The New Orleans Pelicans Options Heading Into Free Agency

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Published: June 27, 2014

The announcement of Asik being traded to the Pelicans was exciting, but somewhat limited on Wednesday night, as it was really just the first step of a series of moves that is set to take place masquerading as a singular move in a vacuum. The fact of the matter is, that as currently constructed, the trade of Asik for a future 1st round pick can not be done. The Pelicans simply do not have the cap space to absorb Omer Asik’s salary, so another move has to come first or in conjunction with the Asik move to make it legal.

If the Pelicans were to renounce the rights to all their free agents and team options on players, they would have just under $7 million in cap room, which is a problem because Asik is scheduled to make just under $8.4 million next year. Even if they were to dump Alexis Ajinca, they would still fall close to a million dollars short of the number. So that leaves us with a simple truth: At least one of the main guys (Davis, Anderson, Evans, Holiday, Rivers, and Gordon) will have to be moved or waived in order to bring in Asik.

There is no way around it. There is no magic that Mickey Loomis can help Dell Demps pull off, because this isn’t the NFL. Here, contracts are almost always fully guaranteed. Instead, Dell is going to have to make something happen with one of his six pieces. Process of elimination tells you that Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are off the table, and Tyreke Evans likely is as well. That leaves us three guys (and four options).

Lets take a look at what the options are.

Trading Austin Rivers

How It Would Work: Moving Austin Rivers and declining Bird Rights on our free agents, as well as the team options on Luke Babbitt and Melvin Ely would allow the New Orleans Pelicans to absorb Asik’s contract into our cap space, as long as we did not take any salary back in the process. The downside of doing this, however, is that Dell Demps would lose his right to use the MLE ($5.3 mil) and his right to use the Bi-Annual Exception ($2.1) . He would be left with just the Room Exception ($2.8).

However, there is an alternative here, as Dell Demps can look for a way to make the Asik deal a three team deal that sends Austin Rivers, Melvin Ely, Alexis Ajinca, and Luke Babbitt to that third team. If Dell is able to do this, then he can maintain his Bird Rights on guys like Aminu, Roberts, Smith, and Miller while also giving him the right to use the MLE and Bi-Annual (but not the Room Exception)

Pros: If Dell can do the second form of the trade (the three-team deal), then he would still have multiple avenues to add one or multiple small forwards. He would also be able to go over the cap to bring back Aminu or Smith as back ups, which is probably a better role for them anyway. Same goes for Roberts or even Miller.

Cons: Losing Austin Rivers hurts, as you could see the signs of him just about to turn a corner. The loss of Ajinca doesn’t hurt as much because Asik is coming in, but Babbitt would have been nice to have as Ryno insurance. But then again, the third team can just decline Babbitt’s option and perhaps he can wind up back here eventually.

Trading Ryan Anderson

How It Would Work: In the eyes of the league, the deal could work as a three-teamer where Asik comes to New Orleans, Anderson goes to a third team, and that third team also sends players to New Orleans. If it is just Anderson heading out, then the Pelicans would be able to take about $4.3 million back in salary (in addition to Asik) in order to still be able to retain Bird Rights for their free agents as well as the MLE and BAE. But again, Dell could attach “fake” contracts to that (Babbitt and Ely) and get that number up to close to $8 million. Throw in Ajinca, and we are close to $9.5 million. Add Rivers and we are up to close to $14 million. So, you are looking at anyone from Gerald Green to a signed and traded Trevor Ariza, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, or PJ Tucker to a trade for Jeff Green or Thaddeus Young.

Pros: If you are looking at all the options that get you’re the most value in return, this is it. If done properly, Dell can walk out of a Ryan Anderson trade with Asik and a starting small forward, plus he keeps Rivers. Then, he can re-sign Aminu or Smith to give him some backup PF minutes and/or use the MLE to target a guy similar to Ryno like Channing Frye. This option also opens the need for a shooter and could entice Dell to bring Anthony Morrow back.

Cons: A three-headed monster of Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Omer Asik is impossible not to get excited about. You can split the 96 minutes up amongst those guys and guarantee that you always have two very good to elite big men on the court. Plus, with Omer Asik’s poor FT shooting, it was likely that Anderson would have finished games, and now it is likely that Asik will have to finish them next to AD instead. If you can’t replace Anderson with another stretch four this summer, then it limits your potential for spacing as well.

