The New Orleans Pelicans currently have 14 players on the roster. Of those 14, just six are under contract next season. Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Quincy Pondexter all are on guaranteed contracts for the 2015-16 season. Eric Gordon has a player option for the 2015-16 season. Nearly everyone expects he will exercise that option.
This means, of course, there are a number of free agents in the Pelican locker room. Included in that group are (recent) regular rotation players Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, Norris Cole, and Dante Cunningham. In addition to those four 3-point sniper Luke Babbit, clutch free throw aficionado Jimmer Fredette, and human victory cigar Jeff Withey will also be free agents. We have yet to know if Elliot Williams will be signed through the remainder of this season. If he is extended a non-10-day contract, it would not be a surprise if a second year is attached.
Below is an outline of each player with information on their cap hold (how much they count against the salary cap until they are signed or renounced), the maximum the Pelicans can offer in the first year, and an estimate on how much they will ultimately cost to re-sign if possible.
Cap Hold: $12,561,969 - Max Contract: $15,800,000 (est) - Predicted Cost: 4 years, $42 Million
Asik has become a lightening rod among Pelican fans this season. A proclivity for negative highlights with a big contract tends to do that. Asik does a myriad of little things well, but these things do not show up in the box score. Needless to say the Pelican coaching staff and front office, along with everyone else in the league, tracks these things. Boxing out, challenging/changing shots, and setting good screens are valued and they are quantifiable.
Asik sets the hard screen, chest to chest with Deng. Next pic, Gordon has acres of space. Buries it. pic.twitter.com/lMKL35G1Dc— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) February 28, 2015
Plays like that show up in the film.
Cap Hold: $947,276 - Max Contract: $5,632,000 - Predicted Cost: 3 years, $12 Million
Ajinca is an interesting salary cap case. As a minimum contract player his cap hold is for just the two year minimum. However, since the Pelicans have had him under contract for two seasons they also maintain Early Bird Rights. This allows the Pelicans to sign him for up to 104.5% of the average NBA salary on a contract that must be at minimum two seasons long. Luke Babbitt also falls under this classification.
Importantly, this means the Pelicans can offer more than the Mid-Level Exception. The only teams who can outbid the Pelicans are teams with cap space. I do not think Ajinca's value will be that high, however. A three year, $12 Million contract should be enough to lock down the big Frenchman.
Cap Hold: $947,276 - Max Contract: $5,464,000 - Predicted Cost: 2 years, $4.4 Million
Since Cunningham was signed this season the Pelicans do not have any real tricks up their sleeves to retain him. The most Dell Demps can offer, $5.464M, is the Mid-Level Exception. The hope here is that the Bi-Annual Exception, two years for roughly $4.4 Million, is enough to keep Cunningham in a Pelican uniform.
Restricted Free Agents
Qualifying Offer: $4,433,683 - Max Contract: $15,800,000 (est) - Predicted Cost: 3 years, $9 Million
For both Cole and Withey extending the necessary qualifying offer before July 1st will make either a restricted free agent. This provides the Pelicans with the ability to match any signed offer sheet. New Orleans has experience with this in the case of Eric Gordon, who signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns, one that was then matched by the then-Hornets.
The sample size on Cole in New Orleans is extremely small. He has likely played more minutes than would be expected due to Jrue Holiday's lingering leg injury. Cole is probably going to be valued in or around the Room Level Exception, slightly below his qualifying offer. Signing Cole at that amount (starting at $2.814M with 7.5% raises) puts a three year offer at just over $9 Million in total value.
Qualifying Offer: $1,147,276 - Max Contract: $15,800,000 (est) - Predicted Cost: 1 year, Minimum
Jeff Withey has not shown a lot in the NBA. A big part of why is the four big men in front of him in the rotation. He also turns 25 years old on Saturday and was generally unimpressive while showcased in the Summer League last July. It is hard to teach height though. I doubt the Pelicans tender the qualifying offer but Withey could be brought back at the minimum after the frenzy of free agency dies down.
Cap Hold: $947,276 - Max Contract: $5,632,000 - Predicted Cost: 2 years, $4.4 Million
See Alexis Ajinca above for more information on Early Bird Rights.
Babbitt's future cost is one of the most difficult to estimate. The NBA values shooting much more than it did even two or three years ago. Babbitt's 44.4% behind the arc in New Orleans, including a scorching 50.5% this season, is sure to turn heads. His limitations, both finishing within the arc and defensively, are also going to show when teams dive into the tape.
A contract similar to Cunningham's seems likely. Babbitt is young with an elite NBA skill and more athleticism than most realize. When choosing between Babbitt and Cunningham I expect the Pelican front office will pick Cunningham and let Babbitt walk.
Cap Hold: $947,276 - Max Contract: $5,464,000 - Predicted Cost: 1 year, Minimum
I had hoped for Jimmer to be another successful reclamation projection here in New Orleans. That simply has not been the case. I predict he might get another minimum contract in the NBA. It seems far more likely he will end up in the Euro League.