The 2014 draft lottery left the New Orleans Pelicans without a selection slot due to a 2013 transaction that sent Nerlens Noel and this year’s would-be position to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jrue Holiday.
In addition to the former Kentucky standout, general manager Dell Demps also included a top-five protected pick. The Pelicans wound up drawing at No. 10, thus relinquishing their spot and being shut out from choosing from this year’s crop of college and international players.
For a team that is not in the best financial situation and with few options for addressing roster needs, one has to wonder if last summer’s trade was really in the best interest of the team.
Evaluating the deal can go only so far. Part of the validation is dependent on Holiday’s performance, but he only played in 34 games this past season. Other criteria for substantiating the move revolve around the resources Demps has at his disposal for retooling with the necessary talent.
The draft is certainly out of the question, and the franchise does not have much room to operate in free agency, but it does have other means of tackling the personnel issues.
Although all hope is not lost, the biggest aftershocks of the 2013 deal have yet to be felt.
Before this exchange, the Pelicans’ backcourt consisted of an oft-injured, sometimes disgruntled Eric Gordon and an underwhelming Austin Rivers. Granted, Holiday’s incomplete 2013-14 stint doesn’t put him too high above Gordon, but history shows that he is more durable than fragile.
The former UCLA Bruin is a cornerstone point guard who can anchor this team’s offense for the foreseeable future. His skill set is dynamic enough to where he is just as good at creating for himself as he is at setting up his teammates.
On the contributing side of this give-and-take, the Pelicans first forfeited Noel, who had a phenomenal one-year collegiate campaign up until his ACL injury.
More than just a setback, this kept the youngster on the sideline for the entirety of what was supposed to be his first season. This delayed debut makes it hard to assess exactly what was let go in order to acquire Holiday.
As for the 2014 first-round pick, that talent has yet to even get the opportunity to prove his worth, so it seems like the Pelicans organization is ahead in the initial stages of this trade. Philadelphia has to wait on two athletes to develop in order to see how well it made out, while New Orleans already has a pretty good indication of what is to come.
Being a small-market team means that the Pelicans have a tough time adding talent. Major free agents tend to gravitate to teams that offer them maximum exposure.
Demps and Co. are also hindered by their smaller revenue stream. Teams like New Orleans almost always have to operate within cap limitations since paying luxury taxes could seriously hinder their solvency.
The draft serves as this club’s best option in addressing team deficiencies.
From a technical standpoint, the Pelicans have not added any rookies the past two seasons. Their acquisition of Pierre Jackson, the lesser-known prospect of the Holiday/Noel trade, did not develop into anything as he spent his first year as a professional basketball player splitting time between the NBA D-League and Turkey.
So now the Pelicans are looking to next season with a roster that has a lot of areas in which it can stand to improve and an unclear outlook on if any actual help is on the way.
The Bitter Truth
If the 34-48 record is the only point of reference, then it’s easy to be discouraged about the Pelicans; however, when considering that this team weathered injuries to numerous key contributors at different points throughout the 2013-14 campaign, things don’t look so bad.
If the health of Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis holds up next year, then this club could improve by leaps and bounds. In fact, this team seems like it is one key acquisition away from really turning it around.
That’s where the optimism ends.
Demps can’t add anyone via the draft. His free-agency priority will center more on retaining his own players rather than pursuing outsiders. If he wants to bring any new talent into the fold, his only option is working out a trade.
Anyone from the previously mentioned quartet would fetch a nice return after the July moratorium is lifted, but they are the core around which everything will be built. That means the best asset Demps has is Gordon.
Under normal circumstances, it would not be hard to move a double-digit scoring combo guard, but when his production does not merit the salary he is paid, the task becomes trying. Throw in the fact that Gordon has played in 115 of a possible 246 regular-season games in the last three years, and it goes from trying to outright Sisyphean.
This is the Pelicans' dilemma. Without a pick or the money to make any significant additions, they are left with only one viable option that is a long shot in itself.
They desperately need a hard-nosed center who can play solid interior defense and help Davis on the glass. It is highly unlikely they can acquire that kind of player for Gordon.
The former Hoosier is due $30 million over the next two seasons, via ShamSports.com. There are four centers who are due a comparable amount over that same stretch: Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Emeka Okafor and Roy Hibbert, via Basketball-Reference.com. An even swap of any of those guys for Gordon is not happening, and the young guard probably can’t fetch multiple role players in hopes that a serviceable prospect would surface.
New Orleans’ options are virtually nonexistent, and it’s all because of the deal that went down one summer ago.
Considering the constraints placed on the front office with the Holiday acquisition, it is clear now that the team painted itself into a corner. After one season, it would seem like this is one Demps would like to have back.
Moving Gordon for a player the team could use would easily produce short memories about the Holiday trade, but the remoteness of that possibility makes it senseless to ponder. Maybe something significant will happen a couple of years from now, but the immediate verdict indicates this move was not the right decision.