Alexis Ajinca

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Pelicans trying to keep up with all the problems they’ve created for themselves

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The entire operation could have cratered if Jrue Holiday left in free agency, as the Pelicans would have had only moderate cap space to replace him.

That didn’t happen.

Otherwise…

Years of roster mismanagement caught up to New Orleans, which had its meager wing depth eviscerated when Solomon Hill suffered a long-term injury. Complicating matters, the Pelicans had already hard-capped themselves by signing Rajon Rondo and Darius Miller to a combined salary above the taxpayer mid-level exception. Holiday used his leverage to get a massive contract – worth up to $150 million over five years – that pushed New Orleans close to that hard cap.

Rondo might be a decent value as a $3.3 million backup point guard. But his ego complicates the situation, and the Pelicans will start him at point guard – pushing Holiday to shooting guard, where the team’s third-best player will make less of an impact.

Miller washed out of the NBA two years ago after three seasons in New Orleans. The former second-rounder went overseas and then drew a salary above the minimum. I’m curious to see what the Pelicans see in him now.

In a pinch on the wing – where Hill, best at power forward, was already playing out of position – New Orleans sent a second-rounder and cash to the Bulls to dump Quincy Pondexter. Presumably, the injury problems that have kept Pondexter from playing the last two seasons meant he couldn’t help the Pelicans on the wing this season. Otherwise, this deal was a farce. But it allowed the Pelicans to sign Tony Allen and presumably one other player. Re-signing Dante Cunningham would help, but even he is better at power forward than small forward.

Allen is still a strong defender at age 35, but he’s a poor shooter. Rondo generally has been, too.

Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will have to be comfortable from deep for this team to have adequate spacing. The situation behind those two stars is woeful.

New Orleans spent a lot of time picking around the edges at point guard, though. In addition to re-signing Holiday and signing Rondo, the Pelicans traded effective backup point guard Tim Frazier (on a reasonable $2 million salary) to the Wizards for the No. 52 pick. Then, New Orleans essentially dealt the Nos. 40 and 52 picks and $800,000 to move up to No. 31 for injured point guard Frank Jackson, who’s already hurt again. The Pelicans also signed Ian Clark (defends point guards, handles the ball and distributes like a shooting guard). Combo guard E'Twaun Moore returns, too.

Between Davis, Cousins, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, New Orleans is paying $57,396,659 this season to players most effective at center.

Meanwhile, small forward is a wasteland.

This is not the team I’d want to send into battle during Cousins’ contract year. Lose him, and how will that color Davis’ long-term view of the franchise?

The Pelicans keep bandaging major wounds, and it’s already catching up to them. The difficult situation entering the offseason must be taken into account.

They started the summer in a jam. Then, they got jammed.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: Celtics expected to pursue Anthony Davis if Pelicans crumble

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Anthony Davis has stated nothing but loyalty to the Pelicans.

But it’s easy to see how the team around him could crumble.

DeMarcus Cousins will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and before New Orleans dealt for him, his agent threatened he wouldn’t re-sign with any team that traded for him. The Pelicans just committed at least $126 million to Jrue Holiday, who has an extensive injury history. The rest of the supporting cast is lacking, and with so much money tied to dead weight (Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca) and underwhelming players (Solomon Hill and E'Twaun Moore), it’ll be hard to upgrade.

The vultures are swarming.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

In addition, rival executives expect Boston to be keeping close tabs on New Orleans, which is entering a critical season. The Pelicans are committed to seeing if an Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins frontcourt can work, but if the season goes awry, it’s widely believed the Celtics will make a strong run at Davis, who is under contract through 2020.

Do these rival executives know something about Boston’s plan, or are they just supposing from afar? The Celtics are so asset-rich, they’ll be connected to any star who plausibly becomes available. It doesn’t take inside information to predict that.

But a pursuit of Davis might not get off the ground. If he makes an All-NBA team this season or next, he’d be eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension that only the Pelicans can offer. That might keep him in New Orleans for the next seven years.

On the other hand, if the Pelicans fall to the point Davis rejects the super-max extension, that’d be a huge flashing warning sign. Many teams would try to poach the star, and you can bet the Celtics will come up frequently in rumors.

