New Orleans Pelicans: Dream Scenario at Every Position in 2013-14
The New Orleans Pelicans must enter this offseason with a best-case scenario of how they can upgrade every position. With a couple more moves and some good fortune, New Orleans can make the jump from lottery team to playoff contender.
The first step to improving the roster will come during the June 27 draft. New Orleans will be picking sixth in what, to me, is an eight-player draft. Regardless of how the first five picks go, the Pelicans have a good shot at landing another building block on draft day.
They could fix their glaring hole at small forward with someone like Georgetown's Otto Porter or Indiana's Victor Oladipo. They could upgrade at point guard with Michigan's Trey Burke or even add some size with Maryland center Alex Len.
From there, New Orleans will need to use its considerable financial resources (only $34 million committed for next season) to address whatever need wasn't filled at the draft. The Pelicans have the cap space to add at least one marquee name.
As the team enters next season with an entirely new look, they will need things to break right for them to make a good first impression. That's why I came up with a dream scenario of how the team could drastically improve every position from the starting five to the second unit.
Now, before reading further, it is important to understand that these are individual scenarios and not a step-by-step game plan for the offseason. Even with the cap space, the Pelicans would be lucky to go two-for-six.
Still, while they may be dream scenarios, there is a real possibility of pulling each one of these off. Here is a glass half full outlook on each position for the 2013-14 New Orleans Pelicans.
Point Guard: Sign Brandon Jennings
Greivis Vasquez played admirably in his first full season as the team's starting point guard. He averaged 13.9 points and nine assists per game, while shooting 43 percent from the field and 34 percent from behind the arc.
However, the Maryland product struggled to stop quicker point guards on the defensive end. Making matters worse for the tragically slow-footed guard, he had offseason surgery on his ankle. The procedure was minor, but it is unlikely to make him much faster.
The Pelicans need someone at point guard who can contribute on the offensive end, while also being able to play at least adequate defense. The team could use the No. 6 pick on Michigan point guard Trey Burke but, he too, has quickness concerns (although he's much faster than Vasquez).
That's why the team should take a long look at Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings. The Bucks free agent averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 assists a game last season. He shot nearly 40 percent from the field and 37 percent from the three-point line.
More importantly, he averaged 1.5 steals per contest. During the 2011-12 season, he finished ninth in steals with 1.6 per game. According to 82games.com, opponents shot just under 50 percent against Jennings compared to 52.6 percent against Vasquez.
Jennings fits the mold that head coach Monty Williams is looking for to spearhead his defense-oriented system. He'll command a pretty penny this summer, but it will be worth it to have a point man who can stop the ball on the defensive end.
Shooting Guard: Trade Eric Gordon, Draft Victor Oladipo
Truth be told, a dream scenario for the Pelicans at shooting guard would be Eric Gordon staying healthy and happy. If he can put his knee troubles behind him, he can be the franchise player the team hoped he would be when they signed him for four years and $58 million last summer.
The other dream scenario involves the team ridding themselves of the risk of paying big money to a player who can't stay healthy or content. After playing just nine games in 2011-12, Gordon missed another 40 games this past season and had a public shouting match during a game with coach Monty Williams.
The Pelicans could roll the dice on Gordon staying healthy this season, but they also run the risk of him spending more time in a suit than a jersey and lowering his value.
The best possible situation would be the team shipping Gordon to either Chicago for All-Star forward Luol Deng or Indiana for Danny Granger. Either deal would work out great for both teams.
Chicago has Jimmy Butler waiting in the wings to replace Deng, and Gordon would fill the hole at shooting guard nicely. In Indiana, Gordon would return to the place where he became a college star and allow Paul George to play his natural small forward position.
For New Orleans, either Deng or Granger would fill its huge hole at small forward. Also, the team would save money in the long run as both players are free agents next summer.
The second part to this scenario is a little more far-fetched. To replace Gordon, the team needs to hope Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo falls to No. 6. It's unlikely, but not impossible. If he falls past Washington at No. 3, New Orleans should try to swing a deal with Charlotte to move up to get the Indiana star.
Oladipo is an excellent defender who is coming off a season where he averaged 13.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He also shot nearly 60 percent from the field and an astonishing 44 percent from the three-point line.
He's the kind of two-way player who Monty Williams should salivate over. If the Pelicans can turn Gordon into Deng and find a way to land Oladipo, they would significantly improve themselves on the wing.
Small Forward: Sign Andre Iguodala
When it comes to New Orleans' biggest area of need, there are actually two dream scenarios.
The first scenario involves Georgetown small forward Otto Porter falling to the team at No. 6 overall. A number of things need to occur for that to happen.
First, the Cleveland Cavaliers must decide that Maryland center Alex Len is a better player than Kentucky shot-blocker Nerlens Noel. Next, the Orlando Magic opt to fill their point guard need with Michigan's Trey Burke.
After that, Washington is unable to pass up on the potential of Noel and snatches him up at No. 3. Charlotte, elated by these turn of events, steals Kansas shooter Ben McLemore at No. 4. Phoenix then takes Indiana's Victor Oladipo at No. 5.
There aren't many mock drafts that support this scenario, but there is a possibility that it happens. Good players fall in the draft all of the time. It happened to Paul George and Danny Granger in Indiana. It happened to Rajon Rondo. It even happened for New Orleans, back in 2005, when Chris Paul fell to them.
