Finally the long saga of restricted free agency has ended for Norris Cole and the New Orleans Pelicans. Cole's intention to sign the qualifying offer was finally relayed on Wednesday to Yahoo! Sports. As I have wrote all summer this was the most likely outcome for both parties. There was a limited market for point guards this summer and Cole's options continued to dwindle as the clock ticked down to the beginning of training camp. Now with a couple weeks until the Pelicans open their training camp their roster is relatively set.
18 players will enter into the Pelicans training camp. Of those, 13 are on guaranteed contracts and should be on the opening night roster; Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole, Dante Cunningham, Alonzo Gee, Luke Babbitt, and Kendrick Perkins. Five additional players are on unguaranteed contracts and find themselves battling for just two remaining roster spots. Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jeff Adrien, Sean Kilpatrick, Corey Webster, and Bryce Dejean-Jones.
Salary data thanks to Basketball Insiders
This group still is not terribly old; Kendrick Perkins is only 30 and the oldest man on the roster. The battle at the bottom for those two roster spots is going to be very interesting considering age. Adrien and Douglas-Roberts are more proven at the NBA level but 29 years old with limited upside. Kilpatrick and Dejean-Jones are younger with some potential for development along with longer, team friendly contracts. Corey Webster is a complete unknown at the NBA level but older than both Kilpatrick and Dejean-Jones. Could he be another Brian Roberts?
At this point we can put to bed the idea that the Pelicans were cheap this summer. Tom Benson will shell out $80M or more for this roster, over $10M in excess of the salary cap. Is that money necessarily well spent? That is a different discussion on the quality of the decisions made. To insinuate, however, that the Pelicans have gone cheap is simply unsupported by facts. New Orleans will be in the upper third of NBA salaries despite their place in one of the league's smallest markets.
Next summer the Pelicans have $67.7M committed to seven players on guaranteed contracts: Davis, Holiday, Evans, Asik, Ajinca, Pondexter, and Cunningham. Alonzo Gee holds a player option just under $1.4M. Add in cap holds and New Orleans has around $20M in potential cap space if Gee opts out.
As Mike Prada wrote early this summer cap space doesn't matter anymore. Every team (almost) will have loads of cap space when the calendar flips to July 2016.
Every year, we take a look at publicly-available salary information and project the teams expected to be big players in free agency. We now know that's a waste of time.
With so many teams flushed with cap space, teams can always move contracts to other under-the-cap teams to create the room they need for their grand plans. It used to be that teams created the space before going after the player. Now, it's the other way around.
Cap space league wide means the Pelicans can manufacture space if necessary. Either Jrue Holiday or Tyreke Evans can easily be shipped off to create maximum ($25M+) cap space for the Pelicans if an appropriate target is interested. If the Pelicans would have instead gone after a big man, say Greg Monroe, this off season they would have found creating such space more difficult in 2016.
Running it back was less about believing this team as currently constructed is championship caliber than maintaining flexibility for the future. This season is an audition to remain in New Orleans for players both under contract for the long haul and soon-to-be free agents alike. Change in personnel might have to wait a year, but in order for the Pelicans to have a seat at the table next summer Dell Demps was smartly patient this July.