David Griffin has a lot of cap space to play with, but many feel the team should focus on finding help at center first.
First posted on The Bird Writes. Contributions by Oleh Kosel, Kevin Barrios, Mike Delayo, Jamile Dunn, Preston Ellis, Trevor Ritchie, Jason Albert, and Travis Tate
With the Pelicans likely to have just north of $30 million in cap space, how should the front office spend the money? Should New Orleans prioritize chasing a center like Brook Lopez? Al Horford? Maybe old pal Nikola Mirotic? Should they go all out and pursue one of the top free agents like Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler? Or should David Griffin be prudent, seeking players on good value and possibly saving some room for a team looking to remove salary off their books (thereby netting the Pelicans more future assets)?
Jason Albert: Be prudent
My mind was blown on draft night when the Pelicans dumped Solomon Hill to open up additional cap space. I genuinely don’t have a clue who/what David Griffin and krewe have their eyes on in free agency, but they wouldn’t have dumped Hill’s expiring deal if they didn’t have a plan or two. Ultimately though, I think that the organization should just fill out the remaining open spots with as much mid level talent as possible, loading the roster with young but quality veterans. Ideally, bring Nikola Mirotic back to New Orleans, sign Ed Davis, and if the money is right, give Bojan Bagdanovic a chase.
Kevin Barrios: Make a splash
This is a question I could be happy going either way on, but since I know that Griffin wants to build sustainable success — think Portland, OKC or Utah, teams that are steady year in, year out — I’ll say make a big, but short-term splash. The Pelicans have plenty of space now before they have to pay Ingram so it’s best they use it in a year that has some really nice free agent options.
While it is certainly a long shot, why not try to land Kawhi Leonard? I mean, Griffin said opposing GMs called him about Zion trades — the worst he can do is say no…..once he does, I’d turn my attention towards either Al Horford or Khris Middelton (I’d also say Malcolm Brogdon, but I think the Bucks hang on to him through RFA). Middelton is probably a better solution at the three than Brandon Ingram due to his shooting, defense and ability to thrive with lower usage rates. Ingram could revert to a super 6th man role, letting the offense run through him in a point forward kind of situation, and in small ball lineups Middleton could shift to the 4 and share the court with Lonzo, Jrue, Ingram and Zion.
Horford is also a very good option, though I’m wondering if with Indiana’s draft the Pels couldn’t pry Domantas Sabonis away with E’Twaun Moore (or whomever) and a future 1st. Sabonis, Middleton and a little room to add vets like DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis and/or Jared Dudley. This is something I’d definitely explore should Middleton or Kawhi bite on Griffin’s offer. Then if all that fails just round out the roster with some nice vets and let the youth have some controlled chaotic fun.
Mike Delayo: It all sounds good
D’Angelo Russell’s growth in 2018-19 likely earned him a big payday this summer, and his fit with the team the Pelicans could help him continue an upward trajectory. He’s a great shooter with a knack for creating open shots, and though the backcourt could be a bit crowded, that kind of skill set would be a welcome addition. A pitch to Al Horford for near-max wouldn’t hurt either, for his recently completed age 32 season, which was one of his best yet. An unselfish, smart and efficient player is almost always worth the cap space, and his presence in New Orleans would be welcome.
However, the option to divvy up the cap to a couple of veterans on short-term deals, like the Bojan Bogdanovics and Dewayne Dedmon’s of the world, could bode well for giving players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Jaxson Hayes the proper time and space to show their stuff, which is undoubtedly a priority for this season. It is unclear what direction the team will ultimately go in, but there are a few that could work out just fine.
Jamile Dunn: Be prudent
I would like to see New Orleans sign tough veteran center Dewayne Dedmon. Dedmon has a rare combination of rim protection and shooting that teams covet in the modern NBA. The former Atlanta Hawk would be a great fit next to Zion Williamson and has the type of hard working character the Pelicans front office is looking for. Kyle O’Quinn and Kevin Looney would be other centers I would consider if Dedmon is unavailable.
In addition to adding front court depth, the Pelicans should also be looking for more shooting on the wings. Young Houston small forward Danuel House would be a nice target. House showed potential as a 3-and-D wing last season. At 6’8 House as the length to be a solid defender and shot nearly 42% from three point range on nearly 5 attempts per game. House is a restricted free agent but Houston is in a cap hell and might not be able match even a mid sized offer for House.
DeMarre Carroll would be another name that could provide defense and shooting at small forward while also having the flexibility to play power forward as well.
Just because you have cap space doesn’t mean you necessarily have to use it to sign players. New Orleans also has the ability to absorb a player currently under contract into their cap. So if I were David Griffin I would be looking for players to absorb from cap strapped teams. Clint Capela could be one player that is available if Houston is trying to create more cap flexibility.
Preston Ellis: Make a splash
My first choice would be Al Horford on a three-year max-level contract which I believe would start at $32.7 million in his first year with a partial guarantee on the third year. That would put him over $100 million which is what he is presently rumored to receive over four years, making the Pelicans’ offer tantalizing.
