Offseason Outlook: New Orleans Pelicans

June 17 at 3:21pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • None

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $54,088,513
  • Options: $1,145,685
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $3,114,375
  • Cap Holds: $17,456,125
  • Total: $75,804,698

The Pelicans probably have the league’s most promising player under the age of 25 in Anthony Davis, but in spite of his continued improvement, the future of the team doesn’t look quite as bright as it did at this time a year ago. New Orleans traded the No. 6 pick in last year’s draft and what turned out to be the No. 10 pick for Jrue Holiday and Pierre Jackson. The player taken at No. 6 last year, Nerlens Noel, was widely seen as the favorite to go No. 1 before concerns about his injured knee seemed to scare teams off. This year’s draft is full of highly touted prospects, and not the one in which most teams would easily give up a lottery pick. GM Dell Demps surely didn’t envision this year’s pick ending up in the lottery when he sent it to Philadelphia, but thanks to a rash of injuries and a crushingly competitive Western Conference, the Pelicans finished 15 games out of the playoffs this past season.

Noel and whomever the Sixers select at No. 10 could turn out to be busts, or simply less productive than the combination of Holiday and Jackson, but Demps lowered the team’s ceiling with a play for a veteran and a much less heralded prospect. Jackson outstripped expectations in the D-League, averaging 29.1 points per game, but the notion that his performance is a harbinger of NBA stardom is questionable at best. Jackson nonetheless set up a quandary for Demps and company, playing so well that he and agent Colin Bryant gained leverage not usually incumbent of someone picked 42nd overall. The Hornets can hold on to his NBA rights in perpetuity until they sign him, but Bryant and Jackson can command a relatively lucrative deal guaranteed over multiple seasons or a one-year contract that would allow him to quickly hit the open market. The Pelicans went so far as to give Bryant the OK to seek trades for Jackson in the middle of the season, but he was unable to find a deal suitable for all parties, and Jackson struck a deal shortly before the trade deadline to play in Turkey. Demps is making no promises that he’ll bring Jackson to New Orleans for next season, and so an intriguing asset from last year’s pivotal trade remains in limbo.

Holiday, like so many Pelicans in 2013/14, missed significant time because of injury this season, playing in just 34 games. He, Jason Smith and Ryan Anderson were all key Pelicans who missed more than half of the season, and only four players appeared in as many as 70 games for New Orleans. It would be tough to properly judge the team based on its lack of time together, and indeed Demps has said he’s reserving judgment until he can see the club at full health. Demps also said in that same April interview that he likes the team’s core, but it seems he’s at least doing his due diligence to see if an upgrade is available.

The Pelicans have reportedly asked the Pistons about sign-and-trade possibilities involving New Orleans native Greg Monroe. Most executives around the league believe the 24-year-old will eye his hometown in restricted free agency this summer, as Sean Deveney of The Sporting News wrote. Still, Monroe and agent David Falk will no doubt ask for much more than the Pelicans’ cap flexibility, which figures to clock in at around $8MM, can provide. A sign-and-trade would be about the only way the Pelicans could wind up with Monroe, and there will be plenty of others after the promising and already productive young big man. That includes Monroe’s current team, as Pistons executive/coach Stan Van Gundy has repeatedly praised Monroe while stopping short of talk about a max deal. It would probably take the max or a rather close facsimile for the Pelicans or anyone else to convince the Pistons not to match, and even though Monroe’s only eligible for a max roughly equivalent to 25% of the salary cap, he would be a questionable fit in a frontcourt that includes Davis.

Coach Monty Williams nonetheless seems to prefer a traditional lineup with two big men, at least to start the game, rather than a small-ball look with Davis and Anderson. Smith emerged as the team’s starting center, beating out offseason signee Greg Stiemsma, and he put up some of the best numbers of his career before he got hurt, including 9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in 26.8 minutes per game. Still, those figures plus a 12.4 PER that represented a steep decline from the previous two years don’t exactly add up to a long-term answer in the middle. The Pelicans have his Bird rights, and he’d make sense as a target the team might circle back to for a salary akin to mid-level money after taking care of more pressing concerns.

