Report Card Grades for New Orleans Pelicans' 2014 Offseason So Far
The New Orleans Pelicans continue to drift toward the middle of the pack.
When you reside on the bottom, that sort of movement can be considered a positive, but when you're losing roster flexibility in the process, that's not always the best trend.
The Pelicans haven't made the worst moves this offseason, but those from the previous summers have set up the team for potential struggles down the line.
The Jrue Holiday deal lost the Pelicans possible youth and flexibility when they gave away Nerlens Noel along with their 2014 first-rounder. The Tyreke Evans contract (four years, $44 million) cost them cap space and the hopes of making future moves. Plus, the Pels had to give away valuable assets like Robin Lopez and Greivis Vazquez to make that sign-and-trade happen.
Now, the Pels are over the cap and pretty much locked into today's roster.
When you have Anthony Davis, your future is always going to look bright. After all, is there a greater inevitability in basketball than Davis becoming one of the NBA's top five players (and probably better than that)?
Pairing him with seven-footer Omer Asik, meanwhile, gives Davis a fellow rim protector, someone who could play defense next to him for the prolonged future—as long as the Pelicans are willing to re-sign Asik when his contract runs out at the end of the year.
But still, the Pels are relatively committed to this roster, one that may not be good enough even to make the postseason in the Western Conference.
Trading for Omer Asik
Casspi is an irrelevant part of the trade, as he was there for money reasons more so than anything else. The Pelicans promptly released Casspi after receiving him.
So really, the Pels gave up a 2015 first-round pick that was top-three and bottom-10 protected for a dominant defensive center, one who could match perfectly with Davis.
Davis has the potential to play on the perimeter more in the future than he has in the past.
He likes facing up and going on dribble at the hoop. His jumper is getting better and better, and considering Asik is a pick-and-roll big man whose main skill is setting screens and darting to the rim, that's a nice complement on the offensive end.
Defensively is where those two guys can dominate, though.
Both Davis and Asik are top-tier rebounders at their positions and guys who can protect the rim at elite levels.
Who is scoring at the rim against the Pels now? Who is getting to the paint on a pick-and-roll?
New Orleans may struggle to score on the other end, could have some oft-encountered injury problems and there is that small issue of playing in the Western Conference. The Pels are far from an automatic playoff team, but it wouldn't be all too shocking if they made the leap from a bottom-10 defense to the top 15 next season.
If the Pelicans protected this pick a little more, they'd earn a higher grade for the deal. Still, putting together a nice defensive core is a start.
Signing Patric Young
It was an incredible experience seeing Young lumber only 10 feet away from me while sitting in media row at the Las Vegas Summer League.
You see Young on television. You see him in games from afar as he throws his muscles at every moving body near him. But you can't truly appreciate it until you're standing right next to him.
The man is not human. There's no chance. No one is built like that.
It's like the 6'9", 240-pound Young was created in some sort of laboratory that purely develops athletes. The guy he's guarding will usually have a head the size of his pecks. It's almost unfair.
With all that strength and athleticism, it's somewhat of a wonder why Young didn't get drafted. He didn't have to be a first-round pick, but considering his college production at Florida (16.8 points, 9.5 rebounds per 40 minutes as a senior while leading a national title favorite to the Final Four), you'd think someone would've called his name in Round 2.
Young isn't the best rebounder, given his size. A 14.0 percent rebound rate in college isn't the most encouraging stat. But along with Asik and Davis, Young gives the Pels one more defensive-minded big man to help guard larger bodies.
Trading for Russ Smith on Draft Night
Smith may have been a score-first guy at Louisville, but at least at summer league, that attribute started to change.
Russ became an top-notch distributor, actually to the point where ESPN's Kevin Pelton named him best playmaker in Vegas:
'Russdiculous' has become a pass-first show in Vegas, sometimes to the point where Smith has been too unselfish looking for teammates. Nobody can stay in front of Smith on the perimeter, allowing him to dish out a league-best 7.7 assists per game. Only one other player (Ray McCallum of the Sacramento Kings) is averaging even five assists.
That's quite the change for Smith, whom the Pelicans hoped would turn into a pass-first guy at the next level. That may have seemed unrealistic when New Orleans traded Pierre Jackson for the rights to the 47th overall pick, but there may be more hope for that goal now.
Smith became progressively smarter in each year of his collegiate career. With that, his efficiency improved, hitting an all-time high true shooting of 57.6 percent as a senior. Still though, Russ was shooting.
He never posted a usage rate under 30 percent in his final three years as a Cardinal. He was a mini point guard, who would shoot out of a cannon to score.
But Smith's ability to get to the line is encouraging (8.0 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes during his college career), and if he can become a playmaker for others on top of that, he could find success in the league.
Letting Jason Smith and Anthony Morrow Walk
With the Pels bringing in the salary of Asik, who is owed $15 million but whose cap figure is just $8.4 million, New Orleans cleared some money other places.
To do that, the Pelicans renounced their free-agent exception rights to both Jason Smith and Anthony Morrow, and let the two free agents flee Louisiana.
Both of those guys could have helped a New Orleans team that could struggle to score in a loaded Western Conference. Morrow is a dead-on shooter, and Smith is a physical, defensive big who can hit jumpers from mid-range. But coming off a major knee injury, it didn't seem like the Pelicans wanted to bring him—or Morrow, for that matter—back.
Both those guys ended up signing identical per-year deals on the open market.
With those departures, the Pels lose some depth on the bench.
Asik is a brilliant complement to Davis, but that shouldn't be too hard. Who wouldn't be a perfect sidekick to the NBA's best young player?
Now, the Pelicans are comfortably over the cap. They lose roster flexibility and likely don't have a first-round pick for next season after giving it away for Asik.
Look at last year's standings. The West had arguably nine of the 10 best teams in the league. The Pels must do better than just Asik to make the jump from 34 wins to contender in that conference.
The worry is the Pelicans end up wasting Davis' early years, see a team flounder around him, and eventually wait around until he leaves New Orleans in his later 20s.
That's not the hope, though. No one wants to see another Kevin Love situation. But those sorts of things happen, and the Pels are potentially turning themselves into a prime example of that, locking a slightly better than 34-win roster into their future.
Hopefully for the greatness of Davis, they pull off a major improvement next season.
Overall grade: C+
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
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