Pelicans Rumors

Five Key Offseason Questions: New Orleans Pelicans

After the in-season acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins didn’t pay immediate dividends for the Pelicans down the stretch in 2016/17, head coach Alvin Gentry and GM Dell Demps weren’t a lock to stick with the team last summer. New Orleans retained both, however, and the club was rewarded for its patience with its best regular-season record since 2009 and its deepest playoff run since 2008.

With Anthony Davis having become a perennial MVP candidate and Jrue Holiday establishing himself as one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, the Pelicans have a pair of building blocks under contract for multiple years. Now, the team will have to figure out how to retain enough pieces around those two stars to remain in contention going forward, particularly with two major contributors – Cousins and Rajon Rondo – up for new deals.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. Will the Pelicans re-sign Cousins?

In 48 games before he tore his Achilles tendon, Cousins put up some truly incredible numbers, racking up 25.2 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.6 BPG, and 1.6 SPG. For good measure, he also led the team with 2.2 three-pointers per contest.

That production made Cousins an obvious candidate for a long-term, maximum-salary contract, but his ongoing recovery from Achilles surgery complicates matters significantly. While Achilles tears aren’t necessarily career-ending injuries, they’re often career-altering ailments, with players never quite looking the same as they did prior to the injury.

There’s no guarantee that will be the case with Cousins. It’s possible he’ll return to the court next season and look just as good as ever. However, that’s virtually impossible to predict, and teams willing to gamble on that sort of prognosis will have to pony up the max – or something close to it – months before Cousins is ready to return to action to find out if they’re right.

After giving up a slew of assets for Cousins just 16 months ago, the Pelicans probably can’t afford to just let him walk for nothing, especially since doing so wouldn’t get the team below the cap. That leaves two probable scenarios — either New Orleans brings back the ex-King, or the club negotiates a sign-and-trade deal to send him elsewhere.

Given the overlap between Davis’ and Cousins’ skill sets, the idea of signing-and-trading Cousins for a wing who might fit better alongside Davis and Holiday is intriguing. But sign-and-trades require two teams and the player to all be on the same page, and roadblocks can often get in the way of finalizing a deal. So that scenario might be a last resort for the Pelicans, whose preference will be to bring back Cousins on a shorter-term or less expensive deal that would mitigate the risk in case his Achilles continue to be an issue going forward. It remains to be seen whether the star center will be on board for that sort of contract or whether he’ll receive better offers.

2. Will the Pelicans re-sign Rondo?

While Rondo isn’t the sort of marquee free agent that Cousins is, the Pelicans won’t overlook him this offseason. Not every stop in Rondo’s NBA career has been a huge success, but teams that like him really like him, and that appeared to be the case in New Orleans, where he was credited for helping set the culture for a team that won 48 games and a playoff series.

Rondo is coming off a one-year, $3.3MM pact, and will be in line for a raise this summer. If the Pelicans bring back Cousins or sign-and-trade him for another highly-paid veteran, the club will have to be cautious about how much it offers Rondo.

New Orleans already has nearly $93MM in guaranteed money on its books for 2018/19, and re-signing Cousins could add another $25MM+ to that figure. If Rondo commands a salary in the $8-10MM range, the Pelicans would be into luxury-tax territory unless they can cut costs elsewhere.

That doesn’t mean that Rondo won’t return — it simply means that the franchise will have to think long and hard about where its priorities lie and how it wants to spends its money. I imagine the Pelicans will do all they can to make sure the veteran point guard is back on the roster next season.

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And-Ones: Brown, Motiejunas, Broekhoff, USA Basketball

Longtime NBA coach Larry Brown will sign his contract to become the head coach of the Euroleague’s Fiat Torino on Sunday, according to a Sportando report. Brown’s agent, Massimo Rizzo, said his client has already signed a letter of intent to coach the club but won’t ink the official contract until his press conference this weekend, the report adds. The 77-year-old will be taking his first head coaching position since resigning from Southern Methodist two years ago.

