New Orleans is the runaway victor of this weekend’s unexpected trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans for replaceable players, Buddy Hield and a first and second round draft pick.
The highway robbery was so thorough Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac admitted the trade wasn’t even the best offer they received... that week.
Trade Winners: Boogie Cousins, Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans, the city of New Orleans, anyone who has ever had a remote interest in supporting the Pelicans.
Trade Losers: The Sacramento Kings, their fans, current Pelicans Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Omer Asik.
The trio of former Houston Rockets lack an abundance of on-court similarities, but remain bound by their struggle to find a stable basketball home, consistent playing time and a defined role. The Rockets weren’t willing to offer it to them, and now the Pelicans are not willing to either.
The three darlings/outcasts have started 31 of the Pelicans’ 57 games between them. That statistic could be defined as a polite struggle for relevance.
Meanwhile, the addition of Cousins and Omri Casspi brings the Pelicans roster to a top-heavy total of nine power forwards and centers: Anthony Davis, Cousins, Casspi, Alexis Ajinca, Dante Cunningham, Jones, Motiejunas, Asik and Cheick Diallo.
Take a gander at the time each of the Pelicans big men has gotten this season before running down the challenges each former Rocket faces:
Jones is posting a career high 16.6 points per 36 minutes and a respectable 8.6 rebounds per 36. The former Wildcat is having a great season when he needs one most after betting on himself and signing a one-year contract for $1.5 million in search of a bigger deal from the biggest bidder. Yet, he’s still struggling for relevance.
Jones is certainly outperforming Motiejunas, Ajinca and Asik and earning his playing time, but he’s been unable to displace Dante Cunningham, who’s a favorite of coach Alvin Gentry.
The arrival of Cousins immediately throws Jones behind Cunningham on the bench, and the only reprieve Jones will have for playing time is to be traded, which the Pelicans are actively trying to do:
New Orleans now seeking trade partner for forward Terrence Jones, league sources tell ESPN. Mutual decision on behalf of team, Jones' camp.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) February 20, 2017
A trade presents a glaring conundrum for Jones. His $1.5 million expiring contract makes the power forward movable to any team in the league. But does that mean a contender or an NBA backwater? Because both pose serious problems.
On a contender, Jones would likely be denied an opportunity to put up the numbers he and his agent want as he continues his search for a starting NBA role in 2017-2018.
Jones had a spin in the spotlight as a young player on the Rockets. He averaged nearly 30 minutes during the two seasons from 2013 to 2015. Those seasons positioned him as a player on the rise, which was immediately tarnished by underwhelming, injury-riddled seasons.
If dealt to a contender, Jones won’t be in the same shoes as newly minted rich dudes like Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli or even Matthew Dellavedova. At his best on a contender, he’d be viewed as a solid seventh or eighth player, not a role player who could be a next level performer if given 10-to-15 more minutes each game.
If dealt to an NBA backwater, Jones is just going to be tossed into a tanking situation. With roughly 25 games left in the NBA season, the jostle for draft picks is on and Jones isn’t going to be put on a team to make any squad better at this point. He’d be given nothing more than a rough 25 games to try and show a middling team with cap space not just that he’s worth $10 million a season, but he’d make that team substantially better.
No matter which way way the Terrence Jones plinko ball falls from New Orleans, he’s forced to prove himself in a new setting with a very limited number of games to prove he’s worth a long-term deal.
The seven-foot Lithuanian is in serious danger of needing to sign another small, one-year contract. After the Houston contract debacle, which came through no substantive fault of his own, Motiejunas found himself in an already-crowded Pelicans front court with only 40 games to prove his back is solid after two seasons of frustrating injury and that he can be a stretch big in the NBA.
Motiejunas’ perceived goal is to find a deal as good or better than the four-year, $37 million offer sheet he signed with the Brooklyn Nets before things went farther south than they already were.
Gentry wanted Motiejunas to fill a role similar to Channing Frye, who he had during his time at the helm of the Steve Nash Suns. D-Mo has underwhelmed, posting just 4.8 points per game and shooting 28% from three.
Now, Donuts faces even more competition in the front court, and will likely only see the light of day if Jones and/or Ajinca get traded. The New Orleans front office and coaching staff seem so displeased with D-Mo that when Jones and Cunningham both dropped out of the lineup with injuries before the All-Star break, the team turned to Ajinca to start after giving the French center a straight month of DNP-CDs. Motiejunas came off the bench for 20 minutes three consecutive nights and topped out at 7 points in one of the contests.
The big man from Lithuania still has time in his career to rebound and land the deal the Rockets unfairly dangled, dodged and devalued. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen first-hand. But he’s on the periphery in New Orleans and his current play pushed him increasingly to the sideline before the potentially historic pairing of Davis and Cousins arrived.
And while we’re at it: Motiejunas has even had to compete with rookie Cheick Diallo, who has spent most of the season with the G-League Greensboro Swarm. In Diallo’s only two appearances with the Pelicans lasting more than 20 minutes, he scored 19 and 10 points.
To be clear, Asik isn’t a casualty of this trade. He’s a dude who’s playing a bad roundball game, whose terrible hands have astoundingly become worse than they once were, and who has a level of relevancy in 2017 on par with the upcoming New Found Glory album (Dear younger readers, I promise that band had huge relevance in the Houston suburbs when you were in elementary school).
Question: Name the odd man out from these three: Omer Asik, Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah.
Answer: Roy Hibbert. He didn’t get an absurd contract after becoming an empty seven-foot husk with an “Analytic Darling of the Year” plaque on the trophy case at his parents’ house.
Joakim Noah, Knicks: 4 years and $72 million. In year one.
Omer Asik, Pelicans: 4 years and $45 million (guaranteed portion). In year two.
Roy Hibbert, Hornets: 1 year and $5 million.
The totality of Asik’s deal is five years and $58 million. A pretty price to be paying for an uninjured center who has played 14 TOTAL MINUTES since Christmas.
If Motiejunas needs to climb a mountain to get what he wants, Asik is the guy with altitude sickness at base camp (this is also a verticality joke). He started for the team in much of November, but was commonly run off the court by smaller lineups and regularly logged less than 20 minutes a contest.
Much like Noah and Hibbert, Asik went from analytic darling praised for changing shots and lowering opposing field goal percentages to an unmovable dead contract. His play has been so bad the past two seasons it’s astounding that the same front office that signed Asik also pulled off one of the best trades of the decade.
Over the next five years, it’s up to Jones and Motiejunas to prove the Rockets wrong for the personnel decisions the team has made. As of today though, it’s all but certain that New Orleans isn’t the proper proving ground for either player. And it’s looking like Morey made the right decision to move on from both of them.