Should Horford opt for the guarantee of four years at $110 million as is the rumor, I’d next target Brook Lopez on another oversized two-year deal. Should Lopez return to Milwaukee, it might come as a blessing in disguise as it would likely give the Pelicans the room to sign Ed Davis, Julius Randle, Jared Dudley and Elfrid Payton thereby giving the Pelicans a healthy mix of veteran talent. I’d then move on from Dairis Bertans and Cheick Diallo.
Regardless of whom the Pelicans target, I’d want flexibility heading into Zion’s third season when both Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart will be in line for increased paydays.
David Grubb: Be prudent
The best thing about the cap space is that the Pelicans have the ability to sign multiple second-tier veterans who can contribute to winning immediately. As the roster stands today, the biggest areas of need that I see are at starting center, and backups at the point, small forward and power forward positions.
I’d rather the Pelicans spread the money among multiple players and retain some cap space in order to potentially absorb a larger deal in a trade down the line. None of the players that Pelicans could sign in free agency would be long-term answers to their needs, so overpaying too much for too long isn’t a strategy I would embrace.
I’ve made no secret of my affection for Dewayne Dedmon, who over the last two seasons has become a very effective floor spacer and defender with the Atlanta Hawks. He made just over $7 million last season, so an offer of a starting position and $10-12 million annually for 2-3 years would probably be very attractive as Williamson, Hayes, Jahlil Okafor, and Christian Wood continue to develop.
Brook Lopez would be a great addition, but I wonder if at this stage of his career, having reached a conference final with the Bucks, whether he would be interested in taking a likely step further away from a title by coming to New Orleans.
Kevin and I share an unnatural affection for Ed Davis. His offensive rebounding and defense (he led all power forwards in defensive real plus minus last season) are still elite entering his age 30 season. He would be a tremendous addition on the interior for the Pelicans.
Other names I’d like the Pelicans to consider would be Taj Gibson, who brings toughness, experience and versatility to the table; Jared Dudley for his shooting and locker room presence; JaMychal Green, who has become a solid backup four who shoots the three at a 40 percent clip; Justin Holiday could add length and perimeter shooting on the perimeter, and I hear he has a pretty good relationship with one of the Pelicans already.
At backup point guard, Trey Burke is another intriguing option. Still only 26 years old, he has become a very good reserve after struggling early in his career. He shoots it well from distance, at the free throw line, and can run an offense. He’s scored in double figures in 53 of his last 94 games, including 10 games with at least 20 points.
Oleh Kosel: Be prudent
Since the Pelicans have the cap space and they seem committed to the return of assets from the Lakers and the draft haul on Thursday, I want to see them chase players that will add to the developmental curve of the young core — not hinder it. Thus, high usage guys like Kevin Love, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle are automatically out.
Finding help for Zion Williamson in the front court is the primary goal and Brook Lopez remains the dream. He can space the floor, defend the rim and soak up a lot of available minutes at the five for the Pelicans — Jaxson Hayes isn’t likely to be ready for a few years. Also, Lopez voluntarily took a back seat in Milwaukee and went on to produce his best campaign as a pro. Although he’ll be entering his age-31 season, signing him to a lucrative two-year deal (worth about $40 million total) makes a lot of sense since his mileage is low, and his production, a rarity.
Horford and Gasol are acceptable short-term targets at center, but I’d be leery to hand them Lopez money. They’re older and not as comfortable jacking up three-pointers. Instead, if plan A is a no-go, pick up the phone and call a couple of oft-injured but very serviceable bigs in Nikola Mirotic and Dewayne Dedmon, and see what’s going on with Derrick Favors in Utah.
As for the rest of the roster, I advocate smart veteran signings and keeping space open for teams trying to cut costs before the next trade deadline. Among the vets that would help cultivate this young locker room are Jared Dudley, Ed Davis, DeMarre Carroll, Thabo Sefolosha and possibly one of the Morris brothers.
Trevor Ritchie: Be prudent
Why not go all-in on a Nikola Mirotic return? Secure the stretch big David Griffin wants and what the Pelicans need to allow Zion to flourish. Plus, you know Niko will embrace the city and culture immediately. A little extra familiarity around the locker room could help things go much more smoothly during such a stark roster transformation, too. New Orleans won’t have much of that next year in the form of a true veteran outside of Jrue Holiday.
Keeping Mirotic over Julius Randle last season would have made more sense for the future anyway, in my opinion. Bring Mirotic back now and have some money left over to work with. If that doesn’t come together, spread the wealth on players at a lower cost and add perimeter shooting at value — but throwing a bag at someone like Al Horford doesn’t seem like the most productive way to build on the foundation that’s been set up to this point.
Travis Tate: Be prudent
Generally, I don’t see the point in investing heavily in guys who aren’t going to be here long-term and don’t match the youth of the team. That does need to be matched by gathering some “locker room types” who can help professionalize our young gang. If we were closer to being really good, I’d take any of Lopez, Horford or Mirotic. So, I say fill with some big man depth and old heads who can bring this team to where it wants to be: competing for Western Conference titles in, say, 3 years.