We have more international and domestic basketball news:

  • Forward Donatas Motiejunas will remain in China next season, Sportando relays. He re-signed with Shandong for approximately $3MM, the report adds. Motiejunas played 34 games with the Pelicans in 2016/17 after beginning his career with the Rockets, but long-terms concerns over the soundness of his back sidetracked his NBA career.
  • Australian swingman Ryan Broekhoff has visited several teams this week hoping to land an NBA contract, HoopsHype tweets. Broekhoff, who went undrafted out of Valparaiso in 2013, was scheduled to visit and work out for the Wizards, Timberwolves, Bucks and Nets, HoopsHype adds.
  • Reggie Hearn, Jonathan Holmes, Amile Jefferson, David Stockton and Xavier Munford are among the 14 players who will be on the training camp roster for the USA World Cup Qualifying Team, according a USA Basketball press release. Training camp begins on Wednesday and the final roster will be pared to 12 players.  In the FIBA World Cup Qualifying games, the U.S. will face Mexico on June 28th in Mexico City and Cuba on July 1st in Havana.
  • The Hornets and Raptors are interested in adding Sergio Scariolo, who is currently the head coach of the Spanish national team, to their staffs, according to another Sportando post.

Cousins Will Probably Stay West

  • DeMarcus Cousins will most likely stay put with the Pelicans but there are three other Western Conference teams where the big man would be a good fit, HoopsHype tweets. The Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs are the most likely landing spots for Cousins if he leaves New Orleans, HoopsHype adds.

Potential Destinations For Cousins

  • The Rockets will have a ton of decisions to make this summer, among them being veteran Trevor Ariza. He is set to hit free agency this summer and after several productive seasons in Houston, Frank Urbina of HoopsHype examines four potential destinations for Ariza. In addition to re-signing with Houston, Urbina views a reunion with the Knicks and joining the Thunder or Pelicans as possibilities.
  • Coming off a devastating torn Achilles, DeMarcus Cousins‘ monetary hopes in free agency this summer took a massive blow. He will have a hard time securing the max deal he was once expected to receive, but he should still be a popular target. In a separate story, Urbina writes that in addition to the incumbent Pelicans, the Lakers, Mavericks, and Spurs are possible destinations.

Four Teams Who Could Become Taxpayers By Re-Signing Key Free Agents

The Cavaliers, Warriors, and Thunder had the three most expensive rosters in the NBA in 2017/18, finishing the season well over the tax line. While those three clubs don’t currently project to be taxpayers again in 2018/19, that will change quickly if they’re able to re-sign their top free agents.

If LeBron James returns to Cleveland, Kevin Durant re-ups with the Dubs, and Paul George remains in Oklahoma City, all three clubs will blow past the luxury-tax threshold once again, barring separate cost-cutting moves.

For those teams, the possibility of going back into tax territory and continuing to run their repeater-tax clocks probably isn’t particularly appealing. But based on their high payrolls this past season, we know that ownership is willing to pay those penalties to contend, if necessary.

Heading into the 2018 offseason, there are several more clubs who could see their respective team salaries surpass the tax line if they re-sign certain free agents, and it remains to be seen just how comfortable some of those ownership groups are with the idea of becoming taxpayers.

Here are four teams whose team salaries are worth watching as they navigate free agency:

