I am pretty surprised that the New Orleans Pelicans have already re-signed reserve center Alexis Ainjca. My feelings on the big frenchman are clearly articulated throughout this website. He's a nice offensive weapon who is a liability on defense and fouls too often to be a credible NBA starter in my opinion. I expected Ajinca to sign elsewhere for two primary reasons. Price and role.
On the financial side of things, Ajinca is a decent deal at four years, $20.2 Million. As discussed here, that contract falls within Early Bird Rights territory. Meaning the Pelicans will retain Bird Rights to Omer Asik as well as access to both the Mid-Level Exception and Bi-Annual Exception. I thought he would cost more, closer to the Mid-Level Exception or even higher if a team got desperate.
Alexis Ajinca has struck a four-year, $20 million deal to stay in New Orleans— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 1, 2015
Bigger, in my estimation, was the role Ajinca would be signing up for either in New Orleans or elsewhere. As things currently stand Ajinca is the fourth big man on the roster behind Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Omer Asik if he is re-signed. Reports are those negotiations with Asik are ongoing.
Pelicans are in discussions to re-sign starting center Omer Asik, sources say. Robin Lopez doesn't appear to be an option at this point.— John Reid (@JohnReid64) July 1, 2015
While Ajinca, and truly every player, has his faults he is better than a fourth big in the NBA right now. He might not necessarily be the best choice to start at center every night, but he is a solid third big off the bench who can provide far more scoring punch than most of the stiffs being trotted out in the league. In my estimation this means one of three things.
The Pelicans are planning on moving on from either Ryan Anderson (via trade) or Omer Asik (by letting him walk). This is purely speculation but that's a whole lot of resources tied up in big man slots. Anderson, Asik, and Ajinca are all relatively inflexible with huge weaknesses either on offense (Asik) or defense (Anderson and Asik).
Second possibility is that New Orleans wants to run as much of it back as possible and make a decision later. That could happen at the 2016 trade deadline or it could happen during the summer of 2016. Anderson will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and would be a likely candidate to leave.
The third, and most rosy, outlook is that the culture that Dell Demps is building on Airline Drive makes folks want to stay. Ajinca was toiling away in Europe when Demps brought him over on a two year, minimum contract. In the past two seasons Ajinca has made significant strides both in limiting his fouling and contributing on the glass. That the Pelicans were willing to lock up Ajinca for four more years, until his 31st birthday, is a significant commitment even with the exploding salary cap.
I'm very excited to say that I will be a Pelican for 4 more years! I'm so happy to be back home.. Let's win a championship! #TakeFlight— Alexis Ajinça (@AjincaAlexis42) July 1, 2015
Salary Cap Outlook
The Pelicans could, if they wanted to, operate under the salary cap if they renounced everyone outside of Alexis Ajinca. Until his contract is signed his cap hold is the two year minimum, $947,276. New reports put the salary cap at $69M. If that did happen New Orleans could have just over $10 Million in cap space to offer; a four year, $43.3M contract on the market. Again, I doubt that is the path they will choose. More likely is that a number of other current Pelicans are retained. Or something completely off the wall occurs. Who knows!
Keep checking in as we will have coverage throughout NBA Free Agency until the dust settles.