By: Lee Rittenberg
The Wharton School | University of Pennsylvania
Making The Pelicans A Consistent Contender
Though the Pelicans are trending upwards with a great front office and coach, there are still plenty of moves that need to be made to make this team a contender and allow them to compete on a consistent basis. Having said that, I offer a series of moves that I believe will allow the Pelicans to be in the championship conversation for years to come. This team will not seriously compete for a championship in the next year or two, but this will be a possibility a few years down the road.
1: Pelicans trade pick #6 and Robin Lopez to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Bledsoe, Willie Green and pick #25.
I am a HUGE fan of Bledsoe because he is arguably the top defensive point guard in the NBA already, or at least in the conversation. IF the Clippers firmly believe that Chris Paul will stay, they will unload Bledsoe, who will be a restricted free agent after the upcoming season. The Clippers will not have enough money to resign Bledsoe because he will most likely command a salary of $8-10 million per year. Bledsoe is young, athletic, and explosive. He can run out in transition because he is so fast and provides a great perimeter defender to guard quick PG’s like Tony Parker, Mike Conley, etc. With the sixth pick, the Clippers can go after an offensive-minded center like Alex Len, a scorer like Shabazz Muhammad, or look for a future backcourt mate to pair with Chris Paul.
Though I like Lopez, the Pelicans must get rid of him in order to save about $4 million (Lopez’s $5 M salary – $1 M cap hold of #25 pick). The Clippers also get a third big that they greatly need. He is more of an offensive-minded guy than Deondre Jordan who will be used often while Len develops.
With the 25th pick, the Pelicans draft Jeff Withey, the 7-foot center from Kansas. He is a good defender with size and length that can rebound and block shots. He is a guy that can trot out with the second unit with Ryan Anderson who spaces the floor.
Willie Green is included for salary purposes to make this trade work. He is then traded in the following trade:
2: Pelicans trade a future 2nd round pick and Willie Green to the Dallas Mavericks for Shawn Marion and pick #13.
Dallas has been rumored to be shopping their pick that has a cap hold of about $1.66 million in order to make room to go after Dwight Howard or Chris Paul. If the Mavs really want to clear room to go after one of these stars, then the more cap room they have, the better. Getting rid of Marion and taking back Green would save them an additional $8 million (or $9.3M if Dallas chooses to let Willie Green go because his salary is Non-Guaranteed) to go after Dwight/CP3 (but most likely Dwight) and sign another veteran in free agency who is younger and can be more productive than the 35-year-old Marion. Acquiring Marion would cost the Pelicans about $10.7 M because he has a 15% trade kicker. Marion has been vocal about not wanting to play for a rebuilding team, but playing for almost $11 million at age 35 is very hard to turn down.
With the 13th pick, the Pelicans would select the top international player in the draft, Dario Saric, a 6 foot 10 small forward from Croatia. He’s long, versatile, has exceptional vision and ball handling, and may have the ability to play point-forward at times. He needs to improve on his jump shot, especially from deep. He’s not super athletic and is very thin, but his jumper and his bulkiness can both be improved as he just turned 19.
Marion provides a decent small forward for a year while the Pelicans develop Saric, or the Pelicans can choose to stache him for another year in Europe, though I feel that this is much less likely. While Marion will have a large salary, he has an expiring contract, so the Pelicans can try to trade him to a contender at this coming year’s trade deadline, or keep him for the year and provide a lot of cap relief for the Pelicans next year, a lot of which would probably be used to pay Bledsoe.
3: Sign Nikola Pekovic to a 4 year, $50 million deal.
Pekovic, an incredibly powerful and physical 6’ 11”, 290 lb. center, is currently a restricted free agent of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Is the 27 year old actually worth $48 million? Probably not, but in order to get an RFA like him, the Pelicans will have to overpay. However, this is okay because I see him as a perfect fit next to Anthony Davis. He’s physical, a great post defender, and is solid in the pick and roll. While he is not the best defensive rebounder, he is great on the offensive glass, as he was #18 in the league in Offensive Rebound Rate this past year.
4: Renounce the rights to Al-Farouq Aminu, Xavier Henry. Let go of Jason Smith, Brian Roberts, Darius Miller, Lance Thomas, and Terrel Harris – all of whom have unguaranteed deals.
All of these moves would be necessary to keep the Pelicans from going over the cap. I would hate to see Jason Smith go, but that would be necessary.
NEW 2013-14 Pelicans Lineup (’13-14 salary in millions):
Bledsoe ($2.63) / Vasquez ($2.15)
Gordon ($14.28) / Rivers ($2.34)
Marion ($10.7) / Saric ($1.66)
Davis ($5.38) / Anderson ($8.31)
Pekovic ($11.1) / Withey ($1)
Using the most accurate numbers puts the total cap for this team at just about $58.5-59 million, with a projected cap of $58.5 million according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. Resigning guys like Brian Roberts and Darius Miller for the league minimum would allow the Pelicans to exceed the cap if need be.
This lineup does not have the best spacing on the wings, but Bledsoe shot almost 40% last year from 3, Eric Gordon is a career 36% 3PT shooter, and Miller shot 39% in limited action. Obviously Ryan Anderson spaces the floor as well as anyone. The team will have decent spacing with Anderson on the court, but it won’t be horrid with him off of it. However, this team could use another “3 and D” guy, which it can pick up at the trade deadline if they unload Marion, or in the draft or free agency next season.
Another neat thing about this lineup is that all four guards can play together. All are able to play on and off the ball and run the pick and roll well (with the exception of Vasquez). Both starting bigs also run the pick and roll well. Marion plays solid defense and brings veteran leadership that this team sorely needs.
This team is young with a great core, which can develop into a championship-caliber team down the road, but should also make the playoffs this upcoming season.
Find me @lritt504 on Twitter for your thoughts and to discuss. Thanks for reading.