The Missing Piece: Offseason Plans A-E for the New Orleans Pelicans

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Published: May 18, 2013

This series was started in large part because of Dell and Monty’s comments last October. They both stated that the plan was to add the final pieces to the puzzle in the 2013 offseason and then move forward with that team for the next few years. Flash forward seven months and we are almost there. In those seven months, Dell has confirmed that the plan was still on track and that the Pelicans had a plan A,B,C,D, and E for this offseason. With the combine having just completed and the draft lottery just three days away, I will try to piece together the clues Dell left behind in on-the-record conversations, Chalk Talks, as well as off-the-record comments we have gathered from other high-ups to decipher the Pelicans offseason plans.

Plan A – Going All-in on Chris Paul

The Strategy: Trade Robin Lopez to Jazz for the 21st pick, draft Jeff Withey. Draft Shabazz Muhammad with own pick. Trade Greivis Vasquez for Lance Stephenson and 2014 1st rounder. Sign Chris Paul to 4 year/79.6 million dollar deal. Sign Earl Clark with exemption.

Depth Chart:

CP3/Rivers/Roberts

EG/Stephenson

Clark/Muhammad/Miller

Ryno/Smith

AD/Withey

In recent days I have become more skeptical of this scenario than I was when I wrote this article, mostly due to some information that is being passed around NBA circles. Long story short, multiple doctors have given a timetable of 1-2 years before Chris Paul’s knee is completely shot. Not only would this worry the Pelicans, but it probably worries Chris Paul’s agent, and all of a sudden that 5th year that only the Clippers can give him seems a lot more enticing. My theory has always been that since there is only a $6 million dollar difference in the first 4 years of the max contract the Clippers can give him (compared to the Pelicans), that money wouldn’t be an issue. But if the doctors are right, this might be CP3’s last major contract, and in that case he has to take the extra year.

But CP3, like most athletes, believes he is the exception rather than the rule, so it is possible that he believes he will be able to stay at an elite level regardless of wear and tear on his body. If that is the case, the Pelicans can lure him back to a city he loves to play for a coach he respects and a roster that can take the pressure off him so he doesn’t have to do everything. Muhammad is a perfect fit with CP3, as he does most of his scoring coming off of screens and pin downs. A guy like Earl Clark could be a D and Three wing who holds down the position until Muhammad is ready and Lance Stephenson gives the Pelicans some toughness off the bench that can spot start if/when Eric Gordon gets injured.

Plan B – Go Big and Don’t Go Home (Early in the Playoffs)

The Strategy: Use the majority of free agent monty on an upgrade at Center to put next to Anthony Davis. Then use other assets (GV, Lopez, pick, exemptions) to upgrade the wings and/or point guard position.

Depth Chart

Bledsoe(or Jennings)/ Roberts

Gordon/Rivers

Budinger/Aminu/Miller

AD/Ryno

Pekovic (or Jefferson)/Smith

Monty has remained firm in his philosophy that Davis is best suited to play the power forward position at this stage of his career. While Robin Lopez outperformed his contract last year, he was horrible in pick and roll defense and his post offense is average at best. Putting a top-10 center like Pekovic or Jefferson next to Davis could take the defensive focus off of him and allow him to roam free. Lopez’s inability to rebound on the defensive end also put too much pressure on Davis the other end, and both Pekovic and Jefferson provide significant upgrades.

Jefferson is an unrestricted free agent and the Pelicans can sign him outright, though there should be several suitors for his services. Pekovic is a restricted free agent, but the Timberwolves might prefer Lopez at $5 million to Pekovic at $13 million seeing that they are paying Love and will have to pay Rubio big money soon. In either case, money and assets will still be available to upgrade at point guard and small forward.

Plan C – Wings, Wings, Wings

The Strategy: The Pelicans allow Lopez and Vasquez to hold down the point guard and center positions for one more year, with the idea that Rivers and Davis can take over those positions full-time in 2014. In the meantime, they load up on wings in the offseason and maintain flexibility and some cap space for next summer.

Depth Chart

Vasquez/Rivers/Roberts

Gordon/Oladipo

Webster/Brewer/Miller

AD/Ryno

Lopez/Smith

Perimeter play was a nightmare for New Orleans last season, and one way or another this has to be addressed this summer. The only elite wing player on the market in Andre Iguodala, but he will probably get a contract in the $14-$16 million range. Instead, the Pelicans address their perimeter needs by going after multiple players with unique skill sets that could make their offensive and defensive attacks versatile. Shooting is sorely needed, so Martell Webster, Kyle Korver, and Chase Budinger should all be targets this summer. Also, Monty and Dell will want a wing defender who can cover multiple positions, so Corey Brewer and Gerald Henderson will be intriguing in free agency and Victor Oladipo or Ben McLemore could be fits in the draft.