  1. Houston Rockets: With a little less than $78MM in guaranteed salaries on their books for 2018/19 at the moment, the Rockets appear to have some breathing room. However, lucrative new contracts for Clint Capela and Chris Paul would quickly change that equation. If we assume Paul gets a maximum-salary deal and Capela receives a starting salary in the range of $15-20MM, that would mean adding $50-55MM to Houston’s 2018/19 cap, which would put the team over the projected tax line with only eight players under contract. Ditching Ryan Anderson‘s contract would almost certainly be the club’s preferred method of avoiding a massive tax bill, but as we saw last offseason when the Rockets unsuccessfully shopped Anderson in trade talks, that won’t be easy.
  2. New Orleans Pelicans: With seven players on guaranteed contracts worth about $93MM, the Pelicans will get into some financial trouble if they re-sign DeMarcus Cousins to a pricey new contract. Even if we assume Cousins’ Achilles injury will prevent him from landing a max deal, he’s probably a good bet for a starting salary in the neighborhood of $20-25MM. Filling out the rest of the roster with minimum-salary contracts around Cousins and their other seven players would see New Orleans carry a team salary in the $122-127MM range — and that’s a conservative estimate which doesn’t include another important free agent, Rajon Rondo. Solomon Hill ($12.75MM) would be the most logical trade or release candidate if the Pels need to cut costs.
  3. Portland Trail Blazers: A solid but unspectacular season for Jusuf Nurkic should ensure that the Trail Blazers won’t have to pay him near-max money to keep him. Still, Portland is already carrying more than $110MM in guaranteed money for eight players, and Nurkic is probably worth an eight-figure salary. If the Blazers want to bring him back and avoid the tax, it’s possible we’ll see the team try to move one or more highly-paid players like Evan Turner ($17.87MM), Maurice Harkless ($10.84MM), or Meyers Leonard ($10.6MM).
  4. Denver Nuggets: While the Nuggets only have about $85.6MM in guaranteed 2018/19 money on their cap, a pair of player options for Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur figure to increase that total to about $105.9MM. Will Barton will also be due a raise, increasing team salary even further if he’s re-signed. But the real killer will be a potential extension for Nikola Jokic. Denver could probably avoid the tax by simply exercising Jokic’s cheap team option for 2018/19, but doing so would put him on track to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019 and wouldn’t sit well with the young center’s camp. Turning down the option, making him a restricted free agent, and locking him up to a mega-deal this offseason might be the Nuggets’ best move, but doing so would likely put the team over the tax line. Chandler ($12.8MM), Arthur ($7.46MM), Kenneth Faried ($13.76MM), and Mason Plumlee ($12.92MM) would become trade or release candidates in that scenario.

The Toronto Raptors deserve an honorable mention on this list, since re-signing Fred VanVleet would create some financial issues for them. However, even if they let VanVleet walk, the Raps will need to find a way to shed some salary in order to avoid becoming a taxpayer. Toronto already has more than $126MM in guaranteed contracts on its 2018/19 books without accounting for VanVleet.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pelicans, Alvin Gentry Agree To Extension

1:22pm: The Pelicans have issued a press release officially confirming that they’ve extended Gentry’s contract through the 2020/21 season.

“We are thrilled to have Alvin as our head coach,” Demps said in a statement. “He did a tremendous job last season. When we faced adversity, Alvin and his staff continually discovered ways to place the team in situations where we could be successful. I want to thank Mrs. [Gayle] Benson for her endless support and look forward to working with Alvin and his coaching staff as we strive to have sustained success.”

7:44am: The Pelicans have reached an agreement with Alvin Gentry that will keep the head coach locked up for multiple years, league sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. According to Wojnarowski, the two sides agreed to terms on a two-year extension, which will keep him under contract through the 2020/21 season.

Wojnarowski reports that Gentry will receive a raise on his new deal and will get a guaranteed contract for the 2019/20 campaign. His 2020/21 deal will be performance-based, Woj adds.

Gentry, a veteran head coach who took the reins in New Orleans in 2015, only won 64 games in his first two seasons with the club. However, the Pelicans took a major step forward in 2017/18, posting a 48-34 mark and knocking off the higher-seeded Trail Blazers in a first-round playoff sweep.

While Gentry’s overall record with the Pelicans remains a modest 112-134 (.455), his job looks far safer for the foreseeable future than it did a year ago, when there was speculation that the team could replace Gentry and/or GM Dell Demps. The Pelicans rewarded the organization’s patience with its best performance since the Chris Paul era.

The Pelicans’ strong season ensured that the franchise exercised its fourth-year option on Gentry for the 2018/19 season back in April. However, the new agreement will give him even more security, locking him up for the next three seasons.

New Orleans will look to take another step forward next season, but faces some roster-building challenges this offseason, with DeMarcus Cousins headed for free agency and no cap room available. Fortunately, franchise cornerstones Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday remain under team control for multiple years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On DeMarcus Cousins’ Free Agency

Once viewed as a lock for a long-term, maximum-salary contract, DeMarcus Cousins has seen his free agent value complicated by his recovery from an Achilles tear. Appearing on ESPN on Tuesday, Adrian Wojnarowski suggested that the Pelicans will likely look to re-sign Cousins on a shorter-term deal in order to evaluate how he looks following that Achilles injury (Twitter link via Sagar Trika).

