is a bit of a different place than last year, even moreso than in many years, but the comparison will be made.

The Pelicans won 48 games last season, and I think their fair range is right around there, say, 45-50 wins. Forced to pick a number, I’d say 45, but I think that’s a safe number. That can be considered a regression, but I think they will be more comfortably in the Playoffs, even if their seeding is not drastically different. So, in that sense, if they can be more clearly a Playoff team for longer, I think that matters more than the numerology.

Moreover, I think they need to make the second round and have a decent showing. No beatdown, even if they are swept.

If they can pull that off, that should handle this part of the equation.

Awards

Awards are not something I care about, because I have issues with the processes, but that does not matter. What matters is what Davis cares about. He’s gotten his share of awards, but he’s also felt he’s missed out on some. It affected his pocketbook with the Rookie Extension he signed, actually. I also saw with my own eyes how upset he was that he did not make the All-Star game in New Orleans until he was named as replacement. It matters to him, so it matters.

He’s worked his way into MVP conversations now, plus he may find his way onto any All-NBA team, and he might be a Defensive Player of the Year and get the scoring title. The style of play is geared toward this, and it’s no accident. Feature Davis, and a bunch of good stuff happens. The nerds get upset with the minutes, but voters like Raw Stats. So . . . there it is.

Jrue is now in the conversation for awards and has won some, Randle or Mirotic could be sixth men, and if this defense is good, there could be some All-NBA Team picks from elsewhere on the roster.

All in all, this part of the plan, like the rest of it, is set about as good as it can be to make this plan worth staking it all on.

Resources

Cap info from Basketball Insiders and other sources, stats from Basketball Reference, experience from all over, Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, the CBA itself, and some friends.

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Michael McNamara <![CDATA[Ian Clark Looks to Build on Great Finish to Season]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57056 2018-10-05T19:59:15Z 2018-10-05T19:48:18Z July 2nd was certainly the climax of the New Orleans Pelicans 2018 offseason. Rondo and Boogie went to the West Coast, Julius Randle chose to team up with AD and Elfrid Payton came home. A day that we will look back on years from now, as one that forever changed the direction of this franchise. […]]]>

July 2nd was certainly the climax of the New Orleans Pelicans 2018 offseason. Rondo and Boogie went to the West Coast, Julius Randle chose to team up with AD and Elfrid Payton came home. A day that we will look back on years from now, as one that forever changed the direction of this franchise. But on July 6th, Dell made another move that could have a major impact for the upcoming season.

Ian Clark is thought of by most NBA fans, and perhaps even Pelicans fans, as a fringe rotation player. Most would say that he would be a great 5th guard on a good team. But the end of the 2017-18 season shows that he might be more than that. While most point to Rondo and Jrue as guys whose games took a turn for the better after Boogie went down, it was Ian Clark who had the most dramatic improvement when Boogie went down and Nikola Mirotic came in.

Prior to the All-Star game, Clark was averaging 17.8 minutes per game, scoring 5.8 points on some truly horrible shooting numbers (.418 FG, 29% 3-pt, .684 FT%). The offense as a whole was atrocious when he was on the floor (94 offensive rating). He played quite a bit in staggered lineups with Cousins, Miller, and Jameer Nelson and was relegated to being a spot up shooter. Clark got some open looks, but he is a rhythm player, and he would go multiple possessions without touching the ball. So, when he got the rock, he often forced a shot that wasn’t in the flow of the offense or he simply missed a good look because he was cold.

But once Boogie went down and Jameer was eventually moved in the Mirotic trade, Clark got to push the ball a little more. In the half court, he attacked off the dribble more, and his jumper started to go down because he was now in rhythm. Clark’s post All-Star break numbers were fantastic. His minutes went up to 24.8 per game, and his scoring doubled, as he put up 11 per game. He shot 49% from the field, 37% from three, and 90% from the line. The Pelicans offensive rating with him on the court shot all the way up to 107. No player on the Pelicans player saw such massive improvements in one of those categories, let alone all four.

The Ian Clark we saw before Boogie went down might not even be an NBA player. If he continues with that season, he might be in China this year. But the Ian Clark we saw after the All-Star break, is not only an NBA player, but numbers like that make him a legit 3rd guard. And normally, you don’t get third guards to sign for the minimum. When you look at those post All Star break numbers and look for similar players around the league, who averaged similar numbers over the course of the entire season, it is most similar to Tyler Johnson on Miami and Fred VanVleet of the Raptors. VanVleet got a new deal, paying him 9 million per year and Tyler Johnson is scheduled to make $19 million this upcoming season.

Clark didn’t have suitors this season, because teams likely saw him as the entirety of his season. But the Pelicans can look at him through the lens of post-Boogie, because ya know, Boogie ain’t here no more. And THAT Ian Clark is a valuable member to the team. That Ian Clark finished more games than Rondo. That Ian Clark hit the biggest shot of Game 1 against Portland and was a stud in the Pelicans Game 3 win vs. Golden State. In those final two must win games to end the season, Clark averaged 28 minutes per game, averaged 12 points, going 10-19 from the field, 4-9 from three, averaged 4 assists per game and didn’t have a single turnover. That’s not a 5th guard. That is an instrumental rotation player.

The Ian Clark signing came and went with little fanfare. And most are still looking for another guard that looks better on paper to take his place. Or perhaps Frank Jackson can leap ahead of him in the rotation and provide some highlight dunks and excitement. But for Jackson, or any other guard, to beat out Clark they would have to be rather exceptional. Because post-Boogie Ian Clark is not a minimum player. He is not a 5th guard. Post-Boogie Ian Clark is a major piece of the Pelicans playoff puzzle.

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Michael McNamara <![CDATA[Let’s Be Real About Rondo]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57055 2018-10-05T19:59:58Z 2018-10-05T19:44:35Z Some have characterized Rondo going to the Lakers as a “big loss” for the Pelicans. They cite his stats, his relationship with AD, and his intangibles as things that the Pelicans will find it hard to replace. He allowed Jrue to play off the ball, they will say. He was a great guard for the […]]]>

Some have characterized Rondo going to the Lakers as a “big loss” for the Pelicans. They cite his stats, his relationship with AD, and his intangibles as things that the Pelicans will find it hard to replace. He allowed Jrue to play off the ball, they will say. He was a great guard for the Gentry, uptempo offense, they say. He helps the team at the end of games, where the Pelicans would often fumble the game away – that’s another popular narrative. And who can forget “Playoff Rondo?” He is a mythical creature, unstoppable when games matter most.