This plan allows the Pelicans to be competative now while simoultaneously assessing players like Vasquez, Gordon, Lopez, and Rivers to see if they are long term pieces to the puzzle.

Plan D – Ryno and Lopez Part II

The Strategy: Dell targets guys this summer who are undervalued around the league, adding assets to set up a future blockbuster trade for a star.

Depth Chart

Vasquez/Rivers/Roberts

Gordon/Gerald Henderson

Chase Budinger/Devin Ebanks/Miller

AD/Ryno/Bennett

Lopez/Brandan Wright/Smith

Gerald Henderson is the player I would bet on becoming the biggest value of this free agent class if I had to pick just one guy. He has been stuck in Charlotte his whole career and has steadily improved every aspect of his game since coming into the league. Give the guy a steady foundation with one coach that he can learn from (as opposed to a revolving door) and he can take off. Dell can add Henderson, Chase Budinger, and PER All-Star Brandan Wright for the same price that it would cost to land one major fish. All three guys will be 25 years old next season and still have considerable room to grow. Throw in Devin Ebanks, a guy who has shown flashes in his brief NBA career, and Dell has quite a collection of assets.

Armed with a roster that goes 14 deep, Dell could be patient and wait for the right deal to present itself. The beauty of having a roster this deep and flexible is that Dell could make a 3 for 1 or even a 4 for 1 trade and still have enough bodies left standing to surround a star studded core.

Plan E – Waiting for 2014

The Strategy: If Dell misses out on all his main targets, he would be foolish to pull a Joe Dumars. Instead, he could just fill the roster with some quality vets who can help the locker room and allow Monty to give major minutes to young guys for one more year.

Depth Chart

Vasquez/Rivers/Roberts

Gordon/Oladipo/Mason

Dorrell Wright/Aminu/Miller

AD/Ryno

Lopez/Smith/Amundson

Most Pelicans fans would be hugely disappointed if the roster looked like this on opening day, but it beats throwing huge deals at average players. While this team won’t compete for playoff spots, it has a couple of built in advantages. For starters, it would be nearly $10 million dollars below the salary cap, which would put the Pelicans in prime position to take on a contract that another team wants to shed and be compensated with draft picks for their troubles. This is what the Cleveland Cavaliers have been doing for two years now, and their war chest is completely stocked.

It also puts them in prime position to land a marquee free agent in 2014. If Anthony Davis goes out and has an All-NBA season, New Orleans could become a prime destination for NBA players. Patience isn’t sexy, but it beats desperation if all else fails. And worse case scenario, the Pelicans are bad for one more year and secure a top pick in the most loaded draft since 2003.

The Curveball – Eric Gordon Gets Traded

The Strategy: It would be a miracle to get a young player on a quality contract for Gordon, and that miracle will likely not be answered this offseason. If the Pelicans do get offers for Gordon, they will likely be deals that look like pennies on the dollar on the surface, but if Dell wants to rid himself of the headache, he just might take whatever he can get.

Depth Chart A

Jennings/Rivers/Roberts

G. Henderson/Oladipo

Deng/Aminu/Miller

AD/Ryno

Lopez/Smith

In this scenario, Eric Gordon goes to the Bulls straight up for Luol Deng. It’s big risk, big reward for the Bulls, as they pair Derrick Rose with his AAU teammate and friend Eric Gordon. Now they have two guards with injury issues, but if they can ever get them both healthy, they would have the best backcourt in the NBA by a mile and a team that could legitimately defeat the Heat. The Pelicans, meanwhile, shed Eric Gordon and give themselves a quasi All-Star who is great in the locker room. After the trade, they reinforce the perimeter by sending Vasquez to Milwaukee in a sign and trade for Jennings, drafting Oladipo and signing Gerald Henderson. And in the event they don’t see Deng as a long term piece, the Pelicans could re-sign Aminu, who could learn under Deng for a year before Deng hits the market and the Pelicans have another $15 million to spend on the FA class of 2014.

Depth Chart B

Bledsoe/Rivers/Roberts

K. Martin/Oladipo

Brewer/Aminu/Miller

AD/Ryno

Jordan/Smith

This scenario involves the Gordon and Lopez for Jordan and Bledsoe blockbuster that has been rumored to been discussed amongst Clippers FO personnel. After the trade, the Pelicans draft Oladipo to be the future at the two and/or the three and then sign Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer to help jump start the perimeter attack. This lineup has enough length and quickness to turn the Pelicans into an elite defensive team, and plenty of upside on the offensive end as well.

The Missing Piece is a weekly feature that can be found every Saturday only on BourbonStShots.com. Past issues in the series can be found by clicking here. 

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