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Pelicans have a roster size crunch on the horizon to sift through

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New Orleans has a problem of too many marginal NBA players and not enough roster spots.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans have some tough choices to make on the roster in the next three months. Alexis Ajinca, Quincy Pondexter, and Dante Cunningham are all under contract for multiple seasons. Alonzo Gee, currently recovering from injury, has a player option and that injury probably increases the likelihood he is under contract next season. Luke Babbitt is guaranteed $200k already. The contracts of both Babbitt and Toney Douglas guarantee on July 12th for the 2016-17 season.

Bryce Dejean-Jones is not guaranteed anything beyond this season but has a number of guarantees that activate if he participates in the Summer League. If Dell Demps (or whoever the GM is) so desires the Pelicans can make qualifying offers to both Tim Frazier and James Ennis, making either (or both) restricted free agents. Additionally the Pelicans have three draft picks in the 2016 NBA Draft; their own in the first round, the lesser of their own and Sacramento's second round pick, and Denver's second round pick.

Who should stay and who should go? 12 role players (not even including Omer Asik since his contract is nearly untradeable) is too many for a team bereft of actual talent. We sat down to write about it.

12 role players is too many. Who should stay and who should go? Should the Pelicans seek to combine those two second round picks and move up into the late first round?

Kevin Barrios: The first thing I do in the offseason is reject all cap holds from Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Norris Cole. Then I waive Toney Douglas. I try to trade my 1st round pick and anything not named Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday for Jimmy Butler. Once that is exhausted, if the pick lands in a spot where we can trade down and still pick a prized player (Hield, Valentine, Sabonis etc) while attaching Omer Asik to that trade, I make that move.

Frazier, Ennis and Dejean-Jones are high priorities for me to keep as young-ish role playing prospects. I make sure those guys are still Pelicans, and I try to hang onto Luke Babbitt as well. I'm probably the biggest Tyreke Evans fan outside of the Evans' household, so I'd really like to see him in the starting back court next to Holiday, but if a trade that makes sense in the cap space created/asset gained comes along, I would be okay with moving him. Holiday's leg holding up and the play of Tim Frazier has made that kind of move palatable. I really really like James Ennis. He's kind of like if Tyreke Evans and Al-Farouq Aminu had a baby. He can drive to the basket like Evans, he has some of Aminu's athleticism, he has Aminu's wingspan and he's got that new and improved Evans jumper. He also has a great motor. He's always in 6th gear. I may be crazy, but I could actually see him becoming the long term starter at the three spot. He's effective now while playing alongside a roster that is basically dipping a toe in the D-League, so I think if he's on the court with bonafide players like Davis, Holiday and Evans he'd get even better looks and have an even greater impact. For as good as Tim Frazier has been, it's really Ennis that has me the most excited. I know AD doesn't want to play the five, but I'd feel pretty good about marching this depth chart out (not predicting draft picks):

1: Holiday/Evans/Frazier 2: Evans/Dejean-Jones/Pondexter/Gee 3: Ennis/Pondexter/Babbitt/Gee 4: Cunningham/Davis/Babbitt 5: Davis/Ajinca

That's 11 players from the current roster (12 if you can't move Asik) leaving space for the three draft picks and then one or two spots for a free agent(s) depending on Asik's status. Without knowing where our pick will fall yet and what players slide on draft night it's pretty hard to say what I'd do with those seconds and our first. However, if I can use them to dump Asik without giving up too much I think I have to make that move.

Joseph Billiot: If Ryan Anderson does get the max, I would be open to doing a sign and trade with some team for an reasonable asset. Otherwise, I would renounce my bird rights to Ryan Anderson, Norris Cole, and Eric Gordon. I would waive the rights to Toney Douglas, however, if at the end of NBA Free Agency, Douglas is still there, I would be open to resigning Toney Douglas as one of my two vets.

My first pre-draft and pre-free agency priority is getting Ajinca off of this roster as well. My goal is to shed Ajinca off the books for absolutely nothing.

I keep every other player who has a long term contract (Babbitt, Cunningham, Pondexter, and BDJ). Of the guys who are restricted, If they accept the qualifying offer, I would resign both James Ennis and Tim Frazier. I might pay a little bit over the QO for Jame Ennis, but I would not pay a cent over the QO for Tim Frazier. Sorry Tim, there are just to many good cheap point guards in the league right now.