Report: Pelicans want to be part of Knicks-Rockets Carmelo Anthony trade

AP Photo/ Max Becherer
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The Knicks and Rockets may or may not be close on a Carmelo Anthony trade. The latest iteration is reportedly a four-team deal (because, when three teams don’t want Ryan Anderson‘s burdensome contract, why not rope in another team that doesn’t want it either?).

Which other teams are involved? Maybe New Orleans.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

The Pelicans, once the home of Ryan Anderson, expressed interest in being one of the clubs involved, according to a source.

Anderson spent four years in New Orleans, and it became clear he’d leave in free agency as soon as he could. Lo and behold (after the going-nowhere Pelicans somehow didn’t preemptively trade him), he signed with Houston last summer. Sending Anderson back to New Orleans would be a cruel fate.

Anderson would also be a strange fit on a team that has Anthony Davis and DeMarcus and Dante Cunningham‘s Bird Rights. But the Pelicans also have their own bad contracts with Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, and dealing those two for Anderson would be a major talent upgrade and fit improvement.

Still, that leaves a new problem: Who takes the undesirable Asik and Ajinca? Must be that mysterious fourth team.

Of course, all that presumes New Orleans would accept Anderson. If not, we’re left the original problem: Who will take Anderson?

Before trade, DeMarcus Cousins’ agent said client unlikely to re-sign with new team

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DeMarcus Cousins signing a five-year, $209 million contract extension?

That’s out the window with his trade from the Kings to the Pelicans rendering him ineligible to become a designated veteran player.

Which could explain why Cousins’ agent, Jarrinn Akana, was making noise about not re-signing with another team. Dissuading potential suitors and staying in Sacramento was Cousins’ only path to the biggest payday.

Here’s Akana, before the trade was set, via Marc Stein of ESPN:

A straight contract extension next summer makes no sense. The most that could pay Cousins is $92,559,167 over four years ($23,139,792 annually).

If he simply lets his contract expire and re-signs in 2018, a new deal projects to be worth about $179 million (about $36 million annually).

The Pelicans can try for a renegotiation-and-extension, but they would need cap room to raise his 2017-18 salary from $18,063,850 toward his projected max of about $31 million. With significant money due to Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, Omer AsikE'Twaun Moore, Alexis Ajinca, Quincy PondexterDante CunninghamTim FrazierCheick Diallo and, they hope, a re-signed Jrue Holiday, it’s unlikely the Pelicans clear enough room to renegotiate Cousins’ deal.

Cousins is probably headed toward unrestricted free agency in 2018. Then, New Orleans projects to be able to offer about $179 million (about $36 million annually) to another team’s projected max of about $133 million (about $33 million annually).

It’s an advantage, but not a bulletproof one. I think Cousins will be more amenable to re-signing than his agent indicated now that a trade is actually happening, but he could still walk.

This is the risk the Pelicans took.

 

 

Three things we learned Monday: I’d like to order one Cavs vs. Wizards playoff series, please

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While you were trying to come up with clever ways to get out of traffic tickets, the Wizards and Cavaliers were playing maybe the game of the year, so we have the takeaways from that and more around the NBA Monday.

1) If that’s what it’s going to look like, I would like to order a Cavaliers vs. Wizards playoff series. It was something I discussed during a recent PBT Podcast talking Wizards: Washington had moved up with Boston and Toronto into the discussion of who is the second best team in the East. Monday night on a nationally televised game, the Wizards got the chance to test themselves against the best.

Cleveland got the 140-135 win thanks to a ridiculous LeBron James shot to force overtime then Kyrie Irving taking over in the extra period. But the Wizards got respect. And if this is what a playoff series between these teams would look like, bring it on. I’ll take five, six, seven games of this.

The Cavs got the win in large part because LeBron was vintage and brilliant, with 32 points and a career-high 17 assists. But all anyone is going to talk about is this shot-of-the-year candidate to force OT — it starts with a brilliant pass from the best outlet passer in the game in Kevin Love (who finished with 39 points of his own), then LeBron called bank.

Forget just that shot, the entire end of regulation and highlights of overtime are worth watching.

For the Cavs, they went on the road against a quality opponent that had won 17 in a row on their home court and got the win. This team has stumbled with LeBron off the floor at times this season, but after he had fouled out in the overtime Kyrie Irving took over scoring 11 of his 23 points, and that got them the win. Also, Love was fantastic punishing the Wizards inside when Washington tried to go small. Cleveland is still the bar to clear, the best team in the East. Although, adding another playmaker wouldn’t hurt.

