Nearly eleven months ago the Pelicans were sadly in a very similar position. Jrue Holiday was ruled out for the rest of the season and Ryan Anderson was still waiting to potentially undergo surgery for his frightening neck injury. A rag tag bunch of misfits were cobbling together improbable wins with expected listless losing streaks. In the final 11 games Anthony Davis battled back spasms, playing in portions of just five games. Far removed from his zenith during the 2013-14 campaign, reached just weeks prior.
This summer projects to be a relatively unremarkable one for the New Orleans Pelicans. That is, unless there is significant turnover in the front office. General Manager Dell Demps is not under contract next season. There are three big sticking points which Demps or his successor will deal with this summer. Does Eric Gordon exercise his player option? Should the Pelicans retain center Omer Asik? Is now the time to strike big or wait until next summer?
Until renounced or signed with another team every free agent and exception counts against the Pelicans salary cap. The current list accounts for all 14 players currently on the roster as well as both exceptions (Mid Level Exception and Bi-Annual Exception) the Pelicans will have access to during free agency as things currently standing. The luxury tax is expected to be around $81 Million next season, I would be very surprised if the Pelicans exceeded it.
Eric Gordon's Player Option
He is almost certainly going to pick it up. Everyone in the league is attempting to set themselves up for the free agency bonanza in 2016. All Gordon has to do to ensure that is to also get paid $15.5 million next season. Gordon's recent resurgence could tempt him to secure a greater long term value this summer. It is not a stretch to think Gordon could receive a four year contract worth more than the $15.5 Million owed. However, Gordon is probably going to bet on himself. Another season of relatively good health while shooting 40%+ behind the arc will be valuable in the 2016 market.
Omer Asik Retained?
This is going to hing on a number of factors. First, is Dell Demps still the GM? If he is, I am certain Asik will be re-signed to a long term deal. If Demps has been replaced, the question becomes more tricky. If, as many New Orleans local coverage outlets have rumored, Joe Dumars is his replacement I think a sign and trade for Greg Monroe (while letting Asik walk) increases in likelihood.
Dumars drafted Monroe so there is already a relationship there. Monroe is from New Orleans. While Moose currently plays power forward in Detroit he did play center 100% of the time (according to Basketball Reference) in his first three seasons in the league. I took a look at while Monroe may be a better option in January and will revisit the numbers as the season winds down.
While there will be other big name centers potentially on the market (Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan headline the list) I do not see realistic scenarios where the Pelicans are in the mix. Even if they could clear the space to make a maximum offer (a stretch in itself) New Orleans has not been on the radar for either player.
Strike Big or Be Patient?
This is related to the center problem above. Dell Demps has yet to see his vision for this franchise take the court for any more than eight games in a row. The longest stretch the Pelicans have had with their top six players available in the past two seasons is just eight games, which is pretty ridiculous. If Demps is still the general manager I suspect the moves on tap this summer will be limited in nature.
However, a change in regime will likely include some big changes in who continues to suit up in New Orleans. Asik could be allowed to walk. Any combination of players not named Anthony Davis could be on the market at the correct price. I doubt a new GM will tear down in the vein of Philadelphia; the whole point of a tear down is to land a superstar like Anthony Davis. The new GM (and, in such a case, ideally a new head coach) will want to build around AD. With few long term contracts (only Holiday, Evans, and Pondexter will be signed for longer than one season) there are more potential moves than we might think.
Here is where I believe the Pelicans will stand after they take care of their own players they wish to retain. This assumes Dell Demps is still the GM.
Anthony Davis - Signs a five year maximum extension with the Pelicans (here estimated very roughly at $143.5 Million) with a player option in the fifth year.
Omer Asik - Signs a four year, $41 Million contract which decreases over time. Possibly low balling Asik here.
Norris Cole - Signs a two year "bet on yourself" contract with a player option in 2016.
Dante Cunningham - Signs for the Bi-Annual Exception with some portion of the second year unguaranteed. Any contract above the minimum for Cunningham must be an exception, the Pelicans do not have Bird Rights.
Luke Babbitt and Jeff Withey - Sign two year minimum contracts with some portion of the second year being unguaranteed.
Mid Level Exception - The full mid level remains available but I believe the Pelicans will not use the entire thing, just a relatively significant portion of it.
Alexis Ajinca is probably going to be too expensive this summer for the Pelicans to realistically retain without pushing into the luxury tax. I do not expect next year to be the year the Pelicans pay the tax.
I will dive into what I think Joe Dumars could attempt in a follow up post soon. Greg Monroe is going to be involved, along with a potential trade of Ryan Anderson (to make the salaries work). Let's hear your opinions. Who should the Pelicans try to keep of those who could leave this summer? Who should they let walk? Who are your free agent targets?
Let's here it in the comments!