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Off-season roundtable: Keeping the Pelicans together

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Only seven Pelicans are under contract next season. Turnover is coming to some degree. We answer who should stick around the Crescent City and who needs to put up their homes for sale.

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Looking at the Pelican free agents this summer who would you seek to re-sign and who would you let walk? Why?

Oleh Kosel: Dell Demps should prioritize re-signing the following players: Omer Asik, Jeff Withey, Norris Cole and Dante Cunningham. Despite his offensive shortcomings, Asik checks off a lot of boxes the Pelicans desperately need from a starting center. Withey has shown a lot of flashes in his first two seasons and he'll replace Ajinca as the fourth big. Cole sitting at the podium with Anthony Davis after one of the playoff losses to Golden State said it all -- he's an accepted, trusted and important member of the roster. Cunningham is a versatile player who happily does a lot of the team's dirty work.

Luke Babbitt should only be retained if there is a decent chance Ryan Anderson is moved or the organization has some reason for concern his game won't return to pre-spinal injury levels. Otherwise, I'd like to see his roster spot go to a more dynamic forward like Gerald Green or KJ McDaniels.

Alexis Ajinca, Toney Douglas and Jimmer Fredette should be allowed to walk. Ajinca is going to be far too expensive to keep as a backup center when oftentimes Anthony Davis and Anderson are closing games. Douglas was merely Jrue Holiday insurance down the stretch and Fredette failed spectacularly in providing perimeter shooting.

David Fisher: Re-sign Omer Asik, Norris Cole, and Dante Cunningham. I expect Alexis Ajinca to be too expensive as a reserve center. Maybe a cheap deal can keep Jeff Withey around; the same with Luke Babbitt. Without locking up the salary cap too drastically in the near future Demps and company should look to retain a good deal of the roster to build the corporate knowledge that has been sorely lacking in the beginning stages of the rebuild.

Quentin Haynes: I’m re-signing Asik, Cunningham, Cole and Withey. In reverse, Withey isn’t anything special, but he’s cheap. I would probably sign him to, say, a three-year deal for cheap. I’m big on Cole but he played way too many minutes in the move to New Orleans last year. With Holiday back, I can see him being a nice guard on 10-15 minutes per game. Cunningham is really where I’m on the fence because most of his minutes will be soaked up by Anderson. I can see someone better plucking Cunningham, but I say bring him back. Finally, Asik should be back. Before the end of the playoffs, I wanted to replace him, but look at all the teams that need rim protectors, I rather keep Asik as our rim protector than let him go. Against GSW, he was bad, but he’d probably be more valuable against other teams.

Kevin Barrios: Here's my keep list:

Alexis Ajinca

Norris Cole

Dante Cunningham

Luke Babbitt

Omer Asik (but only on a contract in the $4-$7mil/year range)

I've always liked Alexis Ajinca, but his fouling made him pretty ineffective until late. I call him, "Zombie-Bite AD" because his offensive game is very similar to Anthony Davis' if AD was zombified version of himself. He has a very good face-up game, can get put-backs and has a legit mid-range jumper. He's long, but thin. He's a decent defender when not facing an athletic freak. He needs to improve as a rebounder and as a screen setter, but he can play the AD role off of the bench. Also, that neck tattoo, his bird legs and his lumbering run make him look like a bad guy from Lost and I love it.

Norris Cole has been a scrappy perimeter defender that has shown he's a better offensive player than we saw in Miami. You can do a lot worse than Cole as your 4th guard in the rotation. If it doesn't cost a lot to keep Cunningham in town I'd keep him here. He's a scrappy defender that provides toughness and energy off of the bench. He has a solid mid-range jumper, but I'd like to see him develop a stronger post-up game. Babbitt is a specialist that has an elite skill. He shot over 50% from 3pt range, which is just incredible. He's really been under appreciated and underutilized on this team. Even when he was in the starting role he was often left hanging wide open in the corner. We need to learn to better use his skillset. I also think that he's a better athlete than expected, he makes smart basketball decisions, is a good and willing passer and he makes a couple of key hustle plays every time he's in the game.

Omer is a tough one. I appreciate his defense and his rebounding, but I wonder how much his complete lack of an offensive game offsets all of his success on those ends. If he can be had on a mid-level deal I'd welcome him back, but I'm not paying a guy $10+ mill/year that the opposing defense can completely ignore. The Warriors barely guarded him. They let a free safety float around and try to deny passes into AD. As bad as his hands are, a defense can leave him wide open under the rim and there is a high probability that he will fumble the entry pass away or that you can recover in time to block his shot. I'd rather give up some defense for any kind of offensive threat.