I have heard all the narratives. I just don’t really believe them.

What I think has happened is simple: Human beings have recency bias, and Rondo was terrific in the series against Portland. It was a fantastic matchup for him, as Portland has perhaps the softest perimeter defense amongst the Western Conference playoff teams. On defense, they could hide him on Aminu or Turner. Or put him on a shorter two-guard like McCollum, who can’t just shoot over Rondo like Klay could (and did) in the next series.

Rondo had a terrific series against Portland and nobody should take that away from him. He got Anthony Davis his first playoff series win, and in convincing fashion. No way the Pelicans win that series without Rondo. They were a terrible offense when he was off the court (102.2 rating) and fantastic when he was on (110). But if the Pelicans play somebody else in round one, do the Pelicans or their fans want him back. Well, let’s look at the Pelicans +/- when Rondo was on the court in the regular season against the other possible opponents

Minny -32.1
Utah -14.3
Houston -6.1
OKC: -2.7

Denver played him off the court as well. The only teams that the Pels could keep him on the court against were Portland and San Antonio. In fact, the Pelicans played 50 close games in the regular season last year. They were good, going 30-20 overall. Rondo only played at the end of 22 of those games, and 5 of those games were for a minute or less. Basically, he was brought in to inbound a pass late in some games. But he wasn’t a finishing player for the Pelicans. E’twaun Moore, Ian Clark, and Darius Miller all played more games in clutch situations. And you know who was really good in clutch situations last season, even without Rondo? Jrue Holiday.

Holiday played in 49 of those games and had a Net Rating of +11.6. His usage was high (27%) and his assist to turnover ratio was good (2.5 to 1). Pels were really good in the clutch with E’twaun on too – 113.9 offensive rating and 100.5 defensive. Did AD suffer without Rondo? Nope. And the Pelicans clutch net rating with AD on and Rondo off? +20.9. That’s elite.

Long story short, the Pelicans didn’t need Rondo in the clutch to win games. Their offense went to another level (112 in clutch without Rondo, 107 with Rondo) and their defense was MUCH better with him off as well.

And if the 50 games are too small of a sample size, how about a full season? The Pelicans offensive rating was higher with Rondo off, and their defensive rating was better with him off as well. Their net rating with Rondo on the court was +0.4 – basically, they were a 41 win team. With him off the court, it was +2.8. Making them a 48-51 win team. And there are no metrics you can point to that show he made Jrue or AD much better players. Their numbers were almost the same with Rondo as without.

Narratives are not the same as facts. I am aware of all the narratives regarding Rondo and how he helped the Pelicans last year. What I am not as clear on is: When did those narratives start? Because I don’t remember hearing how essential he was in February or March. Instead, I heard about his calming influence and immense value to the team right around Game 2 or 3 of the Portland series. And again, he was great in that series. But what if they had played Utah instead?

There is a universe out there where the Pelicans don’t face Portland in round one, and instead they miss the playoffs or are one and done, with Rondo having a subpar series (like he did against Golden State by the way). In that universe, Rondo is gone and fans/media view Payton or some other guy they add as an upgrade. But that Portland series is preventing our minds from being able to acknowledge this as fact, despite the data.

And while many can still point to the intangibles Rondo brings as the true loss that New Orleans will experience, that was always just a band aid for the franchise. Your 5th or 6th best player, who doesn’t even finish games, can not be your leader. That role has to belong to AD and/or Jrue Holiday. Those are their best players, and their most highly paid players. It’s time for them to take over that role, and if the team “needs” someone like Rondo to do that, they are already lost anyway.

Rondo was necessary for the culture last season and for a single playoff series as well. He helped them get over a very specific hump, but there are several reasons to believe that the Pelicans can be significantly better on the court now that Rondo is gone. Forget narratives. Those are the facts.

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Michael McNamara <![CDATA[All Dell Demps Deserves is the Chance to Succeed . . . Or Fail]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57053 2018-10-05T19:30:15Z 2018-10-05T19:30:15Z Dell Demps is entering his 9th season as General Manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, and what a journey it has been. When he first arrived in 2010, a new coach was just hired without his input and the term “ownership turmoil” would be a vast understatement. As if that wasn’t enough, rumors were swirling […]]]>

Dell Demps is entering his 9th season as General Manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, and what a journey it has been. When he first arrived in 2010, a new coach was just hired without his input and the term “ownership turmoil” would be a vast understatement. As if that wasn’t enough, rumors were swirling that his superstar was eyeing an exit from the city. These were the cards that Dell Demps was dealt, and in spite of all of that, he weathered the storm and made some shrewd moves that helped get the Pelicans out to an 11-1 start just several months later.

He brought in young vets Trevor Ariza, Jason Smith, Marco Belinelli and Willie Green prior to the start of the season. And while he had to give up promising backup point guard Darren Collison, the rest of what he gave up equated to a steaming pile of trash. He got Belinelli for disappointing former first-round pick Julian Wright. Jason Smith and Willie Green (who each played 77 games that year and gave the Hornets a combined 2800 minutes) were acquired for Craig Brackens. Who? Exactly.

Dell Demps was off to a terrific start and the fans had four words to summarize their feelings on the new GM: In Dell We Trust. He was working magic around the edges and some were even starting to believe that he could undo all of the harm done by ownership that frustrated Chris Paul and David West to no end.