The Wizards had to like what they saw: John Wall getting into the lane, breaking down the Cavs defense and dishing a dozen assists (plus scoring 22); Bradley Beal scoring 41 and torching Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye for stretches; Otto Porter playing well in big moments and scoring 25; Markieff Morris making big plays;Kelly Oubre playing well off the bench. The Wizards looked legit and by all reports were brimming with confidence after the game despite the loss.

The playoffs in the East may not just be a coronation for the Cavaliers, they are going to have to earn it.

2) Trade rumors update. From now through the trade deadline this will be a semi-regular feature of Three Things, breaking down all the trade rumors out there.

LeBron rips report he pushed trade Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony. The Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love rumors refuse to die, although most of the talking comes out of New York. Including the latest that none other than LeBron was pushing for the deal, something he vehemently denied after Love dropped 39 on the Wizards. I’m not going to pretend to know what LeBron is thinking, and no doubt he’d love to play alongside his friend Carmelo, but he’s too smart to think this trade is a good idea. This site’s own Dan Feldman and I debated whether adding Anthony for Love would improve the Cavs matchup with the Warriors this season — Dan thinks it does because ‘Melo matches up better against Andre Iguodala, I disagree — but while that is up for debate what isn’t is that Love is better against 28 other teams now, and will be better next season than age 33 and starting to decline, Anthony. Cavs management knows this, and this deal is dead. Not happening. It doesn’t mean the rumors will die, it just means be a smart media consumer and know that the basic facts of the deal are not happening. The Cavs will almost certainly add another playmaker one way or another before the deadline, but more Shelvin Mack than ‘Melo.

Pelicans talking trades for a big man, with Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor being the frontrunner. The Pelicans are better with Anthony Davis at the center spot, but he’s not built to bang down low in that role for 40 minutes a night. They need to use him in that role sort of the way the Warriors do with Draymond Green at center for the death lineup — 15 minutes a night or so. Finding the right big to play next to Davis the rest of the game has been a challenge, so now the Pelicans are thinking offense and the Sixers’ Okafor. No doubt Okafor can score inside, and the idea is Davis covers his defensive deficiencies. Maybe. I think the price of Alexis Ajinca and a 2018 first-round pick is fair, depending on the protections on that pick (New Orleans should say at least top 10, maybe lottery). But I think the Pelicans have far bigger questions out on the perimeter — like will they pay big to keep Jrue Holiday this summer? — than inside. The Pelicans have misfired in free agency — Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway — and they need more than one trade, they need a series of hits.

Kings GM Vlade Divac makes it clear: Kings have no intention of trading DeMarcus Cousins. Much like the ‘Melo to the Cavaliers trade rumors, DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors will not die despite the fact nobody with the team, close to the team, or on other teams thinks it’s going to happen. GM Vlade Divac said it again Monday. But it’s simpler than that: Owner Vivek Ranadive doesn’t want to trade Cousins, and owners get their way. Trade Cousins and the Kings would be starting a multi-year rebuild process where the goal would be to get a player as good as Cousins — for a smaller market franchise like this, you don’t just move the star you have. This summer the Kings are going to offer Cousins a designated player max extension (the same one the Warriors will offer Stephen Curry) and Cousins will sign it. And Cousins will spend a few more years in Sacramento.

3) So is this rock bottom for the Knicks? Lakers coach Luke Walton said it’s time to bench his overpaid veterans — Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov — and play his inconsistent young stars such as Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle more. Time to think development over wins. But then that struggling young Lakers lineup goes out and just thrashes the Knicks. New York was down 27 in the second quarter, fans were booing the hometown Knicks throughout the game, and while they won garbage time late to only lose by 14, the game was never that close. After the game the Knicks were hard on themselves. As they should have been.

Trading Anthony for spare parts — which is all teams like the Clippers and Cavaliers are offering at the deadline — is not the answer for Phil Jackson. There is no simple answer, other than this summer stop going for the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah quick fixes and build a team around Kristaps Porzingis, filled with guys more on his career arc. Jackson has a lot of work to do on this team over the summer.