Offseason Outlook: New Orleans Pelicans

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

State Of The Franchise

The Pelicans were decimated by injuries this past season. Eric Gordon was sidelined for 37 games. Anthony Davis missed 21 games, while Tyreke Evans sat out 57. Jrue Holiday missed 17 and was limited in more than half of the contests he did play. The result was a 30-win campaign that exposed the team’s lack of depth.

Benny Sieu / USA TODAY Sports

Benny Sieu / USA TODAY Sports

The team was in that position due to the moves it made in previous offseasons. New Orleans doubled down on the center position last summer, handing out a four-year, $20MM deal to Alexis Ajinca and five-year, slightly less than $53MM deal to Omar Asik. Asik’s contract is one of the worst in the league, though the rising cap should help mitigate having it on the books. Even so, for a team that employs Davis and has plenty of other needs, spending so heavily on the center position was a foolish decision.

Ever since the Pelicans drafted Davis, they’ve been determined to speed up the timeline of putting together a winning team around their No.1 overall pick. They traded two first-round picks for Holiday and dealt another for Asik during Dell Demps’ time as GM. The franchise would have been in better position had it had kept those selections. Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton and Sam Dekker were the players selected with those picks. The Pelicans likely would not have made the playoffs last season with those youngsters, and there’s no guarantee that they would have picked all three of those players had they kept the selections. In fact, they likely would been in worse position in the standings over the past several years had they not made the trades, which would have led them to receiving better picks in each of the 2014 and 2015 drafts. Having three developing players on rookie contracts in place of Holiday and Asik would have improved their cap situation going forward as well as given them a chance of injecting themselves into trade talks for potentially available All-Stars such as Jimmy Butler or Jeff Teague.

As it stands, the Pelicans have a core with a limited ceiling. Davis may very well win the MVP award one day and carry his team deep into the playoffs. Beyond him, there arguably isn’t an All-Star caliber player on the roster. Thursday’s draft likely represents the team’s best shot at acquiring a long-term running mate for Davis.

Draft Outlook

  • First-round picks: 6th
  • Second-round picks: 39th, 4oth

Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray could be targets at No. 6. Either player would fit nicely next to Holiday in the backcourt, though Murray could potentially replace Holiday as the starting point guard down the road, as I outlined in his Prospect Profile. The draft is unpredictable after the No.2 pick, so both players could gone by the time New Orleans is on the clock. The team could also go with Jaylen Brown, and he would be a tremendous addition via the No.6 pick. It’s possible that Hield, Murray and Brown come off the board right before the Pelicans are on the clock, but it’s likely at least one of those players fall to them.

This is a deep draft in terms of the amount of prospects who are projected to become at least rotation-level players. The Pelicans may be able to pick up a couple role players with their two second-round picks, which would benefit the team greatly.

Free Agents

Gordon is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and he may have played his last game as a Pelican. In 2012, Gordon signed an offer sheet presented by the Suns and claimed his heart was in Phoenix. New Orleans matched anyway and Gordon became a subject of trade rumors for the ensuing four years. Gordon has since backed off those comments and acknowledged that he should have handled the situation differently. From a basketball standpoint, he hasn’t meshed well with Evans and Holiday. That, coupled with his inability to stay on the court, should have the franchise looking for a new shooting guard.

The Pelicans would like to keep Ryan Anderson, but his price tag may keep them from doing so. New Orleans isn’t in position to give Anderson max or near max contract, and if he receives one on the open market, which is a good possibility, he’ll likely be suiting up for a new team next season. Anderson will be eligible for the middle-tier max, which is projected to be approximately $25.4MM. The team simply can’t afford to bring Anderson back on that kind of contract.

Davis’ Extension

Davis signed a max extension last offseason that will go into effect this upcoming year. He had an opportunity this season to trigger the Fifth-Year 30% Max Criteria, which is also known as the Derrick Rose Rule. He wasn’t named to an All-NBA team this past season nor was he voted as a starter in the All-Star game. Davis also didn’t win the MVP award, so he failed to meet any of the criteria and as a result, he will make roughly 25% of the salary cap in the first year of his five-year deal rather than nearly 30%. While I’m sure the team wanted to reward its franchise player with as much salary as possible, it’s now in better position to improve the talent around him because of the cap space it saved.

Free Agent Targets

Adding a top-tier free agent, such as DeMar DeRozan or Mike Conley, probably isn’t going to happen. Nicolas Batum would be a great fit with this team, but he’ll have no shortage of suitors, which will probably lead him to receiving a deal near the max elsewhere. More likely, the team will have to look at the next tier of free agents in order to add talent.

Danny Ferry, whom the team hired as a special advisor earlier this month, was reportedly a big fan of Kent Bazemore during his time in Atlanta. Signing Bazemore is a gamble, as I discussed in the Grizzlies’ Offseason Outlook, but he could grow into the type of player who outperforms his next deal. If the Pelicans can snag the small forward at an annual salary of $12MM-14MM, they could still add a few other pieces via free agency.

Evan Fournier is another option who would fit in with the franchise both on the court and on the cap sheet. I speculate that the shooting guard will command a deal with annual salaries in that $12MM-14MM range. That’s a reasonable price given the league’s current climate, but he’s a restricted free agent, so the Magic could match any offer.

New Orleans should be looking to add a few pieces to its existing core provided it doesn’t trade away Evans or Holiday. Adding a potential starter, such as Bazemore or Fournier, in addition to a couple of role players would make for a successful offseason. Courtney LeeGerald Henderson and Mario Chalmers are among the players whom the Pelicans could look at when filling out their bench.

Final Take

Davis is progressing toward becoming one of the best players in the league, and if he reaches that pinnacle, it will overshadow some of the team’s deficiencies. Outside shooting and perimeter defense are areas that the team should address. This offseason needs to be about surrounding Davis with players who can help him elevate this team, but unless the Pelicans can pull off a deal that brings them a second perennial All-Star, the team can only go so far.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

  • No. 6 pick ($2,931,000)

Projected Salary Cap: $94,000,000


  1. Davis’ exact salary on his max contract won’t be determined until July. This figure represents an estimation.
  2. Babbitt’s full $1,227,286 salary would become guaranteed on July 12th.
  3. Dejean-Jones died in May, but his contract will remain on the Pelicans’ books until the team makes a roster move.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.


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