Here's my walk list:

Jimmer Fredette

Toney Douglas

Jeff Withey (if Omer wants more than $7mil/year I'd keep Withey)

Jimmer is not an NBA player. Toney Douglas is a decent rotational guy, but I'd try to use that roster spot to land a post-up guy or a defensive wing. Jeff Withey deserves a run with someone, but if Omer Asik and Ajinca come back, we need to bolster other positions.

Isaac Constans: I'm just going to put this out front because he is the centerpiece of debate: I'm done with Asik. There you go. I think Asik would be worth a maximum of a $6 million dollar a year contract for the Pelicans, and I think he would get more from other teams on the market. Asik brings you consistency, rebounding, a big body, a good screen-setter, and a decent post presence. Wow, that's a lot of quality attributes... but all are defensive or rebounding skills. The thing is, Asik allows defenses to have one watch dog in the paint or a help man for Davis or Evans, at all times, because of his maladroitness (derived from French, meaning bad skill). Offensively, he puts a cap on how good the Pels can be, and the last thing you want for a growing team is a limit on possible production. Asik is that limit.

So then, who's the solution? Well first, the Pelican's need to resign Alexis Ajinca to another two or three year deal, with about a $4.5 million annual salary. Ajinca is not only a bargain compared to Asik, but a better fit with the Pelicans. He unclogs the floor offensively with his offensive adroitness (this is why I used a French word, not to be pretentious, but because Ajinca has the skill Asik doesn't), and is not a bad post defender, not one-on-one usually. Additionally, Ajinca has a tendency of tearing it up against certain opposition, and he would be a more preferable starter to Asik against those teams. He lacks stamina and Asik's rebounding skill though, so he would need an accompaniment. That perfect partner is... for another roundtable. The point is though, Ajinca is the better option against a majority of teams, and the Pelicans can get him for cheaper, opening up other cap space. It would also allow Davis to even further develop, which is plain old awesome.

As for the rest, Dante Cunningham is a definite resign, with maybe a two year, $2 million-a-year contract. Babbitt should be released, although the Pelicans should not let him fade out of memory if they cannot get hold of a better replacement. Jimmer is best walking, because although he had his moments, he had moments. Remember Brian Roberts? Jerome Dyson? The Pelicans could get a bigger contributor from the D-League, although maybe not as likable of one. Withey should be allowed to walk, although the Pelicans will have a hard time replacing his immaculately-combed and gelled hair with any reserve. Norris Cole is a restricted free agent, and the Pelicans should match any contract offer that is up to $4.5 million-a-year. Cole is consistent, a leader, and has playoff experience, which proved ever so useful. And considering the Pelicans' history with injuries, Cole is a must-have.

Chris Cucchiara: I like cohesion, so if they could bring back all of the players, with the exception of Jimmer, I would be happy. However, if Ajinca were allowed to walk, I like Jeff Withey to step in a play some minutes next season.

Jamile Dunn: I'll start with the bench players and work my way up.

I bring back everyone except Jimmer (send all hate mail to @Jamdunn06).

I would resign Babbitt but only at the league minimum. I make the qualifying offer for both Cole and Withey. Withey. Dante Cunningham provided invaluable leadership to the squad and his versatility was a nice asset for the Pelicans this season. I would like to bring him back but my absolute max would be something like 2yrs 4 million. Alexei Ajinca should be a major priority for Dell Demps this off-season. The improvement we saw from him this season was tantalizing. If he can lower his foul rate even more and continue his offensive development he could very well supplant Ryno as the teams big man scorer off the bench. Also he could become quite the trade chip.

Now for the main event. Unless Eric Gordon opts out and you have a legit chance to sign Marc Gasol (I don't want to pay DeAndre Jordan near max money) you have to resign Omer Asik. Asik is a popular whipping boy among Pelicans fans because his value is hard to quantify from a statistical standpoint. However, Asik makes Anthony Davis's life much easier and provides a defensive anchor to build around. I actually think Asik's price could be depressed a bit due to a strong free agent class for big men. If i'm the Pelicans brass i'm looking to get Asik under contract for less than 12 million dollars a year. In my opinion that's an absolute bargain.