But it wasn’t to be. West got hurt before the playoffs and the Lakers knocked out the Hornets in six despite a terrific performance from Chris Paul. Several months later, after a lockout, Chris Paul demanded a trade and David Stern essentially became owner of the team. It was a mess again. Not to mention that Dell Demps had to deal CP3 with one arm tied behind his back because Paul would only opt into the second year of his contract if he was dealt to one of the teams he preferred. So, when Dell worked the phones and got Golden State to agree to add Stephen Curry in a deal for Paul, it didn’t matter because CP3 effectively nixed the deal. A deal eventually got done (not the one Dell wanted by the way), and while the direct return essentially produced nothing on the court, the fact that the team was so bad as a result of the trade put the Hornets into position to get lucky in the lottery.

And they did.

Dell’s third year started with a new cornerstone on the roster, as Anthony Davis was taken first overall. The plan was to surround Davis with young veterans over the next few years rather than putting too much responsibility on his shoulders early on and forcing him to suffer through 60 loss seasons just for the chance to possibly get a running mate in the next few drafts. The strategy was against the recent trend in the league, as teams like the Sonics/Thunder decided to let their young superstars put up a lot of shots, in a lot of minutes as they continued to pile up losses. And while some lauded that approach, they often forgot that the Thunder were the outlier, not the norm. You know who else stunk for multiple years straight? The Kings, the Wolves, and the Clippers. And they got high picks every year and it never lead to any real success.

Dell saw a different path, where he could create a culture of winning as his 19-year-old phenom could slowly grow into a role where he could eventually lead the franchise to championships once his body and game filled out. And did it work? Well, in some ways we still don’t know and therein lies the frustration.

While we can no doubt recount several transactions that appear as failures on Dell Demps resume, the truth of the matter is that Dell Demps has far more incomplete grades than he does pass or fail. He put an explosive offensive nucleus around Anthony Davis by acquiring Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Jrue Holiday – a group we affectionately called ‘The Finishing Five’. But the irony is that this lineup not only didn’t finish . . . it never started. Those five shared the court for less than 300 minutes, despite all being young and locked into multi-year contracts.

Injuries kept piling up to guys who had never been injury prone before, and some of which haven’t been injury prone since. Ryan Anderson ran into Gerald Wallace and his season was lost just as he was becoming red hot. Jrue Holiday, a warrior who had played almost every game since he had been in the league, got a leg injury just as the team was starting to click. Eric Gordon was in and out all the time, ruining any chance of developing chemistry. Tyreke Evans played quite a bit, but was often doing so at 50-60% because of various injuries. Quincy Pondexter was a key glue guy one season and out for the entire year the next. It just never stopped during the second iteration of Dell Demps build. So the result was failure, but its not hard to imagine a different world where luck is on their side and the Pelicans achieve a good amount of success.

And before we go any further, let’s acknowledge that luck is a huge part of the equation. Yes, the Warriors ownership is smart, but they have been aided by luck, as has every franchise that has achieved high levels of success. The Warriors perused Dwight Howard hard, but when he turned them down, they settled for their backup plan – future Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. The path to their first Finals saw every team they faced suffer major injuries either during or right before the series, allowing them a much easier path than is often afforded a first time champion. The Rockets were able to lure Chris Paul and sign guys like Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, and PJ Tucker to good deals the past few years, but that would have been impossible had they landed Chris Bosh a few summers earlier like they thought they were about to before Bosh changed course and headed back to Miami.

Luck is a real thing. We observe the results in the lone universe in which we can see, but things can play out an infinite number of ways, and there is no doubt that the luck has not been on Dell Demps side during his tenure. And that was the case again during Dell’s third iteration of his effort to build this team into a championship contender. He acquired DeMarcus Cousins in February of 2017, with the idea of zigging while everyone else zagged. As small ball became the norm, the idea of pairing the two best bigs in the league was intriguing. And it was starting to work.

But again, the dice turned up craps and Cousins was lost for the season. On the fly, Dell rebounded and acquired Nikola Mirotic to take his place. What ensued was a terrific run at the end of the season and an ideal first round matchup that led to the franchise’s second ever playoff series win. That was enough for Dell to secure more years on his contract and take his 4th shot at putting together a championship roster.

He doubled down on his philosophy of young vets, as he added three former lottery picks under the age of 25, to the roster to team up with Davis, Holiday, and Mirotic. In theory, Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton will allow the team to increase the already blistering pace that they played at last season. Demps has the roster he wants (minus a wing, which he is determined to acquire in the coming months), he has the coaches he wants, and they are running the systems he wants.

Maybe he is right. Maybe he is wrong. It’s possible he has put together a front court that will decimate the league and that he has found value in guys the league discarded like Elfrid Payton and Jahlil Okafor like he once did with Marco Belinelli and Jason Smith. Or, maybe he is wrong and he has loaded up on bigs and non-shooters in a league that has moved to the perimeter more and more every season.

The truth is that nobody knows whether Dell’s vision can work or not. Just like we didn’t know on the second or third iteration, because injuries deprived us of seeing how it would all play out. The results have been poor, to be honest. Three playoff seasons out of 8, with just one series victory, despite having a likely top-20 all-time player in 7 of those 8 years. But results are often dependent on circumstance and luck. And so far, Dell has had nothing but bad luck outside of that magical night when the lotto balls went his way.

So, the NBA gods owe it to him. Not necessarily to smile upon him and give him good luck. Just don’t give him any bad luck. Stay out of his way. Let his roster get through a training camp together. Then, a regular season. Then, let them take their best shot in the playoffs. If they succeed, awesome. If they fail, I am sure Dell can live with that, and we can all grade him honestly. But no more incompletes. Let the man earn a passing or failing grade without any interference.

After all he has been through, he has earned that much at least.

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Jesse Brooks <![CDATA[Anthony Davis means business and we should appreciate that]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57046 2018-10-03T03:42:07Z 2018-10-02T22:43:17Z Ever since New Orleans Pelicans once-in-a-generation superstar Anthony Davis switched agents and signed with Rich Paul from Klutch Sports, who also have LeBron James as a client, the dominant NBA narratives out of The Big Easy center around the power forward’s future. I don’t know if it’s because local fans are experiencing Chris Paul PTSD […]]]>

Ever since New Orleans Pelicans once-in-a-generation superstar Anthony Davis switched agents and signed with Rich Paul from Klutch Sports, who also have LeBron James as a client, the dominant NBA narratives out of The Big Easy center around the power forward’s future.