Combining the 2nd round picks?

Yes. Yes. Yes. My actual priority with these two 2nd round picks is to combine them into another lower 1st round pick. For the sake of argument, let's just say San Antonio does the trade for the 28th pick. My first move is to bundle that pick and my lottery 1st to move up to get a "star caliber" player. If I get to keep the pick, I would gladly take Taurean Prince, Melo Trimble or any of the raw big men left on the board of Stone, Zimmerman, or Jones. You let whoever you take just be the 15th man on the roster and develop for a year or two and hope by the 2019 season, he is ready to become a role player.

David Fisher: Whoever the Pelicans GM is this summer needs to trade Alexis Ajinca. I know he's far more a fan favorite than Omer Asik but Ajinca could return something of value or at least cost nothing (a heavily protected second round pick from a partner) to move. Asik is going to cost assets to move and those are in short supply. Next up is waiving Toney Douglas, who is not guaranteed anything next year. Luke Babbit is last on the chopping block, and the Pelicans will pay him $200k in the process. Ugh.

That leaves a role player smorgasbord still on the roster; Quincy Pondexter, Alonzo Gee, James Ennis, and Bryce Dejean-Jones as wings with Tim Frazier at the point and Dante Cunningham sliding to a more natural position as a small-ball power forward. Still, I would expect all six players to rank 300 or worse in #NBARank this fall. Here's a peek at where the remaining players on the roster landed in 2015 after removing Ajinca (316), Babbitt (347), and Douglas (N/R).

Player NBA Rank - 2015
Anthony Davis 2
Tyreke Evans 87
Jrue Holiday 88
Omer Asik 127
Quincy Pondexter 214
Dante Cunningham 350
Alonzo Gee 389
Tim Frazier N/R
James Ennis N/R
Bryce Dejean-Jones N/R

That's an extremely unimpressive list. The Pelicans first round draft pick will probably fall in the top 200 using last year's list as a guide and hopefully whoever the Pelicans sign in free agency will appear in the top 200 as well. (At least?) Ideally New Orleans adds all three draft picks and a really good free agent to the above ten players. The two second round picks will spend time in the D-League or maybe one is stashed in Europe. There isn't a clear path (without projecting a lot of trades) for New Orleans to add significant depth. Owen's first line below is so succinct but I don't want to steal it.

As far as the second round picks, I would absolutely combine them and move up if the opportunity presents itself to draft a player like Domantas Sabonis or Taurean Prince.

Jonny Harvey: It’s odd looking at this roster, noticing that only a handful of players would log any significant minutes on any other team in the league.

Yet, here we are. Only ten lineups played in at least ten different games this season, making the sample size of efficient role player combinations small.

Lineups

Not sure how much to take into the +/- statistic in this sense, but something that can be shown is that Dante Cunningham has had little production as a whole playing alongside Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson. This shouldn’t be all too surprising. Cunningham, the only player to play in all but one game this year, would naturally struggle against more established players, considering he was tapped as a low-end bench player for situational lineups. So is there much to even sell stock here?

I think so. Dante shoots 31 percent from behind the arc, enough to acknowledge his ability as a shooter, but not enough to really scare defenders and make his outside jumper a consistently legitimate threat. He shoots just 42 percent from long-two range (10ft-three point) and his shooting from deep is below the league average of 35.4 percent.

27.6 percent of the Pelicans shots came outside the arc, 30 percent came at the rim, 10 percent between 3-10 ft and 17 percent between 10 and 16 feet. Gentry wants to emphasize inside and outside shooting. Cunningham, though a decent midrange shooter, might benefit in a different system, where the bigs and wings aren’t pressured to shoot outside the arc. Cunningham has always seemed out of place in this mix to me, and I’m not sure this is where he would thrive into a solid rotation player.

Cunningham must continue to develop his outside shot, or he might not have a home in the NBA for much longer. He’s talented defensively and is a literal healthy abled body, something the Pelicans aren’t in huge supply of. But the Pelicans are looking for stretch-fours, and if Anderson leaves, it’d be hard pressed for Dell Demps to assume Cunningham could fill in the offensive void left from the quick triggered four. I think Cunningham’s contract is more moveable than most on the franchise. If I had to choose one Pelican to shop hard this offseason, it’s him.