Wojnarowski’s report echoes one we heard from his ESPN colleague Zach Lowe in April. At the time, Lowe wrote that New Orleans had internally discussed the possibility of offering Cousins a two- or three-year contract worth less than the max. While Lowe didn’t believe that sort of offer would go over well with Cousins’ camp, he noted that the club has a good amount of leverage, given the lack of teams around the NBA with significant cap room.

Although the Pelicans probably won’t offer Cousins a lucrative four- or five-year contract, they do want him back — Wojnarowski noted on Tuesday that as long as Anthony Davis is in New Orleans, he wants Cousins there with him (Twitter link via Trika).

Still, the Pelicans won’t be the only team in the mix. According to Wojnarowski (Twitter link via Trika), the Mavericks are another club to watch, though Dallas’ approach to draft night could impact the club’s interest level in Cousins. If the Mavs land a big man like Mohamed Bamba on June 21, it would reduce their need for a veteran center.

There may not be many other teams with substantial cap room who will make a run at Cousins, but Wojnarowski warns not to discount the possibility of a sign-and-trade deal involving the free-agent-to-be (Twitter link via Trika). Acquiring a reliable wing in lieu of re-signing Cousins might appeal to the Pelicans. One hypothetical scenario that has been discussed by multiple reporters would see Cousins head to Washington in a deal involving Otto Porter, though there would be a few roadblocks in the way of such a swap.

GM Dell Demps Has To Decide On Direction

The Pelicans may have put themselves in position to be competitive on their free agent market, but GM Dell Demps hasn’t indicated if that’s the strategy he plans to pursue, writes Scott Kushner for The Advocate. New Orleans earned the sixth seed and swept its way into the conference semifinals, giving the team a reputation that it didn’t have last year when P.J. Tucker passed on an offer and signed with the Rockets for $3MM less.

Demps will have to decide whether to chase free agents or devote his resources to re-signing DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo. Backup point guard Ian Clark will also be seeking a raise from the minimum salary he agreed to last summer. Kushner notes that when the Pelicans last made the playoffs, Demps opted to keep the core of the team together.

Mavericks Notes: Cousins, Free Agency, Pierre Jackson

The Mavericks’ interest in DeMarcus Cousins could affect their draft strategy, writes Peter Dawson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Cousins seemed like a lock to re-sign with the Pelicans before a ruptured Achilles in January sidelined him for the rest of the season. With his condition still uncertain, New Orleans may be reluctant to offer a full max contract, which could lead Cousins to look elsewhere.

Dallas may have as much as $35MM in cap room this summer, and owner Mark Cuban has said he plans to be aggressive on the free agent market. When Cousins was still in Sacramento, the Mavs called the Kings several times trying to work out a deal, and league sources say their interest remains strong.

If Dallas plans to make a play for Cousins or another big man, that will change the approach to the No. 5 pick, where Texas center Mohamed Bamba may be available. A report from Sean Deveney of The Sporting News indicated the Celtics are interested in Bamba and would like to deal for the Mavericks’ selection.

There’s more news today out of Dallas:

  • The Mavericks need to find a “new-age” center who can shoot from the outside and still be a dominant rebounder, notes Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. Sefko examines several free agent possibilities, including Cousins, Enes Kanter, Jusuf Nurkic, DeAndre Jordan and Clint Capela. He states that the Rockets are likely to match any offer that Capela receives, but their position could change if they need to create cap room to sign LeBron James.
  • Power forward is another position of need that could be solved through free agency, Sefko writes in a separate story. Julius Randle, a restricted free agent with the Lakers and a Dallas-area native, is an obvious choice, with Thaddeus Young, Montrezl Harrell, Derrick Favors and Ed Davis as other possibilities.
  • Pierre Jackson, who played eight games for the Mavericks in 2016/17, talked to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype about his experiences with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season and his desire to return to the NBA. “That’s my ultimate goal – to play at the highest level in basketball, play against the guys I grew up watching, and be able to stay at home [in the United States] to play in front of my family,” Jackson said. “Getting back to the NBA will be my goal until I can’t walk anymore.”

Cousins Willing To Sign One-Year Deal?

  • As part of his Monday Morning Tip mailbag, David Aldridge of TNT answers a fan’s question as to whether Pelicans’ free agent big man DeMarcus Cousins would be willing to sign a one-year deal with a team such as Dallas or Chicago in order to prove himself worthy of a maximum contract next summer.