Players the Pelicans Can Pursue With the Mid-Level Exception

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Published: June 26, 2015

Not surprisingly, the 2015 NBA Draft was rather anti-climatic for the Pelicans. Dell Demps sold his 2nd round pick again, and we all should have seen that coming, as he has told us time and time again he prefers young veterans on this team. The last time Dell sold a 2nd rounder, he used that cash to get Gustavo Ayon away from his team in Spain, and Dell eventually turned Ayon into Ryan Anderson. Not saying that he will have similar moves lined up, but the point is that Dell is always two steps ahead and his goal is to get quality young vets around Anthony Davis now, rather than hope a rookie pans out years down the line.

With that in mind, Dell will get his work done starting July 1st when the free agent market opens and the Pelicans can add a veteran or two to their already deep roster. The top 8 players are likely to return after the Pelicans extend the QO to Norris Cole and they use their Bird Rights to bring back Asik. The Pelicans also have Early Bird Rights on Babbitt and Ajinca if they want to bring them back and have options on Withey and Douglas as well. Basically, they can run back the same team and add a rotation piece or two with their exceptions.

The Mid-Level Exception and Bi-Annual Exception are only available to teams operating over the cap, and if the Pelicans retain Asik, they will be one of those teams. Last year, the Warriors only major move was to use the MLE to add a versatile piece in Shaun Livingston. They added Leandro Barbosa on the cheap a couple of months later. But for the most part, they brought back their core pieces and a new coaching staff with a better system helped take that team to the next level. Sound familiar?

Expect the Pelicans to follow the same blueprint this summer, as they bring the core back and add a piece or two. But who could those pieces be? Well, according to a source, they are looking for position versatility on the defensive end and shooting on the offensive end. Looking at the roster, it would seem that SF would be the obvious choice, but there could be a hole at center too if Ajinca leaves, and maybe even power forward if Ryno is moved to fill out one of the other spots. So, with that in mind, we will look for guys at those positions and with those skill sets in this piece.

Let’s take a look at possible options for the Pelicans as free agency kicks off next week.

Full Mid-Level Exception

The Pelicans can extend a single player a contract starting at $5.464 million in the first season and can go up to 4 years. That means that the maximum contract would be 4 years/ $23.3 million. These players would probably require the full MLE for multiple seasons, and for some of them, even that might not be enough.

Jae Crowder, F, Boston Celtics

Coming into the season, Crowder was a guy that many would have thought could have been had for the Bi-Annual or maybe even the minimum, but he really blossomed in Boston and now the MLE might not be enough to pry him away.  Looking at his raw stats, it might be puzzling to some who haven’t watched Crowder that he is a guy that might get more than the MLE. He shot just 42% in Boston, including just 28% from three, but he rebounds well for his position and can cover any type of perimeter player. On the defensive end, he compares favorably with guys like Demarre Carroll and Andre Iguodala, and he is a three-point shot away from being a 12-15 million dollar player in this league. And Gentry specifically mentioned 35% on catch-and shoot 3’s as where he wants players to be in his recent interview. Crowder wasn’t that far off this year at 33.3%. If you believe that you can help him develop that, then you could have one of the best bargains in the league if you get him for the MLE. The problem is that Crowder is restricted, so Boston will have final say on whether he stays or goes.

Jared Dudley, F, Milwaukee Bucks (Opted in with Milwaukee)

Jared Dudley had some of his best seasons with Alvin Gentry, including a 2009-10 season that saw him shoot 46% from three while posting a ridiculous offensive rating of 124. After a bit of a down year in LA, Dudley bounced back with a solid season in Milwaukee after getting healthy. Last year, he shot 39% from three and offered Milwaukee positional versatility and leadership for a young team. He and Pondexter could essentially split the SF position, and if you take his numbers from last year and Q-Pon’s numbers after he joined New Orleans, you would have the perfect role player. Combined, those two played 51 minutes, scored 16.2 points and shot 41% from three. Combine that with hustle, defense, and leadership and you might have the ideal SF duo for this team.

