Circumstances supersede even the best-laid plans.
That was the case when the New Orleans Pelicans traded away Quincy Pondexter an unprotected second-round pick to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday afternoon in exchange for some salary cap relief and the rights to 6-foot-10 center Ater Majok of the Lebanese league.
It’s unlikely Majok will reach the NBA level any time soon, but his rights were necessary to complete the deal.
Pondexter missed the past two seasons while recovering from three surgical procedures on his knee, but it was an injury to his teammate, Solomon Hill, which ultimately forced the Pelicans to move on.
When Hill underwent surgery to repair his torn left hamstring last week, it left the Pelicans’ without their starting small forward for six to eight months. And general manager Dell Demps simply couldn’t leave the position up to chance.
While several sources indicated the Pelicans were confident Pondexter could snap his 164-missed-game streak early this season, it was a risk they could no longer afford to take. Not only had Pondexter’s knee failed to recover from the previous operations, but after two years away from the floor, it was uncertain just how much his skill had deteriorated since 2015.
If Hill was logging 30-plus minutes as a starter, with backup Darius Miller filling in behind him, the Pelicans had the luxury of waiting to see if the playoff version of Pondexter re-emerged.
Instead, New Orleans urgently needs quality wing help and the trade provides the franchise flexibility to add a piece at a price beyond the veteran’s minimum.
When the Pelicans unloaded Pondexter off of their salary cap and roster, it freed up $3.8 million and a valuable roster spot. It allows New Orleans to spend $4.7 million before reaching the luxury tax threshold, opening up ample possibilities as the team scouts a limited remaining free agent pool at the position.
League sources confirmed Martell Webster, a 10-year veteran who hasn’t played since the 2014-15 season, will be invited to Pelicans camp. New Orleans has also targeted combo forward Dante Cunningham, who spent the past three seasons with the Pelicans but opted out of a $3 million player option this summer.
Other veterans currently floating in free agency limbo include former defensive stalwarts Tony Allen and Matt Barnes, as well as 3-point specialist Mike Dunleavy, Jr. (son of Tulane coach Mike Dunleavy).
It’s unclear exactly what direction Demps wants to go in, but sources indicate New Orleans is expected to bring in multiple players to compete for the spot. The Pelicans have two of 15 guaranteed roster spots available, and another three available for camp invitations.