The Low Key Genius of Pelicans GM Dell Demps


Dell Demps is a rare breed of general manager. In today’s league most teams are either contenders or tankers, they either go all in to win a championship or they purposefully deplete their roster so they can stockpile lottery picks.

Being average in today’s NBA generally means limited options, and leads to indefinite mediocrity.

Dell Demps inherited the Pelicans when they were at the bottom of the league and had just lost a superstar. He promptly drafted Anthony Davis with the 1st overall pick and put him in position to succeed.

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After Davis’ rookie season most GMs would have sat back and committed to another season in the lottery, but Demps had other plans.

He traded two picks for Jrue Holiday and signed Tyreke Evans to a long-term contract that summer. Demps committed to a future of what many believed was going to be perpetual mediocrity.

To the league’s surprise Davis quickly established himself as a future Hall-of-Famer and it became clear the Pelicans simply would not be able to tank with him on the roster.

Mar 20, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Hornets power forward Anthony Davis (23) rebounds over Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett (5) during the first quarter of a game at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Since then Dell has had to work with very limited cap space and a lack of future draft picks. His genius isn’t in the big name players he signs or the max contract he gives, but rather in the small timely moves he makes mid-season that jolt the team forward.

Demps’ first snipe happened last season when he signed Alexis Ajinca to a two-year deal at the league minimum. Ajinca had struck out of the league and was playing out his time in France.

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Today, Ajinca is averaging 17.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per 36 minutes and has a PER Rating of 20.99. Ajinca very well might be the best back-up center in the NBA and Demps locked him up for two years on the lowest contract possible.

This season, Demps also declined the Austin Rivers option at the start of the year. Rivers started the season hot and Demps was criticized for letting go of him so easily.

Austin Rivers has severely disappointed the league since then and proved he is nowhere near worth a contract extension.

Demps also signed Dante Cunningham to an un-guaranteed deal on December 4th for just over 800,000$. Since then Dante Cunningham has become a fan favorite for his intense hustle and work ethic.

He is a natural power forward but Demps signed him with the intention of playing him at the three and he has proved to be more than an acceptable stop-gap at our weakest position.

Jan 21, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) against the New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham (44) during a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Lakers 96-80. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Later in the season came Demps first trade. On January 12th the Pelicans announced the trade as part of the Grizzlies acquisition of Jeff Green. The details are as follows:

Austin Rivers was averaging 6.8 points and 2.5 assists with the Pelicans and was shooting 38% form the field and 28% from three. Rivers has a 10.36 player efficiency rating on the season and will likely find himself in the D-league next year.

The Celtics would have likely waved him but his father Doc Rivers, head coach of the Clippers, fought to give him another shot.

Demps turned Rivers into Quincy Pondexter AND a draft pick. Pondexter is averaging 10.7 points a game on 44% form the field and 38% from deep.

He has played fantastic perimeter defense for the team and has also spaced the floor much better for the Pelican’s guards then Cunningham had before.

Pondexter proved to be a perfect three and D small forward, and Demps got him and a pick for virtually nothing.

After Jrue Holiday went down with an injury the Pelicans were left with a vacancy at point guard. Tyreke Evans succeeded in the starting role but they desperately needed more depth.

Gal Mekel, Toney Douglas, and Nate Wolters were all given 10-day contracts but it was clear Dell needed to make another move.

Demps planned another snipe of a trade at the deadline when he acquired Norris Cole. The details are as follows:

John Salmons was averaging 2.0 points a game for the Pelicans, shooting 33% from the floor and only 30% from three. He was absolutely worthless for the team and Demps managed to trade him for a valuable back-up at our weakest position.

Cole is averaging 13.3 points and 4.8 assists per 36 minutes for the Pelicans and has played fantastic defense on opposing point guards. Once again Demps turning nothing into something valuable.

Feb 27, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Norris Cole (30) is fouled by Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) in the third period at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won 104-102. Mandatory Credit: Rusty Costanza-USA TODAY Sports

Though Anthony Davis is simply too good to tank, you can certainly question Dell’s haste to become a .500 team. His contracts have been controversial, and though they will be valuable assets after the 2016 cap increase, they limit our flexibility short-term.

What you can’t question is Demps ability to find diamonds in the rough and deepen the teams bench without spending a pick or wasting an asset.

To summarize this season, here are the players he has sniped, and here’s what it cost him.

In 2016 this guy will have 30 million dollars to play with, so buckle up. Maybe we’ll finally see a championship-caliber pro basketball team in New Orleans, for the first time in nearly 45 years (the old ABA New Orleans Buccaneers).

Wouldn’t THAT be something……..

Next: Anthony Davis and the Future of Basketball in New Orleans