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Why the Pelicans traded another draft pick to win now

New Orleans sent its 2015 pick to the Rockets for Omer Asik. This makes sense if you understand the Pelicans' strategy and demands.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

The reported deal to send Omer Asik and cash to the Pelicans for a protected 2015 first-round pick is totally simple to understand from the Rockets' perspective. With an All-NBA center in Dwight Howard and sights on adding a third superstar in the offseason, Asik and his $8 million cap figure were expendable. In fact, Houston had tried to trade him from November 2013 (when the team realized the Howard-Asik unit would not function optimally) through the 2014 trade deadline. The asking price had been two firsts; Houston ended up with one, which is more than a fair price.

On the surface, the circumstances are a bit murkier for New Orleans. This will be the third consecutive first-round pick traded by the Pelicans: they sent the 2013 No. 6 pick (Nerlens Noel) and this season's No. 10 to Philadelphia in the Jrue Holiday deal. Now they won't have their own pick in 2015, depending on protections. (The protections appear complicated.) That's a steep price for Holiday and Asik, as helpful as both players are.

But the Pelicans' rebuild doesn't exist in a vacuum. The franchise needs to capitalize on the rekindled love affair between the fan base and the team, one sparked by Tom Benson, Anthony Davis and -- let's be honest -- Pierre. Southern Louisiana is on board with the Pelicans these days. Despite being the 10th-worst team in the NBA this season, New Orleans ranked No. 13 in home attendance percentage at 95 percent of capacity. That's up from 80 percent and 25th place in 2012-13.

The public paid for $50 million in upgrades to what is now the Smoothie King Center. The first phase was delivered this past season in time for New Orleans' second All-Star Weekend in six years. The second phase is underway right now. The upgrades were part of the deal Benson signed to keep the Pelicans in New Orleans long-term. That commitment plus the fortuitous 2012 selection of The Brow set up the current love affair between the city and team.

But that won't last forever, and everyone in the Pelicans' front office knows it. There's a mandate to win soon. That "soon" might, in fact, be "now." Hence the deal for Holiday and free agent signing of Tyreke Evans last summer and the Asik deal now. The 2015 pick doesn't do anything to help the Pelicans win in 2014. Asik will. The Pelicans' frontline is already scaring away penetrating point guards, and it's still June.

There's work to do still to get the Pelicans into the tough West playoff bracket. In particular, New Orleans needs more shooting help and a backup ballhandler, if Evans is going to start. The backcourt is unsettled, especially given Eric Gordon's injury woes. Ryan Anderson's status is a question mark; his shooting is vital, but his contract as a third big is a bit steep for this cap sheet and he's coming off a neck injury. There's work to be done.

But in the context of the team's immediate goals, the 2015 pick is irrelevant. If this was the most valuable, useful piece the Pelicans thought they could get for it at this point, then this is the right move. For them.

That's something we often lose sight of in NBA deals. Not all teams can be built the same way on an ideal timeframe. Sometimes, special circumstances must be considered.


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