The New Orleans Pelicans begin training camp in just 36 days. Dell Demps has 13 players under contract; Alexis Ajinca, Ryan Anderson, Omer Asik, Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham, Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, Alonzo Gee, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Kendrick Perkins, Quincy Pondexter, and Bryce Dejean-Jones. Only Dejean-Jones is partially guaranteed for this season. $50k of his contract is currently guaranteed with the remainder (for 2015-16) guaranteeing on January 10th according to Basketball Insiders.
Remaining outstanding is reserve point guard Norris Cole, who continues to search for a better offer than the Pelicans qualifying offer just above $3 million. Details on any additional offers the Pelicans might have made, with presumably more than one year, have not yet been reported.
Who might offer Cole more than $3 million this season? The list is incredibly short. Only three teams have sufficient cap space to offer at least $3 million; the Utah Jazz (about $6 million in cap space), the Philadelphia 76ers ($14 million), and the Portland Trail Blazers ($19.5 million). In addition both the Charlotte Hornets (full MLE near $5.5 million) and Oklahoma City Thunder (mini-MLE around $3.4 million) have exceptions exceeding $3 million.
Are any of these teams actual threats to sign Norris Cole to a deal the Pelicans would not match? Let's take a quick look.
Oklahoma City Thunder - Threat Level (0/10)
The Thunder have 15 fully guaranteed contracts and a payroll approaching $100 million. That's a massive tax bill. No, OKC is not at all a threat to sign Cole.
Charlotte Hornets - Threat Level (1/10)
While the Hornets have 14 guaranteed contracts they also have Aaron Harrison and Elliot Williams on partially guaranteed contracts. Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lin, and former-Hornet (that's weird but true) Brian Roberts fill out the Hornets PG rotation. Cole makes very little sense in the Queen City.
Portland Trail Blazers - Threat Level (2/10)
Oodles of cap space here will be used for asset acquisition almost assuredly. 14 guaranteed contracts and a handful of unguaranteed contracts means Cole is unlikely to land in PDX.
Philadelphia 76ers- Threat Level (4/10)
The Sixers were reportedly interested but as Liberty Ballers explains it just doesn't make any sense. Tony Wroten, Isaiah Canaan, former almost Pelican Pierre Jackson, and Scottie Wilbekin fill up a young rotation of potential point guards.
Utah Jazz - Threat Level (6/10)
Still not a particularly large threat. The Jazz are expected to contend for a playoff spot and Dante Exum's knee injury opens up minutes at point guard. Trey Burke has not inspired confidence through two rocky seasons. If any team makes sense to pursue Cole it is the Jazz.
Ultimately Norris Cole is almost assured of returning to the Crescent City this season. The Pelicans can match any offer the Jazz or Sixers make in the remaining weeks of free agency. An offer of such magnitude that the Pelicans would not match is likely to be a massive overpay that doesn't make any sense for either franchise.
Cole will be back. Don't get too hung up on the process leading to his eventual contract.