I don’t know if it’s because local fans are experiencing Chris Paul PTSD or what, but many are choosing to respond in a defensive way or already preparing for the worst. I also understand that it doesn’t help at all when the national talking heads are going out of their way to incite a crisis that may or may not exist in New Orleans basketball.

Out of all the narratives that exist out there, here’s the one you should focus on if you are a Pelicans fan: Forget the future, Anthony Davis is trying to be the biggest and best basketball player on the planet right now in the present.

This is a good thing.

Think about this. Davis is a top-five talent in the NBA. Does it really matter who his agent is? He is one of the rare 450 players in the league that can play wherever he wants, whenever he wants, and for whatever he wants to get paid when the time is right.

Here in South Louisiana, the entire Gulf Coast even, are we truly aware of how great and rare a talent Davis is? Sometimes I wonder if this football-crazed region even understands the weight of a legend like Saints quarterback Drew Brees playing here, in this small market, and that guy will most likely break the NFL’s all-time passing yardage record on Monday Night Football next week. I’m not trying to offend the base, but I feel like good fortune is something that can easily be taken for granted.

More than once after practices, we’ve heard Davis declare, pretty much for the first time in his career, that he believes he is the best player in the world right now. He has earned the right to say those things. If it challenges the Pelicans to be a better organization then we should accept that and encourage that. It’s nothing to be afraid of.

Let me tell you why he signed with Klutch Sports. Your Uncle Joe can be his agent negotiating a supermax for his next extension, but with Klutch his face may land on more cereal boxes, appear on TV and movies, and haul in more endorsements. He deserves this, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t be one of the most marketable players in all of professional sports.

Signing with Klutch is a marketing decision. You know else is signed with Klutch? Some guy named Ike Nwamu. With all due respect to him, I don’t think he’s being considered as LeBron’s missing piece just because they’re signed to the same agency.

Am I saying that Davis is a lock to stay forever? No. But don’t assume that he’s leaving because he wants to be more visible. New Orleans should celebrate that. Let’s quit looking ahead down the road and appreciate that a guy that is currently changing the game is a Pelican.

Here in New Orleans, Davis got his first taste of success and it was electric. The accomplishments of last season are also currently being undersold in term of potential in the presents. It has made him hungry as any professional should be. His personal obsession to improve now also belongs to us.

What happens next year, in two years, or in 10 years is irrelevant. Davis wants you to believe now.

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Jesse Brooks <![CDATA[After postseason success, Pelicans look to keep pushing]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57031 2018-09-26T06:55:19Z 2018-09-26T06:26:50Z The Golden State Warriors shocked the world when they added to their basketball monopoly this offseason by signing All-Star Center DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, $5.3 million dollar deal, despite having a $40 million, two-year deal previously on the table from the New Orleans Pelicans. The West is wild. Shortly after, the world would come […]]]>

The Golden State Warriors shocked the world when they added to their basketball monopoly this offseason by signing All-Star Center DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, $5.3 million dollar deal, despite having a $40 million, two-year deal previously on the table from the New Orleans Pelicans.

The West is wild. Shortly after, the world would come to learn that LeBron James would join the Los Angeles Lakers, a headline that is still dominating the storylines of the NBA.

Lost in the shuffle seems to be the Pelicans, who just experienced their best season with All-Star Anthony Davis, finishing with a 48-34 regular season record and first-round postseason sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers before falling 4-1 in the next round at the hands of the repeat World Champion Warriors. The Pelicans, after finding their consistency without Cousins, who suffered an Achilles injury halfway through the season, seem to understand their identity and are looking to move forward at full speed without looking back.

“Our goal is to play at an even faster pace than we did last year,” Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry said in his opening statement on Media Day at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. “I think defensively, obviously, we added some guys that can help in that department right here. We have two of the best five defenders in the league so we’re going to be solid in that area.”

In the second half of last season, shooting guard Jrue Holiday and Davis established themselves as two of the best two-way players in the league. Davis fished third in MVP votes behind James Harden and LeBron James, and bith he and Jrue Holiday were named to the 2018 NBA All-Defensive First Team.

In discovering their identity, the Pelicans found their niche in pushing the pace. They finished last season as the league’s fastest team and will look to make pace permanently a part of their brand.

“I think you got to be consistent, you know, asking the guys to run on every possession,” Gentry said on how the Pels’ pace can be even faster. “The really good running teams are the teams that run even when you think there’s not anything there and you create something at just the pace that you play at.”

To fill the hole left by Cousins, the Pelicans quickly signed former Laker Julius Randle to a two-year, $18 million deal. Randle, a former frontcourt lottery pick out of Kentucky, is noted for his passing and ball-handling skills. His skillset helped the Lakers finish as the league’s runner-up in pace.

Gentry expressed an excitement for Randle, noting his that playmaking ability will give them some of the things Cousins could do and help start fast breaks.

One other position that was left vacant this offseason was the departure of point guard Rajon Rondo, signing a one-year deal with the Lakers worth $9 million. The Pels will bank on the now-blossomed leadership of Davis and Holiday to run the show along with free agent signing and Gretna native, Elfrid Payton running the point. Gentry also noted that Payton was second in the league at finishing at the rim after Russell Westbrook and that this will be his first season playing in the open court with an elite big like Davis.

“Elfrid brings a dynamic where, him and Jrue in the backcourt, to me is the best defensive backcourt in the league,” Davis said.

Gentry did not want to commit to confirming who will be a part of the starting lineup on opening night, but rather that it would be something to evaluate in camp and practices. In the postseason, the Pels started a frontcourt featuring Davis and Nikola Mirotic. There was mention of a possible “super” frontcourt lineup in the works featuring Davis, Randle, and Mirotic on the floor at the same time but this experiment is also something that will be evaluated in practice and possibly preseason.

“I think anyone of us can play the three, four, or five,” Davis said. “It’s a big line up, with Jrue and Elfird in the backcourt…I think it’s a cool idea.”