Al-Farouq Aminu might fit largely in the same category if the Pelicans had a suitable alternative. Aminu started most of the year for the team at small forward, though he averaged only 25.6 minutes per contest, barely more than half the game. New Orleans would no doubt like to go small when it can, with Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans sharing the floor, but that’s not always an option. Aminu was second on the team in defensive win shares this past season, according to Basketball-Reference, but he averaged fewer than one three-point attempt per game and made just 27.1%, severely crimping the Pelicans’ offensive spacing. It’s tough to envision New Orleans having much success with a pair of traditional big men and Aminu on the front line, furthering the argument for Anderson to start if Aminu returns.

A trade represents the Pelicans’ best chance for an upgrade at small forward, with either Gordon or Evans the most logical candidate to go. The team denied at least a pair of reports about their willingness to trade either of them, and trade rumors have dogged Gordon ever since he publicly discouraged the Pelicans’ from matching his offer sheet from the Suns in 2012. Both are on player-friendly contracts, making them difficult to move. The sharpshooting Anthony Morrow seemed a more likely trade candidate at the deadline, and while he’s still deciding what to do about his minimum-salary player option, it would be something of a surprise if he didn’t become a free agent this summer. The Pelicans have his Non-Bird rights should he opt out, but that gives the team the flexbility of giving him only 120% of his minimum-salary paychecks from this past season. That hardly seems enough to retain a 28-year-old who made 45.1% of his three-pointers in 2.6 attempts per game this season. meaning New Orleans would have to eat into its cap flexibility, or, if Demps decides to keep the team above the cap, its mid-level exception. The shooting-deficient Bobcats had interest at the deadline in Morrow, who’s a Charlotte native, so keeping him in New Orleans could be a tall order.

The Pelicans also face decisions regarding Brian Roberts, especially after New Orleans upped the value of his qualifying offer significantly when they gave him his 41st start of the year in the next-to-last game of the regular season. Meeting the starter criteria caused his qualifying offer to jump from $1,115,243 to $2,875,131, as I explained. It also means there’s a much greater disparity between the QO, which will be his cap hold if the Pelicans tender it, and the two-year veteran’s minimum salary that would be Roberts’ cap hold if the Pelicans decide against extending the QO. The Pelicans probably don’t envision Roberts starting half the season for them again, and while he’s proven a careful ball-handler and proficient backup, I’m not sure that New Orleans will want to keep him around at that salary, particularly given the presence of 2012 No. 10 overall pick Austin Rivers. Perhaps Demps and agent Andy Miller will negotiate early next month toward a long-term guaranteed deal that gives Roberts security at lower annual salaries that reduce Roberts’ cap figure.

The Pelicans enter the offseason without cap flexibility and without a pick in either round of the draft. Demps will have to be creative if he wants to significantly upgrade his team, but his public enthusiasm for seeing more of the team’s existing core suggests the Pelicans won’t be pulling off another major trade on draft night or at any other point this offseason. Demps and the Pelicans will no doubt jump on an opportunity to make a deal if one comes along, but it seems they’re in for a quiet summer in advance of a season that looms as a measuring stick for the team’s roster and the GM who put it together.

Cap footnotes

* — Morrow’s cap hold would be $915,243 if he opts out.
** — Babbitt receives a partial guarantee of $100,000 if he isn’t waived on or before July 22nd.
*** — Withey receives a partial guarantee of $100,000 if he isn’t waived on or before July 5th, and his salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before July 22nd.
**** — Roberts’ cap hold would be $915,243 if the Pelicans decline to tender a qualifying offer.
***** — Miller’s cap hold would be $915,243 if the Pelicans decline to tender a qualifying offer.
****** — Southerland’s cap hold would be $816,482 if the Pelicans decline to tender a qualifying offer.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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