Pelicans options to snatch talent from Western Conference rivals
The New Orleans Pelicans’ best options for snatching talent from their Western Conference rivals come from other playoff teams. The Pelicans are $29 million over the salary cap, but have wiggle room below the luxury tax floor. In fact, only six teams have cap space heading into the offseason: the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The market will be removed as the salary cap of almost all teams is engaged. It’s a good market for New Orleans. The 2022 NBA free agent class consists of a lot of role players and a lack of top talent. Only a few lottery teams with cap space will step up for a playoff run. Expect teams with additional salary space to seek additional asset projects to absorb contracts.
The Pelicans have a surplus of draft picks and room to strike a deal. The Pelicans can operate on the sidelines in the trade market and still make a few additions to the roster. New Orleans has the roster mostly set with a clear pecking order in rotations ahead of the NBA Draft. They just need to find the right addition to the locker room.
What better teams to raid talent than other conference playoff rivals reshuffling the cards?
Devonte’ Graham ($11.5M), Garrett Temple ($5.15M), Kira Lewis Jr. ($4M) and Jaxson Hayes ($6.8M) can be grouped with a Larry Nance Jr. ( $9.67M) sign-and-trade to create enough space to add another rookie-caliber player to come off the bench. The Pelicans also have a $6.3 million trade exception to bring one more player under the luxury tax. Will they strike a deal with a Western Conference rival looking to save money, or perhaps appease an aging star?
Target the talents of Western rivals
Teams that pick the lottery don’t have a lot of playoff talent, by definition. Christian Wood (Houston), Harrison Barnes (Sacramento), Ty Jerome (Oklahoma City)and Kendrick Nunn (LA Lakers) are at best second-tier talent in the market. Getting Robert Covington only did a lot to move the needle for the LA Clippers in their brief playoff run.
On the other end of the spectrum are the championship contenders the Pelicans are trying to hunt. The Golden State Warriors have owners willing to pay a championship-level luxury levy. They’re back in the NBA Finals and they’re unlikely to break their core. The Phoenix Suns could lose DeAndre Ayton and JaVale McGee yet.
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Phoenix would ask for Jonas Valanciunas ($14.7 million) as part of a deal with Ayton, but targeting McGee would provide better value. Ayton was knocked out of the floor in the second round and will want to be paid a near maximum contract. McGee knows his role well and would fit any mid-level exception threshold.
The San Antonio Spurs are brimming with young talent and have the space to get Popovich a roster worthy of his Hall of Fame resume. They could offer Zack LaVine a max contract to shake things up. Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, Joshua Primo, Lonnie Walker IV, and Keldon Johnson will be valued on the commercial market. Any deal with Spurs will require sensible business.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have $23 million of space under the luxury tax to add talent to the roster. They are expected to fight for the playoff spots next season. The Pelicans hope to be well above that line. Going up on the price Malik Beasley Where Josh Okgie covers the due diligence part of the job but does little to improve Willie Green’s rotations.
A trade for Damian Lillard is unlikely to follow the acquisition of CJ McCollum. However, Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic might be out of Portland judging by their recent social media activity. Nurkic has an injury history, but he anchored Portland’s Western Conference Finals. The Pelicans know Hart well and could offer him a different and more appropriate role than the one he filled before he was traded.
The Denver Nuggets have the reigning NBA MVP and a core of young veterans. Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Bones Hyland, Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Zeke Nnaji, and Michael Porter Jr. is a solid base that is no different from the configuration of pelicans. The Nuggets are assembling a new front office. Will they see a competitor in the making? Will Jokic sign a contract extension? Denver has some decisions to make, and their new direction could see the Pelicans win roster gold.
Dallas Mavericks could be forced into a sign-and-trade deal for an unrestricted free agent Jalen Brunson. Dallas beat the Suns because Brunson is over his contract and he will be looking to lead a team instead of working around Luka Doncic. Brunson would share the ball with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram but he would allow CJ McCollum to operate in his natural combo guard position. A chance to chase down a ring might attract Brunson more than a spotlight on a lottery team.
The Utah Jazz are $11 million over the luxury tax line and have yet to figure out the Rudy Gobert-Donovan Mitchell relationship. It could mean parting with Bojan Bogdanovic Where Jordan Clarkson. Pelicans apparently have little use for Mike Conley Where Rudy Gay despite their previous accomplishments. Going for Mitchell would be the winning move now of the NBA offseason.
Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said he expects a calm and quiet offseason. The market is set up to make its prediction a smart bet, but all it takes is one move to change the franchise and landscape of NBA competitors.