Corey Brewer, F, Houston Rockets

Like Dudley, Brewer has a player option and after a great showing last year he would be wise to exercise it this summer so he can get paid. Brewer continued to struggle with his three-point shot (just 27%) but he was a dynamic force in transition and a pest on the defensive end. Like Dudley, Brewer will not be demanding big minutes (25.1 per game in Houston) and he brings a wealth of experience to the table. Brewer is one of the best passers on this list and can create turnovers in bunches – two things Gentry will put heavy value on. But I don’t want to undersell Brewer in transition. He was elite there in several respects. First of all, 35% of his used possessions came in transition – the highest position of any regular rotation player in the league. He shot 64% (#1 amongst perimeter players with at least 100 possessions), and he averaged 1.28 points per possession in transition. Again, elite. If Gentry wants to get out and run, Corey Brewer would look fantastic on this team.

Mike Dunleavy, Jr., F, Chicago Bulls (Re-signed with Chicago 3 yr/14 mil)

We know who Mike Dunleavy is at this stage of his career, and that is both a good thing and a bad thing. He is a solid role player that can give you shooting, occasional playmaking, and smart defense, but at 34 his upside is limited and he probably won’t be in the league much longer. In his last two seasons with the Bulls, Dunleavy shot 39% from three and put up over 10 points a game with a usage under 16%. Nearly 55% of his attempts came from behind the arc this season, and he hit an astounding 45% from the corners. Basically, he is a role player at this point who needs to be respected from behind the arc. Defensively, he is still quick enough to defend most 3’s, and he is coming from a system that will be fairly similar to what Erman will want to employ here. On a 1 or 2 year deal, Dunleavy could be a great stop gap that can hold down the position with Quincy Pondexter.

Brandan Wright, F/C, Phoenix Suns

Wright has been an efficient player player since entering the league and he knows where his bread is buttered. He has not tried to extend his range, nor does he fancy himself as a jump shooter. He is a threat in the paint and at the rim, where he has shot 75% from 0-3 feet over his career. He has been a part-time player, never averaging even 20 minutes per game in any given year. Wright is Tyson Chandler-lite, as he can also rack up blocks and steals when given playing time. His rebounding is average, at best, for a center and he would have trouble defending most traditional centers at just around 210 pounds. But as a 3rd big at the MLE, you could do much worse.

Kevin Seraphin, F/C, Washington Wizards

Seraphin has had some ups and downs in his career on the offensive end, but where he continues to show tremendous promise is on the defensive end of the court. This season, he gave up a FG % of 47.6% at the rim on 4.4 attempts per game. That number is better than Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, and Robin Lopez, and is the same as Mozgov in Cleveland after the trade. Offensively, he has some skill in the paint as he can finish strong and he has a nice little hook when he posts up. His jumper is far from great, however, as he shot just 32% on his 237 attempts this season. Seraphim is another 3rd big type who can play a role similar to what Festus Ezili did this year for Golden State, but with even better production on both ends.

Gerald Green, F, Phoenix Suns

Again, Gentry specifically mentioned catch-and-shoot 3’s in his recent interview on the Black and Blue Report and Green was solid on his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts (37.3%) this year and even better last year (40.0%). Where he struggled was on pull-up three’s (31.8%), but the hope would be that in a motion offense that the latter would go away for the most part. What Green would give New Orleans regardless is some athleticism on the wings and the ability to finish in transition. The worry is that Green’s defense is lacking and might not be good enough to keep him on the court. And least that is what happened this past year in Phoenix when Jeff Hornacek called out Green specifically for his effort on that end.

Amare Stoudamire, F/C, Dallas Mavericks

Stoudamire has as much familiarity with Gentry as anyone on this list, and would instantly be able to pick up the offensive system, while also mentoring Anthony Davis over the next year or two. While Stoudamire is no longer the player he was in Phoenix, or anything close, he is still a big who can give you instant offense off the bench for a much lower price than what he has made these past five years. Just last season, Stoudamire shot 56% from the field and put up nearly 11 points per game for Dallas despite getting just 16.5 minutes a night. While there might not be a huge need for bench scoring right now with Ryan Anderson still on the roster, Stoudamire could become a target if Anderson is moved for a piece on the wings. And again, you can’t underestimate what he could do for Davis day in and day out as he tries to pick up the nuances of Gentry’s system.