Quentin Haynes: I’m going to write about this, I swear I am, but the Pelicans need a developmental team at this point for the bottom of the roster. Having these draft picks are great, but we shouldn’t be counting on second round picks coming in and being role players. It’s part of the reason why I’ve been pushing for younger players with those picks because odds are, they probably aren’t cracking next season’s rotation, which stand at about nine, maybe ten players.

Of all the guys listed, I’m anticipating Anderson and Gordon walking. Gordon is fine, but you want an upgrade at that wing spot, both in overall ability and health. Anderson doesn’t make much sense to bring back. I would much rather go after a replacement who can provide, say 60% of his offensive value, while being a better defender. Anderson getting a big contract from New Orleans would be a huge mistake. Other than that, I’m letting go of Luke Babbitt, Toney Douglas and despite his player option, Alonzo Gee. None of them really have much upside and are replaceable.

Re-sign Tim Frazier to a long-term deal, and I imagine James Ennis would accept the qualifying offer, if not, need a penny or two more to sign a two-year deal. Do that and we’re looking at:

Davis, Asik, Holiday, Evans, Ajinca, Pondexter, Cunningham, Dejean-Jones, Frazier, Ennis. There, you’re looking at your first round pick and a big free agent addition (at the wing) makes it 12 players. Fill out the roster with either the second round picks - both send to the NBA Developmental League - and another free agent or so and you’re good to go.

As for trading the two second round picks to get up into the first round. In theory, it works, turning a late first rounder into two second rounders. The issue is that the Pelicans don’t have one of the top picks in the second round. If they had the 31st or 32nd pick, it would be easier because the team moving back gets the first crack. At 37 and 39, I find it tough to complete.

Oleh Kosel: The New Orleans front office should first seek to make a trade because finite NBA roster space demands quality over quantity. If the organization can package the two second round picks for a late first, a move should be made. Studies have shown that late first round picks have been nearly as productive as middle first round selections.

Next, Dell Demps could also seek to reduce the size of the roster by moving personnel, perhaps with the inclusion of a second round pick. I imagine this front office values Bryce Dejean-Jones, Tim Frazier and James Ennis all higher than any possible second round draft choice, so losing one or both of them shouldn't offend anyone.

The dream scenario involves jettisoning Omer Asik, but since that's mission impossible, Alexis Ajinca is next on the list. Use those 2nd round picks if necessary to facilitate a deal. Anthony Davis spending the majority of his time at center this season wasn't a fluke, so the team can't afford to allocate around 15% of their cap space on two players who are not likely to combine for more than 24 minutes a game going forward.

If no deals are made, it's time to move on from Luke Babbitt, especially if Alonzo Gee accepts his player option. Babbitt has proven an effective offensive option with big minutes, but that is never going to be his role on a healthy roster. His inability to consistently stay with the majority of perimeter players on the move ensures it's time to go in a different direction.

Toney Douglas, unfortunately, would be next on the list. if the organization can attract an enviable free agent (and no, I don't want Eric Gordon nor Ryan Anderson to return), Douglas should be waived prior to his contract guaranteeing on July 12, 2016.

Owen Sanborn: What a symphony of mediocrity this list is. Toney Douglas -- despite his sometimes charming style of play -- has to be let go because of the emergence of Tim Frazier. Norris Cole is also another likely casualty of Frazier's esteemed play down the stretch. Although I have long defended Luke Babbitt (and his hair), I think it may be time to say goodbye. BDJ, Alonzo Gee (since he will likely opt in), Dante Cunningham and the intriguing James Ennis should be able to hold down the fort on the wing along with a healthy Evans and Pondexter.

My early guess is that Eric Gordon moves on to greener pastures and plays well due to a change of scenery. For all of the noise surrounding Ryan Anderson, would anyone be surprised if he ended up back in New Orleans around the 4/$65 million range? Unless parting with a potentially lucrative draft pick becomes a focus, the roster is going to look eerily similar to what was formed last summer. Maybe Demps can bamboozle Vlade Divac into taking Omer Asik's brick hands far, far away from Bourbon St, but that ideal is more of a pipe dream rather than a distinct reality.