Offseason In Review: New Orleans Pelicans

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees and more will be covered as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.




  • Acquired $630K from the Clippers in exchange for the rights to Branden Dawson, the No. 56 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Waiver Claims

  • Ish SmithClaimed from the Wizards. One year, $1.101MM remaining. Contract is non-guaranteed.

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

  • None

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

The Pelicans roster was a jumble to start the season, though it’s difficult to pin blame on executive VP of basketball operations Mickey Loomis or GM Dell Demps. Injuries either knocked out or limited six Pelicans during the preseason, not including offseason signee Kendrick Perkins, who recently went down with a right pectoral injury that’s expected to cost him three months. The other injured Pelicans should be back by then, if they’re not already, but the spate of injuries nonetheless altered the composition of the team and has seemingly had much to do with a disappointing 1-7 start.

This was to be the season that New Orleans solidified itself as a postseason certainty for the present and years into the future. No longer were the Pelicans to sneak into the playoffs on the final night of the regular season, as they did this past spring. The continued improvement of Anthony Davis and the offensive bona fides of new coach Alvin Gentry were supposed to lift the team into the Western Conference elite, and though it’s early, it takes only a few losses to exceed the thin margin for error in the West. Still, the team is in a better spot than it was at the end of last season thanks largely to a move that eases the consequences of any shortcomings this year.

Davis is firmly entrenched as a Pelican in the wake of his new five-year extension, and the swiftness with which he agreed to sign it, in the first hour of his extension-eligibility window, speaks to his satisfaction with the direction of the franchise. Of course, the extension was the sensible financial play for the Wasserman Media Group client, since it’s a five-year max deal. Still, if Davis yearned to play elsewhere, the second jump in the salary cap, from a projected $89MM in 2016/17 to a $108MM projection for 2017/18, would have given Davis a chance to offset a significant portion of the financial sacrifice he’d undertake if he signed his qualifying offer next summer. Davis could also have pursued that strategy to stay in New Orleans but only on a series of two-year contracts with player options, a la LeBron James with the Cavs, a leverage play that Davis’ vast talent would probably have granted him if he wanted it.

Instead, he’s tied up for the long haul, and so too is Gentry, though the coach is just on a four-year deal with a team option on the final season. Gentry nonetheless seems well-positioned, given his role in Golden State’s 67-win championship team last season and the possibilities that abound with Davis and the team’s other offensive talents. The Pelicans reportedly interviewed Jeff Van Gundy, and Tom Thibodeau was frequently mentioned in connection to the job, though Demps was apparently in no mood to knock heads with such a hard-charging personality as the ex-Bulls coach. The Pelicans were instead reportedly looking for an exciting, up-tempo approach, and even before his tenure with the Warriors was over, Gentry got the New Orleans job.

The Pelicans clearly felt as though the switch from ousted former coach Monty Williams to Gentry, along with continued improvement from Davis, was the jolt the team needed to take the next step, since New Orleans made retaining the bulk of its roster a priority over the summer. The team’s only trade involved the divestment of second-round pick Branden Dawson in exchange for cash, and the Pelicans re-signed five out of their seven free agents. Chief among them was Omer Asik, whose presence allows Davis to play power forward. Asik has sharp limitations offensively, and while he has a strong reputation as a stout defender, he ranked only 38th among centers in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus metric. He’s nonetheless on a deal that’s fairly cheap for a starting-caliber center, with an average of little more than $10MM per season, only about $2MM more per year than top-flight backup Kosta Koufos will make on his deal with the Kings.

New Orleans also invested in Asik’s backup, Alexis Ajinca, further underscoring their commitment to using Davis at the four. A salary of about $5MM a year to a player who saw just 14.1 minutes per game last season, and only 10 minutes total in the playoffs, is a steep price. His playing time has declined in both of his full seasons in New Orleans since the Pelicans signed him in the middle of the 2012/13 season and gave him his first NBA action in nearly three years.

The Pelicans wound up with a relative bargain to back up at another position, as point guard Norris Cole signed his qualifying offer after lingering in restricted free agency until September. It wasn’t entirely surprising to see the Rich Paul client stay on the market so long, nor was it a shock that he took the qualifying offer, a tool that will allow him to reach to unrestricted free agency in 2016 and the rising salary cap that comes with it. The Sixers, Knicks and Lakers were reportedly interested suitors, but it appears no long-term proposals came about either from them or from the Pelicans that Cole deemed strong enough to dissuade him from going the short-term route. Comments from Gentry and Davis and the team’s lengthy deals with Asik, Ajinca and Dante Cunningham suggest the Pelicans would have preferred to sign him to a longer contract, though, as John Reid of The Times Picayune wrote, the team was only willing to go so far to re-sign him.

Cole’s decision to take the one-year qualifying offer may turn out to help the Pelicans more than they would have figured, as waiver claim Ish Smith has stepped in more than admirably while Cole is out with a high left ankle sprain. Smith is fourth in the league in assists per game so far, with 8.4, a continuance of his strong late-season performance with the Sixers last year. It’s early, and Smith is also on a one-year deal, but the Pelicans may well have picked a gem out of the dust they kicked up amid their many preseason moves.

Their fellow Western Conference heavies in Memphis have already swung a trade this season and appear to have quickly grown concerned about their poor start, but the Pelicans can afford to be patient. They have a 22-year-old superstar and a new coach with championship credentials. It probably won’t all come together for the Pelicans this year, but that’s OK after an offseason in which they bought some time.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this post. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of it.

What do you think of the offseason the Pelicans had? Leave a comment to tell us.

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