Trading Eric Gordon

How It Would Work: Again, the Pelicans could submit the trade so that it appeared as a three-teamer, or because Gordon’s salary is so big, they could just do two individual trades if they get little to nothing back from the team accepting Gordon. That would be the ideal, in fact. If the Pelicans could trade Gordon and take $6.6 million or less back, they would get a trade exception large enough to absorb Omer Asik’s contract without sending anything else out (but the pick). This would then leave the Pels with the option of using cap room, Bird Rights, MLE, BAE, etc.

Or, if the Pelicans want to just create enough cap room to absorb Asik, they can release rights to all free agents like in the Austin Rivers example and trade Gordon while taking back between 12.5 and 13.5 mil in salary (would depend on number of players coming back because of cap holds, etc. So, I can’t give an exact number). Doing this would allow the Pelicans to absorb Asik’s salary into cap space, but again would force them to lose the MLE and BAE (while retaining the Room Exception).

Pros: Um… Eric Gordon is gone. We can start there. And if it is the first option where trading him opens up a trade exception that can be used to absorb Asik, then we should all take bow down to Dell Demps. I almost hate to throw this scenario out there because it is too good to be true, but it has to be what Dell is looking for. Maybe he can trade Gordon, Ely, and Babbitt or Gordon and Rivers for OJ Mayo. If he did that, he would get an exception large enough to absorb Asik. Then, he could still have tons of options to add a SF while also being able to retain Morrow if he just sees Mayo as a guy he will look to move at the next possible chance like I would.

And the other option is not terrible either. You lose Gordon (addition by subtraction) and get 12-13 million dollars in, theoretically, somewhat useful players or trade chips, and get Asik too. You keep Ryno and Rivers and have the Room Exception and/or said trade chips to try to get a small forward.

Cons: The player coming back in the trade for Gordon can be even worse (Mayo or Gerald Wallace, for instance). But even then, their salary number is smaller. Sorry, hard for me to list a con when the topic is trading Eric Gordon.

Stretching Eric Gordon

How It Would Work: For over 3000 words on this, you can read a two-part article I did here. To make it as simple as possible, the Pelicans can waive Eric Gordon and stretch his remaining salary over the next five years. This would cut, at minimum, 9 million dollars off this years’ cap and allow them to absorb Asik’s contract while also giving them options with cap room, Bird Rights, the MLE, and BAE. And that is the minimum we would shed by going this route.

The Pelicans can work out a buyout with Gordon that can reduce his $30 million dollar cost and on top of that, when Gordon signs with another team, some additional money will come off the cap. Basically, a little less that half of what Gordon signs for will come off of whatever we owe him. And the less we owe him, the less dead money we have on our cap the next few years. Realistically, the dead money could be as low as $2.5 million per year and as high as $5.5 million each and every year over the next five years.

Pros: Again, Eric Gordon would be gone. And in this case, a ton of cap room could potentially open up as Dell would immediately clear between 9.5 and 12.5 million of the books not only this year, but next year as well. They would be able to absorb Asik and maybe still get to as far as 9 to 10 million under the cap if they wanted to pursue a Luol Deng or a Trevor Ariza. How excited would you have been if I would have told you 3 days ago that Gordon and a 2015 pick would be going out and Asik and either Ariza or Deng would be coming in?

Cons: Having dead money on the cap can never be considered a great thing and Dell Demps would also have to admit a huge mistake by doing this. Also, what if Gordon is planning on opting out next year anyway? You would be spreading money out over 5 years when you might of only had to eat his contract for another 12 months.

Conclusion

The Pelicans next deal will center around one of these four moves, there is no doubt about that. The question is which route is most viable, and the only way for me to know that is to get inside the heads of the other 29 GM’s, which I can’t. But the good news is that I have no doubt that Dell is hard at work talking to each and every one of them. Ideally, something with Gordon happens, as that would allow Tyreke to assume the role as unquestioned starter and could also open up a spot to bring Morrow back.

More realistically, however, we see Austin or Anderson leave and that decision will likely come down to how much value the Pelicans can get in either scenario. If the Rivers scenario causes them to lose depth and makes adding a SF hard, then perhaps Ryan Anderson would be the way to go if they can get a small forward that they like back in the deal and/or a draft pick that could help them move Gordon. At the end of the day, or more accurately by the beginning of July, Dell will have to pull the trigger on one of these four options and we will see the roster of the 2014-15 Pelicans finally take shape.

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