Other notable additions for the team include veteran Jarrett Jack, who makes his return to New Orleans, and center Jahil Okafor. Okafor, who was originally the third overall pick by Philadelphia in 2015, described Holiday as the most elite guard he has ever played with.

Small forward Solomon Hill said that when he returned last season he was never 100 percent, but said that he felt like his hamstring was twice as strong at this point entering camp. Reserve center Alexis Ajinca still has not been medically cleared to play but hopes to return soon. Rookie Frank Jackson has also been medically cleared for camp with no restrictions, though they may proceed with caution.

The Pelicans will open their preseason schedule on Sunday, September 30 at 6 p.m. in Chicago against the Bulls.

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Kumar <![CDATA[In The NO Episode 5: Interview with Pelicans Performance Consultant, Mike Guevara]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57011 2018-09-23T23:06:12Z 2018-08-31T05:08:53Z Photo Credit: Ashley Amoss Meet the one of the most innovative guys in sports. Mike G is a Performance Consultant with the New Orleans Pelicans as well as the personal Performance Coach to Jrue Holiday. Coach Mike walks us through how he got his start, what kind of preparation goes into the offseason, what to […]]]>

Photo Credit: Ashley Amoss

Meet the one of the most innovative guys in sports. Mike G is a Performance Consultant with the New Orleans Pelicans as well as the personal Performance Coach to Jrue Holiday. Coach Mike walks us through how he got his start, what kind of preparation goes into the offseason, what to expect from Frank Jackson and a whole lot more. You can find him @MrDoItMoving on Instagram and Twitter.


 

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Kumar <![CDATA[In The NO Episode 4: Okafor, Schedule, and Ticket Sales]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=57003 2018-08-15T04:52:53Z 2018-08-15T04:52:53Z Part 1: Part 2: In Part 1 of the latest episode of In the NO, Shamit and Mason kick things off by discussing the addition of Jahlil Okafor. They then pivot to the recently released NBA regular season schedule, and then talk about the Pelicans’ over-under in comparison to some other Western Conference playoff hopefuls. […]]]>

Part 1:

Part 2:

In Part 1 of the latest episode of In the NO, Shamit and Mason kick things off by discussing the addition of Jahlil Okafor. They then pivot to the recently released NBA regular season schedule, and then talk about the Pelicans’ over-under in comparison to some other Western Conference playoff hopefuls.

In Part 2, they bring on their first guest of the podcast’s new era – Chase McVay, a former Pelicans ticket sales employee for four years. Chase was nice enough to share a great deal of insight regarding this over-speculated and under-reported aspect of professional sports. The three of them touch on numerous topics, including the growth of the fan base, the secondary market, and even some fun fan interaction stories.

 

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Kumar <![CDATA[In The No Episode 3: Gentry Ball, Decompression, and Targets]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=56995 2018-07-26T02:57:04Z 2018-07-26T02:57:04Z   Shamit and Mason discuss the happenings of the offseason. We talk about Gentry Ball, targets, and take a look into the brief future.   Listen on iTunes Listen on Spotify RSS Feed Direct Download]]>

 

Shamit and Mason discuss the happenings of the offseason. We talk about Gentry Ball, targets, and take a look into the brief future.

 

Listen on iTunes

Listen on Spotify

RSS Feed

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Ryan Hebert http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/ <![CDATA[Waiting on Wings]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=56987 2018-10-25T00:35:46Z 2018-07-24T18:17:29Z By Ryan Hebert (@RyanHebert89) The NBA offseason has slowed down and aside from a few minor transactions, and it is hard to see the Pelicans making a major trade or acquisition at this point. That is, until the February trade deadline. If you asked most fans what the Pelicans need right now to solidify themselves […]]]>

By Ryan Hebert (@RyanHebert89)

The NBA offseason has slowed down and aside from a few minor transactions, and it is hard to see the Pelicans making a major trade or acquisition at this point. That is, until the February trade deadline. If you asked most fans what the Pelicans need right now to solidify themselves as a major Western Conference player they would say “they need a starting caliber small forward”. I don’t believe much in positions, but I do believe in skill sets, and when I think of this player it’s somebody who can defend guys that are 6’6-6’9 and switch on to anyone in a pinch. This player can also shoot, rebound, cut, and pass. The problem with this is that it is the scarcest type of player in the league, and even the mediocre ones can make over 20 million dollars. It is doubtful that a trade involving your Khris Middletons, Otto Porters, and Harrison Barnes of the world will manifest itself for the Pelicans before the season. At least, not one where the Pelicans are sending out more assets than they have to. Most teams are heading into the regular season with the idea that they can compete, or see what they have to eventually be able to compete. It’s also impossible to evaluate your current team without seeing it on the floor.

The best move may be to wait. The Pelicans wing situation is actually better than the start of last year, believe it or not. They began the year with a rotation of Dante Cunningham, Tony Allen, and Darius Miller. Cunningham played nearly 1200 minutes for the Pelicans in 51 games, including 24 starts, Tony Allen played for 22 games eating up 275 minutes. Both the play of Cunningham and Allen left a lot to be desired.
The projected Pelicans 2016-17 starter, Solomon Hill, was out with a hamstring injury until the last few games of the season, which makes it unfair to evaluate Hill on last season. A full training camp and being farther removed from the hamstring injury will do him wonders. The Pelicans will go into this season with a rotation of E’twaun Moore / Solomon Hill / Darius Miller. Significantly better than last year.

The Pelicans proved last year that they don’t need this prototypical wing player to be successful. Moore had one of the more efficient seasons scoring wise in the NBA (career-high .585 efficient field goal %) and did everything he was asked to, including starting 80 games. The only thing Hill has to do is defend and hit a shot every now and then. Miller spaced the floor well all season, though he struggled a bit more from long distance after the Demarcus’ Cousins injury. The addition of Julius Randle should give some of what Miller lost back. If you look at the Pelicans most efficient lineups and sorted the top ten with over 10 games played, one of E’twaun Moore or Darius Miller is in it, it’s not as dire as we think. The All-NBA defensive tandem of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday cover a lot of what a big wing is wanted for, each is able to guard up or down multiple positions, something a lot of other teams do not have the luxury of. The Pelicans will be better off on the wing to begin this season, even if no major move is made.

