After two absentee seasons, the New Orleans Pelicans are moving on from Quincy Pondexter.
The small forward was traded, along with an unprotected second-round draft pick, to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, sources confirmed to The Advocate. The Vertical was first to report the news.
Pondexter underwent three knee surgeries since his last on-court appearance, during the 2015 playoffs. The former first-round pick was unable to return to the floor despite a variety of timetables and recovery schedules, prompting the franchise to trade him for a second time. It’s unclear whether he’ll be available to start the season for Chicago.
League sources indicated the trade was made to shed salary, so the Pelicans could free salary-cap space in hopes of signing a small forward able to contribute when training camp opens. Starting small forward Solomon Hill suffered a torn hamstring two weeks ago, forcing him to have surgery and miss six to eight months.
To get cap relief, the Pelicans opted to trade Pondexter rather than employ the stretch provision on rarely-used center Omer Asik's contract; he's set to earn nearly $25 million over the next three seasons. Thursday was the last day the provision could be used for the 2017-18 season.
The provision would’ve allowed New Orleans to spread Asik’s salary-cap hit over seven years, only costing the Pelicans approximately $3.6 million against the cap instead of the $10.5 million they’ll pay Asik this season. But it would’ve left his contract on the books for a longer period of time.
Instead, New Orleans chose to give up a second-round pick in exchange for removing Pondexter’s $3.8 million salary from the books. Without Pondexter, the Pelicans’ available money under the luxury tax increases to $4.7 million. This opens a variety of signing options.
And those options are necessary, considering Darius Miller is the only healthy small forward on the roster. Miller, a former second-round pick, was waived in 2015 but re-signed with New Orleans this offseason after a pair of standout seasons in Germany.
Now, with the additional cap space, the Pelicans can add another piece.
On Wednesday, ESPN reported the Pelicans are attempting to bring back forward Dante Cunningham, who was also in talks with the Minnesota Timberwolves. At the time, New Orleans could only afford to pay Cunningham a veteran’s minimum contract.
The Pelicans also brought in veteran free agent forwards Josh Smith, Martell Webster and Chase Budinger for workouts this week, ESPN reported. None of them was employed by an NBA team last season.
“I think we have some players that can fill in, but we really need to go out and find another guy of that size with a little bit of versatility that can play some (power forward) or maybe even play some (shooting guard), depending on who we can get in those situations,” coach Alvin Gentry told the franchise’s in-house podcast, "The Black & Blue Report." “But, yeah, we’re going to miss Solomon at the start.”
Pondexter will not be among the candidates. The Pelicans added Pondexter in a 2014 midseason trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, three years after trading him to Memphis for Greivis Vasquez. Pondexter converted 44 percent of his 3-pointers in 2014-15 and stood out as a wing defender to help push New Orleans on a late surge, clinching a playoff spot on the final day of the season.
But doctors discovered a significant cartilage issue during knee surgery in May 2015, and since then Pondexter has undergone a variety of procedures and rehab treatments, none of which has allowed him to return to the court. Despite his lack of playing time, Pelicans players voted him “Teammate of the Year,” according to an NBA Players Association news release.