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Pelicans salary cap space for the 2016 free agent frenzy

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There are a wide range of options for the Pelicans to pursue. Let's talk about some of those options.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are playing out the string of this season. Just ten games remain and beyond lottery balls there is not much on the table for this franchise. With that in mind let's look into the not so distant future and discuss the Pelicans salary cap space on July 1st. To begin, let's look at a table with every single contract remaining for the 2016-17 season. Players bird rights beyond this season are not (yet) included.

Here is what the Pelicans salary cap will look like on July 1st.

Pos Age 2016-2017
Anthony Davis PF/C 23 $25,900,000
Jrue Holiday PG 26 $11,286,518
Tyreke Evans SG 27 $10,203,755
Omer Asik C 30 $9,904,494
Alexis Ajinca C 28 $4,713,203
Quincy Pondexter SG/SF 28 $3,617,978
Dante Cunningham SF/PF 29 $2,978,250
Alonzo Gee SG/SF 29 $1,379,400
Toney Douglas PG/SG 30 $1,315,448
Luke Babbitt SF/PF 27 $1,227,286
Bryce Dejean-Jones SG 24 $874,636
2016 1st Round Pick (#6) $2,931,000
Cap Space $15,668,032
Total 27.36 $92,000,000

Between now and July 1st a number of things will occur to change this projection. However, our baseline in this situation is almost $15.7 million in cap space.

NBA Draft Lottery - May 17th

New Orleans could, hypothetically, pick either 1-3 or 6-9 if they finish the year with the sixth worst record. If they get lucky with the lottery they would lose nearly $2 million in cap room with the first pick, about $1.5 million with the second pick, and around $1 million if they pick third overall. If they slide back the most they could gain is roughly $700k in cap room with the ninth pick instead of the sixth selection.

All-NBA honors for Anthony Davis

If Davis does not make the All-NBA team (assumed in the above numbers) it creates about $4.3 million in cap room with a $92 million salary cap.

Player option and unguaranteed contracts

Alonzo Gee has a player option for next season. If he opts out it creates just a little more than $830k in salary cap room since the Pelicans will need to have an empty roster charge for going below twelve players. Toney Douglas is fully unguaranteed next season and waiving him creates an additional $770k in cap room. Luke Babbitt is guaranteed $200k so waiving him (and his beautiful locks) creates even less; just $480k.

Cap holds

There is a chance that Dell Demps wants to bring back either Ryan Anderson or Eric Gordon. Anderson's cap hold is $12.75 million. Without making a trade to shed salary keeping Anderson's cap hold nearly obliterates real flexibility for this franchise to make substantial moves in the free agent market. Gordon's $23.27 million cap hold leaves nothing to chance.

Realistic (and depressing) scenario

Let's assume the Pelicans stay at six in the NBA draft, Davis does not make an All-NBA team, Alonzo Gee opts out (I think this is a very safe assumption with so much cap space league wide), and the Pelicans want to keep Ryan Anderson. How much cap space do they have?

Pos Age 2016-2017
Anthony Davis PF/C 23 $21,600,000
Ryan Anderson PF 28 $12,750,000
Jrue Holiday PG 26 $11,286,518
Tyreke Evans SG 27 $10,203,755
Omer Asik C 30 $9,904,494
Alexis Ajinca C 28 $4,713,203
Quincy Pondexter SG/SF 28 $3,617,978
Dante Cunningham SF/PF 29 $2,978,250
Toney Douglas PG/SG 30 $1,315,448
Luke Babbitt SF/PF 27 $1,227,286
Bryce Dejean-Jones SG 24 $874,636
2016 1st Round Pick (#6) $2,931,000
Cap Space $8,597,432
Total 27.27 $92,000,000

That is not a lot of salary cap room to bring in another difference maker. If you're a Tim Frazier fan some of that cap space would be necessary to bring him back into the fold; although the room exception might also be an option for Frazier. For the most part electing to bring back Anderson is expecting the injury "luck" to finally break for New Orleans.

Clearing the books scenario

Another option is to clear off as much as possible. Both Tyreke Evans and Alexis Ajinca are on reasonable contracts that could be traded without attaching additional assets. Anderson has proven himself to be a one-dimensional player and the Pelicans need more youth and two-way players on this roster. How much flexibility would Dell Demps (or a new GM) have if they traded away Evans and Ajinca, Davis did not make an All-NBA team, and Ryan Anderson was not brought back?

Pos Age 2016-2017
Anthony Davis PF/C 23 $21,600,000
Jrue Holiday PG 26 $11,286,518
Omer Asik C 30 $9,904,494
Quincy Pondexter SG/SF 28 $3,617,978
Dante Cunningham SF/PF 29 $2,978,250
Luke Babbitt SF/PF 27 $1,227,286
Bryce Dejean-Jones SG 24 $874,636
2016 1st Round Pick (#6) $2,931,000
Cap Holds (x4) $2,173,884
Cap Space $35,405,954
Total 26.71 $92,000,000

Now we're talking. Nearly $35.5 million in cap space is enough to bring in multiple difference makers (say, players on the wing?) and bring back Tim Frazier as well. Imagine adding Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, and Kent Bazemore this summer. Imagine this rotation.

Starter Reserve Deep Bench
PG Holiday Frazier
SG Bazemore Hield Dejean-Jones
SF Barnes Pondexter Babbitt
PF Davis Cunningham
C Asik

The defensive improvement up top is absolutely massive. Suddenly this team could field a starting lineup with four legitimate shooting threats and no significant defensive weaknesses. Buddy Hield would be put in an ideal position as a rookie; come off the bench and let it fly. Quincy Pondexter would not be rushed into too large a role with his recent knee issues. Dante Cunningham would play his ideal position as a "stretch" four when Davis moves to center. A crunch time lineup of Holiday, Bazemore, Pondexter, Barnes, and Davis can switch and defend with five legitimate scoring threats. Real basketball!

The middle road method

What if AD doesn't make an All-NBA team, the Pelicans allow their free agents to walk, but they do not trade away Evans or Ajinca? This porridge might be just right.

Pos Age 2016-2017
Anthony Davis PF/C 23 $21,600,000
Max Cap Slot (0-6) $21,600,000
Jrue Holiday PG 26 $11,286,518
Tyreke Evans SG 27 $10,203,755
Omer Asik C 30 $9,904,494
Alexis Ajinca C 28 $4,713,203
Quincy Pondexter SG/SF 28 $3,617,978
Dante Cunningham SF/PF 29 $2,978,250
Luke Babbitt SF/PF 27 $1,227,286
Bryce Dejean-Jones SG 24 $874,636
2016 1st Round Pick (#6) $2,931,000
Cap Space $1,062,880
Total 26.89 $92,000,000

Harrison Barnes, Kent Bazemore, Chandler Parsons, and Evan Fournier are just a couple of free agents with a 0-6 years max salary this summer.

What's your ideal off-season? Let's chat in the comments.