I see a lot of people wanting to trade Solomon Hill just for the sake of his contract. It’s not his fault he makes the money he makes. An immediate trade still would not offer a solution. A contract dump for the sake of a contract dump is not the right approach here. The Pelicans are over $10 million away from the luxury tax and even have the ability to make uneven trades, meaning taking back more money than they send out, there’s nothing to get away from. His value is only going to go up.

The way I see it, don’t make a trade in the summer that you would not make at the trade deadline (unless it sets you up for this deadline move), an example would be Hill and Ajinca for Kent Bazemore. Then you’re trying to trade Kent Bazemore next offseason for another 6’6+ person. Making a trade for the sake of a trade rarely works out. Waiting is an approach to something, though it is boring, a team will realize that somebody isn’t a part of their future plans, they won’t be able to or want to pay him, they’re not doing well in their conference so it’s time to collect picks. The motivation to trade and not just for salary purposes, increases towards the deadline. So unless a great deal presents itself, the February trade deadline is the Pels’ best bet for a wing.

Until then, we wait.

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Kumar <![CDATA[Introducing “Gentry Ball”: A Look Into Early Offense and The Fit of Elfrid Payton]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=56977 2018-07-16T20:38:22Z 2018-07-16T20:05:49Z When Elfrid Payton was first signed, there was a lot of hullabaloo about his fit. As the dust settled, it became clear the idea was to put him in an up-tempo system that allowed him to play in the open floor. This message was reiterated by Dell Demps at the press conference introducing Payton and […]]]>

When Elfrid Payton was first signed, there was a lot of hullabaloo about his fit. As the dust settled, it became clear the idea was to put him in an up-tempo system that allowed him to play in the open floor. This message was reiterated by Dell Demps at the press conference introducing Payton and new teammate, Julius Randle.

“We met with Elfrid, and he was our first meeting… We’ve been studying him over a long time and we really feel like his skill set is going to make us a better team…Our coaching staff did a great job of showing him some video and some analytics that showed with the way he plays, that he’s gonna elevate our group.”

The emphasis on “analytics” is mine. Throughout the press conference, all parties repeated the desire to push the ball in transition. And why wouldn’t they? We all saw the success the team had post-Boogie by ramping up the pace and fully committing to running. Now these newly signed players are expected go all in on this philosophy as well. Naturally, when Dell mentioned he really liked what the analytics said about Payton’s fit, I was curious to see the numbers myself.

Payton’s Numbers and Defining Early Shots

We the public do not have access to nearly the same volume or power of tools that team analytic departments do. However, with the help of a few scripts (shoutout Patrick), excel, and the data available on stats.nba.com, we can gather reasonably workable data to evaluate trends. I wanted to see what exactly it was that made Payton such a good fit. Since the front office is emphasizing pace, my inclination was to turn to shot clock data and see how good Payton was in various situations. The Pelicans value early offense, and I was looking for two things – what portion of Payton’s offense came early in the clock, and how efficient he was. Since the data is divided into various ranges in the clock, it was important for me to define “Early Shots”. Please take a look at the chart below. Feel free to open the images in new tabs to see the full-sized versions. Seriously, I recommend it.

 

The data above is how Payton has performed for his whole career. The bars represent the percentage of offense derived from each portion of the clock. The red points represent his efficiency measured in EFG% at each portion of the clock. As we can see, the bulk of Payton’s offense has come from the “Average” range. Yet we can see clearly that Payton is at his most efficient in the early portions of the shot clock, or what I like to call the “Early Shot Range” (24-15 seconds). As the clock winds down, Payton’s efficiency drops precipitously. Payton being solid in the Early Shot Range bodes well for a team that saw nearly 50% of it’s offense come in this time frame. To maximize Payton, the Pelicans will need to increase the volume of shots he sees earlier in the clock and decrease the volume in the Average and Late ranges. In fact, when you look at what percentage of his shots fall in the Early Shot Range across his career, you’ll notice a promising trend.

 

Not only has Payton steadily been taking more Early Shots, he has gotten noticeably more efficient. Payton took 51.9% of his shots in the Early Range in 2018, sporting a EFG% of 62.1%. It should be no surprise that 2018 was also Payton’s most efficient year in the association. The Pelicans should look to replicate this shot distribution, perhaps even augment it. Payton’s numbers from Early Shots were so high, I had to pit them against the rest of the league. This led to an unexpected discovery.

 

Introducing Gentry Ball

We’ve all heard of “Morey Ball”.  The Houston GM is a living legend in analytic communities and is perhaps best known in this realm for his aversion to mid-range shots. Year after year we see the Rockets break new records for 3 point attempts. The idea behind this is that the expected value from mid-range shots is lower than those taken from beyond the arc (or at the rim). If you want to brush up on this concept, you can read my Intro to Shot Selection piece here.

Gentry Ball takes its inspiration from Morey Ball but uses a different form of shot distribution to evaluate players. While Morey Ball is concerned with the where, Gentry Ball is concerned with the when. I thought that Payton had remarkably high numbers in both the frequency of Early Shots (24-15 seconds) and efficiency – hallmarks of what I would consider a true Gentry Ball player. The only way to find out was to compare his numbers against the rest of the the league. I was able to gather data from 2013-2014 onward on the frequency of Early Shots and how efficient each player was. Low volume players were filtered out. Here is the result of over 1200 player instances and how the seasons of the 2018 Pelicans and their new additions compare.

 

Processing The Data

Okay so there is a lot to take in here. First, this data includes individual player seasons from 2013-14 to now. This means that 2016-2017 Anthony Davis is a data point in this chart along with 2015-2016 Davis as well (along with all the other players hence the 1200+ instances). The golden zone represents the true Gentry Ballers. These are are players who have put together seasons that are in the upper quartiles of BOTH frequency and efficiency. The red points represent how the Pelicans from last season, along with Randle and Payton, stacked up.