Amir Johnson, F, Toronto Raptors (Signed with Boston; 2 yr/24 mil)

Johnson offers some positional versatility, as he can defend 4’2, along with some 3’s when you go big and 5’s in a small ball lineup. His big issue is that he has been a foul machine over his career (5.1 per 36 mins), but outside of that, he offers a lot of things that you want in a big man. He is a beast down low who provides tons of energy and toughness, and he has also increased his range every season. He can also do good work on the glass and is an underrated passer. Another terrific 3rd big if the Pelicans move on from Anderson or Asik.

Brandon Bass, F, Boston Celtics

Bass spoke highly of Darren Erman in the past and could return home if Anderson or Asik is sent out. His jump shot has gotten better and better every year, including last season where he shot a blistering 46% from 16 feet to the three-point line. Bass could step in immediately as a 3rd big who can finish games next to AD if need be, and help the bigs with Erman’s defensive system. He is a low usage big who does a lot of things that don’t necessarily show up in the box score, and you can have him on the court at the end of games because of his outside shooting, his IQ, and his FT shooting (83% career). He has been experimenting with a three-point shot over the last few years, and if he adds that, he is a tremendous value at this price.

Partial Mid-Level Exception and/or BAE Candidates

The MLE can be split up amongst multiple players, as long as the salaries in the first year don’t exceed that $5.464 million limit. The Pelicans will also have the Bi-Annual Exception if they are operating as an over the cap team. The Bi-Annual allows the Pelicans to start a player out at a salary of $2.1 million in the first year, and they can give out a maximum contract of 2 years, $4.4 million. The following players could possibly be had for a price in those ranges.

Dante Cunningham, F, New Orleans Pelicans

I covered Cunningham here, and honestly, if he gets more time at the PF position he would be a key contributor off the bench. In fact, I think a Gentry lead team could use him next to Anderson, as they play a small ball 4-5 off the bench. How many second units have a quality low post player that would make them pay? Conversely, a 2nd unit with Cole, Reke, insert SF, Dante, and Ryno could cause fits. Ideally, the Pels use the BAE on Cunningham, and have the full MLE for a SF in that scenario.

Alan Anderson, G/F, Brooklyn Nets

I guess I could report it now without anyone getting upset – Anderson was the first guy Demps reached out to last year after the Asik deal was complete. When he passed, Demps settled for John Salmons. With more money and years to offer, I could see Demps going back to Anderson, who offers defensive versatility and he can shoot the rock. This past year,  he shot 44% on open three-point attempts, 44% on very tightly guarded 3’s, and an astounding 62% on catch-and-shoot 3’s in the playoffs.

KJ McDaniels, G/F, Houston Rockets

A mystery wrapped up in an enigma wrapped up in a quagmire. McDaniels could be the lone guy on this list with All-Star potential or he could be the one guy on this list out of the league before the age of 25. After a terrific start in his first 15 games, McDaniels shooting numbers plummeted and then he got traded to Houston where he was buried on the bench. His offense is beyond raw, but his rim defense was elite for a wing, he can block shots, and gets tons of steals and deflections. His FT shooting (75%) makes you think he has some potential as a shooter, and if you can get anything from him there, he could be a poor man’s Andre Iguodala.

Gary Neal, G, Minnesota Timberwolves

Dell Demps was intrigued by Troy Daniels in past years, and Gary Neal has some of the same qualities, not to mention a pedigree having played big minutes in big games with the Spurs. He really struggled last year, but was still 43.5% on wide-open three’s and he is just a couple years rumored from shooting 42% overall from deep in back-to-back years with the Spurs – who ran a similar offense to what the Pelicans will run this year.

Marcus Thornton, G, Phoenix Suns

The last few years, Thornton has been nothing more than a contract to be traded, as he has bounced around quite a bit in the last 24 months. At $8 million a year, he was vastly overpaid, but a huge pay cut could humble him and he could be a value for his next team if he plays with a chip on his shoulder. The one thing he hasn’t lost is his shooting touch. Amongst guys with 65 or more spot-up attempts last year, Thornton finished 4th statistically behind only Klay, Korver, and Stephen Curry. Also, don’t forget his relationship with Robert Pack, who mentored him during his rookie year. And oh yeah, he is a hometown boy. Fits in a lot of ways.

