Pelicans Fill Backup PG Void with Trade for Norris Cole

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Published: February 19, 2015

The Pelicans entered the day with few expecting them to make any sort of move at the 2014-15 NBA trade deadline. Around 2 PM, Dealer Dell struck again, as he was able to turn John Salmons’ $2 million expiring contract into a serviceable backup point guard, nabbing Norris Cole from the Miami HEAT in a 3-team trade with them and the Phoenix Suns. Along with Cole, the Pelicans also acquired 6’9″ forward Shawne Williams (who will reportedly be bought out, but the team has not officially done so yet) and 7’0″ center Justin Hamilton. Williams, a 29 year old combo forward drafted 17th overall in 2006 by the Pacers, has played for 6 teams in his first 6 1/2 NBA seasons but has found a solid 3-point stroke as of late. Hamilton is a 24 year old center out of LSU who was drafted 45th overall in 2012 by the 76ers and will likely serve for now as the team’s 6th big man behind Davis, Anderson, Asik, Ajinca, and Withey (assuming Williams is indeed waived). You can read more about Hamilton on the Pelicans’ website here.

Cole, 26, is a 6’2″, 175 pound 4th year guard out of Cleveland State selected with the 28th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Cole is making just over $2 million this season and has a qualifying offer of $3,036,927 this summer. Should they choose not to extend him that offer, Cole will become an unrestricted free agent, just as Salmons was set to do. If they do extend it, Cole can do one of two things:

A) Accept it and play the 2015-16 season for that amount, becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016
B) Refuse it and become a restricted free agent this summer, in which the Pelicans can match any offer made to him

Norris Cole is a player that can conceivably help the Pelicans on both ends of the court. He is a capable defender, a decent shooter, and has increased his assists per-36 minutes in each of the past two seasons (from 3.7 to 4.4 to 5.2). His 3-point percentage has dipped considerably this season, but he was a 35% shooter in his prior 2 seasons, so there is reason to believe he will improve in that regard. Cole filled a meaningful role for a Heat team that made multiple deep playoff runs and won two NBA titles, and that is something which certainly cannot hurt a New Orleans team that severely lacks such postseason experience. The ability to add such a player for a wing entrenched at the end of the Pelicans’ bench – one who scored just 42 points in 270 total minutes this season – is a clear win for the front office.

In addition to this trade, the Pelicans also acquired PG Ish Smith (who they subsequently waived), the rights to Latavious Williams, cash considerations and draft considerations from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for draft considerations from New Orleans. According to ESPN’s Royce Young, the “draft considerations” are a protected 2015 2nd round pick going to the Pelicans and a protected 2016 2nd round pick heading to the Thunder. While the protections on both of these picks are currently unknown, it is likely that they are both top-55 protected, meaning neither will be conveyed. The most likely reason for this trade is a cash grab for the Pelicans, and they gave up nothing to get it. The Pelicans can also use the draft rights to Latavious Williams in a subsequent trade if they so choose, so that is another asset as well, albeit a tiny one.

The Pelicans have also waived Toney Douglas just a day after signing him to a second 10-day contract. Douglas was always a stopgap (like Wolters before him) until New Orleans could find an upgrade at the backup PG position with Jrue Holiday out, and Cole appears to be their guy. Even with the open roster spot, the team likely wanted to allow Douglas to find an opportunity for more minutes with another team.

All this being said, let’s not get ahead of ourselves – this move certainly doesn’t suddenly make the Pelicans a ton more likely to sneak into the playoffs. Oklahoma City made a big splash today, and while it’s no certainty that their moves make them a scarier out in the playoffs, the Thunder are absolutely deeper now than they were yesterday, which should help them during the regular season. With Reggie Jackson (who would have been a nice piece in the playoffs) showing no interest in staying with OKC, they were able to turn he and Perkins into Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler, Steve Novak, and DJ Augustin. Add those guys to the current Thunder roster and it is unlikely that the Pelicans can match their win total from here on out.

But you know what? That’s okay. Anthony Davis is 21 years old, and there’s a 99.99% chance he will be signing a 5-year max level contract this summer. With the Cole trade, the Pelicans are thinking both short-term (giving the team a backup PG in Jrue’s absence) as well as long-term (not overreacting to the current playoff arms race by making a move that will cripple them financially in the future). Had Dell Demps made some sort of major trade today, it is a near certainty that it would have come at the expense of long-term flexibility. With the cap set to make a major jump the same year that Anthony Davis’ extension kicks in, it would have made exactly zero sense to make a move thinking of only right now, when the best this Pelicans team could have realistically hoped for was a hard fought series loss to the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.

Good things are coming. For now, enjoy a highly competitive Pelicans team, hope that Holiday can return as soon as possible, and hey, maybe the stars align and they somehow slip into the playoffs anyway. The final ~35% of the season starts tomorrow night in Orlando, and Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson should both be back on the floor. Time to get things going again.

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