Right off the bat we can see Davis, Moore. and Randle squarely in the golden zone with Clark, Mirotic, Holiday, and Payton right on the cusp. From a frequency standpoint, the guys on the cusp are more than qualified, they just need slight bumps in efficiency. But let’s take a second to talk about Randle. I was extremely surprised to see him near the top right corner. I had expected Davis to be near the the top when it came to efficiency, but to see Randle top him in both efficiency and frequency is astounding. Just over 44% of Randle’s offense came in the Early Range, and he notched a blistering 69.9% EFG%. This lands him in the 90th percentile for frequency and 96th percentile for efficiency out of over 1200 instances. What’s more is the stark difference between his production early in the clock and Cousins’s. I can’t wait to see Randle in action in this offense with Davis running next to him.

It’s easy to see from this data that the Pelicans have accumulated a series of players who are good at running. Payton is far better at this tempo stuff than I anticipated. While there is more to basketball than just getting out and running, it’s encouraging that the Pelicans’s current collection of players are close to forming a tight knit cluster in the golden Gentry Ball Zone. The Pelicans obviously did their homework and the math checks out.

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Michael McNamara <![CDATA[Do The Pelicans Need To Save Cap Space for Julius Randle?]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=56971 2018-07-15T13:21:50Z 2018-07-15T00:07:26Z 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 […]]]>

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.

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Rick Stone <![CDATA[How Much Hype Can One Man Randle?]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=56963 2018-10-25T00:34:51Z 2018-07-10T18:53:37Z By Rick Stone As one door closes, another one opens. The New Orleans Pelicans might have lost DeMarcus Cousins in Free Agency, but the overall fan base has not waivered. Excitement comes in the form of Anthony Davis’ freshly recruited big Julius Randle, that has joined the Pelicans on a two-year, $18 million deal. The […]]]>

By Rick Stone

As one door closes, another one opens.

The New Orleans Pelicans might have lost DeMarcus Cousins in Free Agency, but the overall fan base has not waivered. Excitement comes in the form of Anthony Davis’ freshly recruited big Julius Randle, that has joined the Pelicans on a two-year, $18 million deal. The former Laker surprised many by signing down the Bayou, after his rights were renounced by LA in order to sign former Pelican Rajon Rondo. Because of this, the loss of two core New Orleans pieces just a year ago does not seem like the end of the world. The hype is real. Really real.

But what exactly should the hype be for Randle? How much hype is too much hype?

Julius will not completely replace Cousins. That is a given. Boogie put up over 25 points, close to 13 rebounds and shot 47 percent last year in his 48 games. Julius is not going to put those kind of numbers up. He is not going to be a dominant a threat inside the paint. Instead, the Pelicans are hoping Randle is going to be an addition to what New Orleans showed off in the playoffs.

While the Pelicans’ half-court offense is not the most expansive in the league, it does an incredible job at making the most of the pick-and-roll offense, something that Julius Randle did incredibly well last season. Alongside Lakers’ mid-season acquisition Isaiah Thomas, Randle took over in the pick-and-roll game as they shared the court together. Julius shot 62.7 percent in the pick-and-roll last season, with a scoring percentage of 58.2 percent. That’s higher than Anthony Davis’ 55.6 percent from last year. And that’s saying something considering Davis’ massive success in the P&R, especially against Portland in the playoffs.

Randle’s strong relationship with Thomas could be something that comes into play with Jrue Holiday in New Orleans and be death for Pelicans’ opponents. Jrue’s fire season came down to his ability to run a lethal pick-and-roll game with AD and Mirotic. New Orleans now adds along a third big man, who is capable of being an aggressive roll man towards the basket. It’s the “flexibility” the team hopes to have not just for the starter minutes, but the entire game.

The other main area New Orleans will see the immediate benefit is the offensive glass. Randle averaged 2.2 offensive rebounds per game in just under 27 minutes a game. That’s the same amount DeMarcus Cousins had for the Pelicans this past season. The faster tempo of the New Orleans could be tricky for those numbers to repeat exactly, but he’s still going to be a menace on the offensive glass. For a team like the Pelicans, who ranked 26th in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game last year, it will make a significant difference.

So what should the proper expectations be for Randle? Should Pelicans fans expect the same 2.2 offensive rebounds per game and stellar pick-and-roll offense? Or is the proper expectation more, since he’s moving from a lottery team to one of the semi-finalists in the Western Conference Playoffs? Without the entire Pelicans puzzle in place and no actual footage of Randle with this cast of players, it’s tough to get complete handle on Randle in New Orleans.

The numbers do reveal some consistency on his part. Not including his first season in the NBA, where he played just one game due to injury, Randle has put up at over 11 points, eight rebounds and over 70 percent shooting from the free-throw line. His shooting percentage did not take off until last season, but with the open looks he’ll generate from Davis and Holiday, it should not be too much a surprise if he keeps close to his 55.8 percent shooting from last year. The expectation should be a solid producer, whose going to fit pretty darn well with the Pels’ style. Randle played in the Lakers system, which was ranked third in fastest pace last season. New Orleans ended up leading that stat category, only a tenth of a point higher than Los Angeles.

The Pels’ entire 2017-2018 season became about their flexibility, especially when Cousins went down. Randle should not have a hard time fitting into that as well. After playing power forward for the first two seasons in LA, Julius switched to the center role for the majority of his minutes. This might be due to the Lakers feeling his lack of outside shooting suited him better as a center in the new age NBA.

Not only did Randle adjust, but he had his best numbers of his career in this past campaign. It’s a main reason the hype in New Orleans is so high. The idea of a bruiser big, one that can score the ball inside being paired alongside Anthony Davis, is something that seems oddly familiar in the original Boogie trade. Again, Randle is not Boogie, but this is a different Pelicans team than the one that pursued that trade. Julius creates a triangle of bigs New Orleans can use to handle whatever situation their opponents may bring.

While Randle might not be the “Fire” to AD’s “Ice”, he’s going to bring a different kind of element, that could end up balancing out the Pelicans. This is no longer a team of just two major elements, but a team that has an interchangeable and adaptable list of elements on their roster, each there to elevate Davis in some fashion.