Leandro Barbosa, G, Golden State Warriors

Golden State resurrected Barosa’s career, and Alvin Gentry had a lot to do with that. He and Norris Cole do a lot of the same things, but in a scenario where Cole is gone, Barbosa could be a spark plug for the second unit and a veteran presence for their young guards. Barbosa is still a very good transition player and he can knock down the three. Could do a lot worse than the Brazilian Blur.

Will Barton, G/F, Denver Nuggets

Before Melvin Hunt was named head coach in Denver, Barton looked like he had one foot out of the league. But after Hunt reinstalled their fast pace offense, Barton had a few moments, including a 25 point, 9 rebound, 3 steal, 3 assist game against the Pelicans in March. He still needs to work on his outside shot, but he is dynamic in transition, and if that shot continues to improve he can be a Demarre-like steal down the line.

Al-Farouq Aminu, F, Dallas Mavericks (Signed w/ Portland 4 yrs/30 mil)

Aminu went to Dallas, and to no surprise, he diversified his game a bit after leaving Monty. He took far more three’s, and despite missing many of them, he still was willing to take them and that helped out his team’s spacing. He shot just 28.4% on catch-and-shoot 3’s in the regular season, but he improved throughout the year and got hot in the playoffs (63%). Dell was always a bigger believer in Aminu than Monty, and likely saw him as a small ball 4. With Monty gone, could Aminu return?

Austin Rivers/Xavier Henry/Wille Green/John Salmons

Just seeing if you are paying attention. Oh, and Jimmer too.

Bismack Biyombo, C, Charlotte Hornets

When he was drafted, the sky seemed to be the limit for Biyombo, but 4 years later he hasn’t shown much improvement on the offensive end, and his man to man defense is average at best. Where he excels, however, is as a weak side defender who can block anything and everything – when he doesn’t foul someone, that is. The appeal of signing Biyombo is that he is young (22) and he could be a rim protector on a 2nd unit with Ryan Anderson. Offensively, don’t expect much growth – he hit one shot outside the paint last year. One.

Kyle O’Quinn, C, Orlando Magic

O’Quinn has been a guy that us analytic nerds have been interested in for a few years, and he could be a Marresse Speights type player for this Pelicans team. O’Quinn can rebound like a beast and has a jumper that he has recently began to extend out to 3-point range. In his young career, he has shot 48% from 10-16 feet and 40% from 16 feet to the 3-point line. If he continues to extend that range, he could be an ideal backup 5 who could spot start if needed.

Javale McGee, C, Philadelphia 76ers

Talk about your high-risk gamble. McGee won’t take much to get financially, but you would risk ruining the chemistry in your locker room and the hair of your 60 year old coach. But, if you can get him on board, McGee has been a beast in uptempo offenses before, and if you can get the production Denver got in limited minutes in 2012-13, the Pelicans could have the best front court in the league. That said, Dell has been a huge character guy in the past, so McGee seems unlikely.

Jeff Ayers, C, San Antonio Spurs

Ayers won’t get the fan base excited if he is signed, but he is a typical Spurs big who has some versatility and knows how to move the ball in a motion offense. He is a low usage center with the ability to cover both 4’s and 5’s and he can be a great offensive rebounder. The biggest downside is that he picks up fouls in bunches, but we are used to backup centers who do that.

Andrea Bargnani, F/C, New York Knicks

Here is a real wild card if Ryan Anderson is moved in the next few weeks. Bargnani is considered a bust because he hasn’t lived up to expectations as a #1 overall pick, but that isn’t his fault. The truth is that he has had a more than serviceable NBA career and he could thrive in a Gentry offense as shooter and a facilitator. Surprisingly, he is still just 29 years old and a fresh start on a team with high expectations might be all he needs to get back on track after being stuck in New York.

Jason Smith, C, New York Knicks

Speaking of guys stuck in New York, Smith had a healthy season, but was asked to do farr too much for a Knicks team that had given up by January. The good part was that this let him experiment with his 3-point shot, and the end result was that he hit as many last year (15) as every other year combined. Smith is a fan favorite who has several fans on this team and could thrive in Gentry’s system if he has in fact extended his range.

 

 

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