MythBusters – New Orleans Pelicans Have More Flexibility Than You Think

Published: January 2, 2015

The team has no picks and is full of high-end contracts, and they are about to give AD a 300-400 percent increase in salary in two years, so we won’t even have him on a great contract anymore. We fricked. I believe that is how the argument goes, though I am paraphrasing a bit. You have heard this before right? From the Pelicans message board poster or Twitter’er (is that right?) that reveals in doom and gloom scenarios. Or maybe from the national pundit who only takes time to talk about the Pels when they want to bash on something.

Here’s the thing, though – those guys don’t know what they are talking about.

Now, is everything ideal? Of course not. There are kernels of truth in what they say, and you can easily look back on past moves and say, “Man, if we only did this or that, we would be in better position.” Very true. There isn’t a franchise in the NBA who doesn’t wish they had a few do-overs. But the past is the past. Looking forward, let’s take a genuine look at where the Pelicans are and what is possible moving forward.

Cap Situation for Summer of 2015

Players with Guaranteed Deals for Next Season: Ryno, AD, Jrue, Tyreke, Gordon (count for $51.8 million)

Major Cap Holds: Omer Asik ($12.5 million)

Team Options: Russ Smith (845K), Jeff Withey ($1.15 million)

Other Things to Note:

– Remember, for every empty roster spot, you have a cap hold of about 500K that counts against your cap.

– 2015-16 cap is projected to be $66.5 million.

So, if you do the quick math, you see that our Big Six basically puts us at the cap, if you include Asik’s cap hold. That leads you to believe that this summer will simply be about re-signing Asik and then using the MLE to get a wing player. But, c’mon, how often does Dell do the conventional thing?

The key, as always, is Eric Gordon. There are three simple ways the Pelicans can become a player in the market this summer, all involving Gordon.

1.) Gordon opts out (likelihood: 1 percent)

  • If he did opt out, it wouldn’t be for financial purposes. It would be to get away or control his own destiny, rather than have the Pelicans determine where he plays for the next season. Very, very unlikely. But Gordon has never been truly free since entering the league. This appeals to some guys more than we can imagine. His agent would kill him, but could I see him opting out in 1 out of 100 universes? Sure.

2.) The Pelicans stretch Eric Gordon (likelihood: 20 percent)

  • I have covered this AT LENGTH, in two parts (one and two). Long story short, we can take the 15.5 million owed to Gordon next season and stretch it over three years while also subtracting a part of whatever he signs for with his next team. Basically, this would take his cap hit down from 15.5 million to somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5 million. But it would also put dead money on the books for the following two years. Not ideal, but not terrible if it helps you get the right guy next summer.

3.) The Pelicans use a future 1st round pick to trade Gordon (likelihood: 50 percent)

  • This past summer, the Rockets sent an average player (Jeremy Lin) who was owed $15 million for one season to the Lakers and gave the Lakers a future first-round pick for taking him. A lot of teams will be saving up for big splashes in 2016, so they wouldn’t mind Gordon as a place holder on their books if it got them a first rounder. Once we give our pick to Houston, we can trade a future 1st and get this done.

If #1 or #3 happen, then you are looking at a team that can compete to get any free agent they want, especially if they can get Asik locked in at a price below his 12.5 million dollar cap hold (very possible). If #2 happens, the Pelicans can start a free agent off at between 9 and 12 million per year, depending on what it takes to bring Asik back.

Of course, if none of the three happen, then yes, the most likely scenario is that the team gets a relatively minor piece and sets its sights on 2016, but lets not dismiss the possibility that one of the other guys is moved or not retained in order to get a piece that fits better. Ryan Anderson can be moved easily, and while some say that Tyreke is on a bad deal, that simply is not true. By the time 2016 hits, he will be the 100th-120th highest paid player in the league, and whether you love Tyreke or hate him, there is no doubt that he is a top 100 player. And, of course, the team could choose to let Asik go.

The point is that this team is absolutely locked in to two guys – Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis, and those two count for a little over $18 million next season. Theoretically, they could clear the deck if they wanted to just by giving up a future first, or perhaps not even that if they attached Anderson to Gordon. Now, do I think they will do that? Of course not. But Dell, or whomever the GM might be, has tons of flexibility. You know who doesn’t have flexibility? The Brooklyn Nets. Tell that doom and gloom poster to go have fun on their message boards.

Cap Situation for the Summer of 2016

Players With Guaranteed Contracts: Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans ($22 million)

Team Options: Anthony Davis ($9.1 million, but see more below), Russ Smith (980K)

Major Cap Holds: Ryan Anderson ($12 million)

Other Things To Note:

– If Asik is re-signed, you can likely add 10-12 million dollars into the guaranteed contracts slot. And if we added an MLE guy in 2015, add another 6 million.

– Anthony Davis will likely not count for $9.1 million. I spent a few thousand words on this, but long story short, expect him to count for between 24 and 28 million dollars in 2016.

– Projected cap will likely be anywhere between 85 and 95 million dollars.

So, let’s go down the middle here. Let’s assume the cap is $90 million and Davis starts at $26 million with Asik getting paid $11 million. Add that to Jrue and Tyreke, and now you are at $59 million. You have a MLE guy on the books for $6 million too, but he played well enough where you can dump him for nothing if you want. Either way, you have 25-30 million in cap room. You can go for a big fish like Durant or re-sign Ryno, keep your MLE guy (let’s imagine Demarre Carroll or Gerald Green) and still have $15 million in cap room to fill out the rest of the roster. A roster better than the current one, by the way.


Look, I am not trying to act like everything is rosy. I would love a time machine to go back and change some things, but there is plenty of flexibility moving forward. This roster is by no means set for the foreseeable future. Now, with that said, I caution people to be careful what they wish for as the trade deadline approaches. This fan base desperately wants the playoffs. Would you do an Eric Gordon for Joe Johnson swap for a better chance at the playoffs this season? Before saying yes, go back to the 2015 summer possibilities and basically cross that section off. Still want to do it?

The smart play for Dell this February might just be to stand still, but I know people don’t want to hear that. Package Rivers and Salmons for a guy like Gerald Henderson? Heck yeah! Oh, but wait, that takes a lot of 2015 options off the table as well. And again, for what? To hope that a major injury occurs to a Western Conference team so that maybe we can sneak into the playoffs and likely lose in the first round? And that’s IF a guy like Henderson even improves us.

Truth be told, the thing I am most afraid of is that Dell fears for his job security and makes a move like the one above, killing some flexibility. This season should not be about playoffs or bust, no matter how badly we want it. Davis is 21 years old!! Instead, the goal should be to try to improve without killing future flexibility. If Dell can find another Cunningham or trade an expiring for an expiring who plays better – fine, go for it. But Dell has a LOT of flexibility as of right now. Despite what that poster tells you.



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