The New Orleans Pelicans made a big splash early in free agency, acquiring Tyreke Evans in a complicated, three-team sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers. The Pelicans sent Greivis Vasquez to Sacramento and Robin Lopez to Portland while the Blazers sent second-round pick Jeff Withey to New Orleans and a future second-round pick to Sacramento. Evans then agreed to a four-year, $44 million contract.
Whoa boy. There's a lot to digest here.
FOR THE PELICANS: I'm trying to figure out what just happened here.
The Pelicans, long thought to be a team that would take it slow, just dealt two high draft picks for Jrue Holiday and then spent its remaining cap space on Evans. Meanwhile, they still have Eric Gordon and don't appear ready to trade him because his value is very low right now. All three are ball-dominant scoring guards used to facilitating huge chunks of the offense. Their combined usage rate -- a metric that measures the percentage of possessions a player ends with a shot, drawn foul or turnover while he's on the floor -- is 78.3 so someone is going to have to shoot a lot less often for this to work.
The Pelicans would say that Evans is going to be their sixth man, a la Manu Ginobili, but that's a problematic comparison for a couple reasons. Having a dynamic scorer off the bench works better when contrasted with a low-usage, defense-first starter that doesn't necessarily need to play in crunch time. Thabo Sefolosha and Danny Green happily yielded minutes to James Harden and Manu Ginobili, for example. For Evans to play enough minutes to make a Harden/Manu-like impact, though, either he'll have to play a lot instead of Gordon or play alongside him. The latter risks making poor use of a highly-paid player and the former introduces the shot problem discussed above.
New Orleans also lost some useful pieces in the sign-and-trade. They're right to sell high on Vasquez, given that he's coming off an excellent season and is due a contract extension soon, but they'll miss Lopez after the big man put together an underrated season and has a very reasonable contract. Without Lopez, Anthony Davis may have to play center more often which isn't a great alternative against some of the league's bigger players. Lopez provided the Pelicans the flexibility to match up big (with Davis at power forward) or small (with Ryan Anderson at power forward and Davis in the middle) and now they're asking a lot of second-round pick Jeff Withey to duplicate that play.
And yet ... there's something kind of intriguing about this mix of players.
All three of these guards are still very young and have lots of room for growth. Evans, in particular, is starting to tap into some of the supplementary gifts he has and has become more than just a ball-dominant scorer. His perimeter jumper is improving, his off-ball game has taken major strides and his scoring efficiency went way up last year after going south for two years. People will scoff at the price of his new contract, but that's because they didn't pay much attention to the Kings last year. There's still a lot of room for Evans to grow, defensively in particular, especially now that he's escaped the disorganized Kings mess.
I'd also expect Holiday's usage to drop back down to its pre-2012 levels now that there's more talent around him and he's not playing for a coach that encourages long two-point jumpers. If that's the case, Holiday's passing instincts could look better and he'll also have more energy to ballhawk defensively like he did early in his career.
Finally, Dell Demps has left himself with a good amount of cap space and exceptions to fortify the rest of the roster, as At the Hive explains. Because Lopez was dealt away in the sign and trade, the Pelicans actually still have over $6 million in cap space along with the room exception for $2.6 million. Replacing Lopez using that money will be tricky, but finding a small forward and other bench pieces can certainly be done.
So ... maybe this is crazy enough to work. If Holiday scales back a bit and Evans continues his transformation into more of a role player, the Pelicans suddenly have three young, athletic guards alongside Davis so there's definitely a ton of upside here.
The very fact that we're phrasing this in terms of "crazy enough to work," though, is an indication that maybe it was unnecessary. I'm not sure this was the right time to take the risk Demps ended up taking.
FOR THE BLAZERS: Lopez is a nice get considering his salary (two years and about $11 million even after a trade kicker) and the price needed to acquire him. He has some injury issues, but he should keep LaMarcus Aldridge sufficiently happy while not clogging too much cap space in the event that Meyers Leonard comes along faster than expected. J.J. Hickson may have put up big offensive numbers last year, but he was a train-wreck defensively and tended to miss critical box-outs despite posting good rebounding stats. Lopez won't put up big numbers, but the team will be better off with him in the middle.
The only downside is this essentially closes Portland's cap space. After starting with eight figures of room, the Blazers will end up with Thomas Robinson and Lopez. That's somewhat underwhelming.
FOR THE KINGS: I think they should have matched the offer. Evans made great strides last season and Sacramento isn't exactly a free-agent destination that can find better young talent in free agency. If they could have pulled off an Andre Iguodala signing, the decision to pass on Evans would have been more defensible. Maybe there's a move like that coming down the pike, but until it happens, I'm skeptical that they made a good decision.
Vasquez is a pretty good player, but I'm not sure what Sacramento has in mind with him. He's not any better than incumbent Isaiah Thomas, though he is different. Vasquez is a better playmaker, but he's also more turnover-prone and just as brutal defensively -- though for different reasons. I suppose the Kings now have the flexibility of picking one or the other when both of their contracts are up after next season, but having a point guard duo tends to devalue both players. Neither can really play off the ball, either.
It's true that there's a lot that needs to play out before we fully scold new general manager Pete D'Alessandro because what he does with the money not paid to Evans will go a long way. The presence of rookie Ben McLemore, as well as the increasing suspicion that the organization needed to choose between Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, makes the blow of losing Evans a little easier to stomach.
But I still would have matched Evans. When you're in a market like Sacramento, you have to be very careful letting players like him go.