Julius Randle is the next stage in this era of New Orleans Pelicans basketball. He’s a hard-working muscle big, who crashes the glass and bullies his way inside. His defense has drastically improved since his entry into the league and that will be key, alongside one of the menaces of blocks in the NBA. Consistency is the word with Julius. He’s not going to have crazy fluctuations in his score lines, either good or bad. Fans should expect Randle to bring the pain inside and be a frontcourt sidekick during Anthony Davis’ reign on the league.

It will be a while into the season before we see everything he can show. Learning a new dynamic on a new team takes time. That comes with any player. Having a training camp and preseason under his belt will give a bit of insight into what kind of chemistry we will see for New Orleans and Randle. But the hype is already high. After the deep playoff run and the addition of Elfrid Payton, it’s an exciting time for Louisiana basketball. Randle is a tough working big, coming off his best season of his career and motivated to make his first playoff appearance of his career alongside a fellow Kentucky star. To put it simply: The hype is pretty well deserved.

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Michael McNamara <![CDATA[Trade Targets III: Setting Up the Next Trade]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=56961 2018-07-10T18:27:37Z 2018-07-10T18:27:37Z 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 […]]]>

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.

Too Long Didn’t Read Section

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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Michael McNamara <![CDATA[Trade Targets Part II: Zig While Others Zag]]> http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=56957 2018-07-06T19:10:38Z 2018-07-06T19:05:38Z When you are a small market competing with 29 other teams, you need to find market inefficiencies. Either anticipate where the game is going next and/or grab up undervalued pieces while your opponents have their eye on another prize. The former is hard to do in a market with so many smart executives, but the […]]]>

When you are a small market competing with 29 other teams, you need to find market inefficiencies. Either anticipate where the game is going next and/or grab up undervalued pieces while your opponents have their eye on another prize. The former is hard to do in a market with so many smart executives, but the latter is possible.

This summer, teams are avoiding giving two years or more to non-superstars like the plague. Everyone wants to be players in the supposedly stacked 2019 free agent market, so they aren’t giving out multi-year deals in free agency and won’t take on multiple years in trades. 20+ teams will attempt to be players in the 2019 free agent market. Maybe 2-3 will succeed. And spoiler alert… the Pelicans won’t be one of those teams if they try. Klay isn’t coming here, either is Jimmy Butler or Kyrie. They will go to bigger markets and/or team up, and/or sign bigger deals than the Pels can offer with their current teams.

So why not be the team that goes after these guys with 2 or more years on their contract? Teams might be willing to give them up for much less than they are worth, just for the opportunity to chase the 2019 free agents. Pels lose out on the opportunity to chase those free agents, but they improve their team for the next two years and would still have major flexibility in the summer of AD’s potential free agency.

So, now that I have laid out the zig strategy, let’s take a look at some actual names that would fit this strategy:

Goran Dragic for E’Twaun Moore, Ajinca, Liggins, and a first round pick

Why the Heat do it: This basically lowers their obligation next year from the 19.2 million Dragic is owed to the 8.6 million Moore is owed and maybe another 2 mil or so for the first rounder. And Moore could be dumped easily if they want to move him. So, the Heat open up a ton of money for the following summer;

Why the Pelicans do it: I have said for a while that Dragic is the perfect backcourt mate next to Jrue. All of a sudden, you have one of the best backcourts in the league and an amazing three man big rotation as well. Pels give themselves a two year window to be great.

Maurice Harkless for Ajinca and Liggins

Why the Blazers do it: It saves them over 3 million dollars this year and over 11 million next year. This is important for them, as they are likely to be over the tax if they re-sign Nurkic. When you consider tax implications, this could be a 30 million dollar plus savings.

Why the Pels do it: Harkless gives the Pels another potential 3-and-D wing for just opportunity cost and nothing more. He can knock down the 3 at a much better clip than Solomon Hill and could actually give the Pelicans some rebounds from the 3 position as well.

 

Allen Crabbe for Solomon Hill and Ajinca

Why the Nets do it: Supposedly, the Nets want to be players next summer and trading Hill for Crabbe would open up an additional 6 million in cap room for them to try and get two max guys. Crabbe is probably the better player, but the Nets aren’t trying to win, so getting the inferior player is actually a win for them as well.

Why the Pels do it: Shooting. The cost this season is negligible, so you are basically adding 6 million to your books next season to grab a guy that can give them the skillset they need most right now.

 

Danillo Galinari for Solomon Hill and Ajinca

Why the Clippers do it: This deal would open up an additional 10 million in cap space for them next summer, when they plan to be major players. It’s that simple.

Why the Pelicans do it: Upside. If Gallo is healthy (a big if), then he is the exact player they need. He is a guy who can shoot and pass at high levels for a wing. If he returns to form, this is the best frontcourt in the league.

 

Evan Fournier for E’twaun Moore and Ajinca

Why the Magic Do it: The Magic get a player who might be a better fit for Clifford’s system and they also cut over 8 million dollars off their cap next year and 17 million dollars the following summer.

Why the Pels do it: If the Pels want size at the guard position, they need another guy who can share the point guard role with Jrue, who isn’t technically a “point guard”. The Pels can play Jrue and Fournier at the 1 and 2 or the 2 and 3, giving them tons of flexibility.

Conclusion

These are some examples of deals that both the Pelicans and the other team would at least have to consider. If the Pels want to take this path, they need to find a team who believes they can be major players next summer and don’t care much about their ability to win big this year. There are quite a few of those teams out there, with the Warriors essentially being declared the 2019 champs already.

Dell can go the other way, (which I examined in my last piece), but the odds of the Pelicans landing a major free agent are slim and none. And even if they do, they would have killed the depth on this roster to do so. This path has more certainty, both long term and short. Go get the right player, and the Pelicans are a 3 seed, with a legit shot at the WCF. Then, they can run it back the following year and hope for Chris Paul to break down, Boogie and KD to exit Golden State, and the Lakers to miss out on Kawhi. All that happens, and are the Finals beyond the rhelm of possibility?

That’s an unlikely sequence of events, but it is far more likely than the idea of clearing space to sign a superstar next summer in New Orleans.

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