If they can't land Porter, the next move would be to go hard after Denver small forward Andre Iguodala. The former Arizona Wildcat is a good defender and athlete who could thrive in transition as well as being the veteran leader of a young team on the rise.
Iguodala would fit in nicely in between young forward Anthony Davis and shooting guard Eric Gordon (if he isn't traded). When you add in Ryan Anderson and whomever the team takes at No. 6, that's a pretty nice group to be surrounded by.
With a starting five of Davis, Anderson, Iguodala, Gordon and, say, Trey Burke, the Pelicans could be a fixture in the playoffs for a long time.
Power Forward: Anthony Davis Bulks Up to Center, Ryan Anderson Starts
The Pelicans don't need to make any drastic moves at power forward, as they are pretty much set with Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson. The problem is, for now, both men play the same position.
The best way to remedy this problem would be to move Davis to center permanently and put Anderson into the starting rotation. To make this work, "The Unibrow" should add some bulk to better prepare his body for playing inside.
At 220 pounds, Davis doesn't have the ideal size to bang around with bigger guys in the paint. However, the NBA's strongest men also don't have the quickness and athleticism to compete with the former No. 1 overall pick.
History has seen skinny guys be viable starting centers. Marcus Camby has done it for a number of years as well as Theo Ratliff. Rookie Nerlens Noel, listed at 206 pounds, will also be asked to play some center for whoever drafts him.
The Pelicans' best chance of being successful (or any team's best chance, for that matter) is to put the best lineup on the floor for as long as possible. Davis and Anderson playing together full-time with Eric Gordon makes New Orleans a more formidable opponent.
Anderson's sweet shooting from the outside will open up the paint for Davis, who can be effective around the rim as well as utilizing his mid-range jumper. Gordon's ability to attack the basket and facilitate when the defense closes on him will also give Davis more opportunities to score.
Moving Davis to center alleviates the need for the team to upgrade at the 5-spot. It also allows them to get better use out of Anderson besides being a well-paid sixth man.
With a little extra weight, Davis could fill two holes for the price of one.
Center: Sign Nikola Pekovic
If the Pelicans don't view Anthony Davis as their center of the future, they will need to find a long-term answer to man the middle.
Robin Lopez is an adequate starter, but he lacks ideal speed to pull off the pick-and-roll. He also wasn't very effective on the glass last season (averaged just 5.6 boards a game).
The team could address this area in two ways. They could hope Maryland center Alex Len is there at No. 6 and have Lopez mentor him over the next two seasons while the veteran has team options at just over $5 million annually.
They could also make a run at bruising Minnesota Timberwolves big man Nikola Pekovic. At 6'11" and 290 pounds, Pekovic is a monster in the paint and would allow Davis to stay at power forward. The big man is coming off a career year, averaging 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds a game for the Timberwolves.
He's also in the prime of his career at just 27 years old.
Pekovic is a restricted free agent, which means Minnesota can match any offer. However, the team already has $47 million committed for next season. They also have to eventually sign point guard Ricky Rubio to a long-term contract.
The Pelicans have the money to make a big offer to Pekovic. By attempting to keep him, Minnesota could hurt its cap flexibility down the road. New Orleans could also try to entice Minnesota into letting its starting center go by offering Lopez's more manageable contract in return.
Big men like Pekovic are few and far between. In a league with few elite centers and now becoming dominated by small ball, the Pelicans could do well to snatch up the last of a dying breed.
The starting center position isn't a huge need, but the chance to grab someone like Pekovic might be too good to pass up.
Bench: Re-Sign Brian Roberts and Darius Miller, Add Corey Brewer
The Pelicans' second unit has some solid pieces. Once he recovers fully from shoulder surgery, Jason Smith will man the backup center role. Ryan Anderson, if not inserted into the starting lineup, is one of the game's best reserves (finished fifth in Sixth Man of the Year voting).
Austin Rivers, coming off a disappointing rookie season, can only get better in his second season. At the very least, he's a decent defender who can play either guard position.
The rest of the bench requires some filling out. First and foremost, the team should retain some of their own by bringing back small forward Darius Miller and point guard Brian Roberts.
Miller, last year's second-round pick out of Kentucky, didn't play much during the final month of last season. However, he had his moments in late March, including a 16-point performance against Denver on March 25.
With a $788,000 team option for next season, he's worth developing as a potential role player.
As for Roberts, he scored at least 13 points in his final three games, including dropping 20 points on the Kings on April 10. Like Miller, Roberts also had a big day against Denver on March 25, scoring 13 points and dishing 18 assists.
The Dayton product also has a team option for $788,000 next season. Depending on what the team does in the draft, it might be worthwhile to keep Roberts around one more year.
The other move New Orleans should make to solidify the bench would be to add Denver guard/forward Corey Brewer. The former NCAA champion would be a great addition as a solid defender and occasional scorer on the second unit.
Brewer has finished in the top 10 in steal percentage the past three seasons and averaged 12.1 points per game for the Nuggets last season. He could be in the mix to fill the team's big hole at small forward or pair up with Rivers to give the team a solid defensive tandem off of the bench.
How the team addresses their second unit will depend on the additions they make to the starting rotation. For example, by adding a point guard like Trey Burke or Brandon Jennings, starter Greivis Vasquez could be become a backup or trade bait.
It will be an interesting summer for New Orleans, nonetheless. With a high lottery pick and cap space, the possibilities of improving this roster are endless.