Alvin Gentry has a pretty good idea who the New Orleans Pelicans need to target this summer. "I think we need that 6-foot-7 athletic guy that can also be somewhat of a facilitator," Gentry said. "As to names, I have no idea who that is, but I know that he’s out there. And so that would be obviously a priority for us." That's specific enough for reasonable fans to suspect his target is a wing. Unfortunately, the free agent class this summer is not particularly deep.
Here's a quick primer on the Pelicans salary cap situation. (Further detail can be found here.) New Orleans has about $17.5 million in cap space this summer if they allow their free agents (Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Norris Cole, and Kendrick Perkins) walk in July. The maximum offer for a player with six years or fewer NBA experience is projected to be $21.7 million. For players with seven to nine years experience that amount increases to $26 million.
What wings might the Pelicans pursue? How much might it cost to sign them? Let's dive in using Tom Ziller's free agent guide.
Restricted Free Agents and others with six years or less ($21.6M Tier)
It is important to note that many of these players are restricted free agents. As Pelican fans learned during the Eric Gordon saga, extracting a restricted free agent is difficult even if the player himself does not want to stay. New Orleans has signed two restricted free agents; Ryan Anderson (2012) and Tyreke Evans (2013). Both were sign-and-trades. In a era of an exploding salary cap it is far more likely most teams retain their restricted free agents.
Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks: When Parsons is healthy he's a superb secondary creator who can play either forward position. That versatility is very attractive for the current Pelicans regime; while Anthony Davis will start at power forward more often than not he's going to finish games at center. In Dallas Parsons has also functioned as a free agent recruiter of sorts and that's something New Orleans could use going into the summer of 2017.
Of course, Parsons has not been a picture of health. Parsons had microfracture surgery on his right knee last May and is currently out thanks to surgery to repair a torn meniscus in March. Players like Parsons will likely rule New Orleans out thanks to the reputation of the medical staff. Heck, that's probably why Eric Gordon was so excited about heading to Phoenix.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors (Restricted): A likely candidate for an enormous overpay this summer. Barnes is asked to be the fourth or fifth option on offense most of the time on the floor posting a Luke Babbitt-esque 15.9% usage rate this season. His career PER of 11.6 is well below average. (Babbitt posted a 11.6 PER this season.) Barnes is a good system defender, but is regularly surrounded by superior players (Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, and Andre Iguodala) on that end as well.
New Orleans would ask him to do more, much more. Barnes, not Iguodala, would be the primary wing defender. Instead of functioning as the fourth or fifth option on offense Barnes would bump up to third behind Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. Both ends of the court would be far more taxing and his meager efficiency would likely suffer even more.
Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks: Bazemore is a different kind of overpay candidate. He's completing his first season drawing significant minutes in the NBA. He is the primary wing defender for the Hawks but is also in an enviable basketball eco-system. On the plus side, despite being undersized (just 6'5") for a small forward Bazemore is a monster on the glass collecting 18% of available defensive rebounds. Bazemore, unlike Barnes, can also create off the bounce for himself and others.
On the negative end, Bazemore is older (27 on July 1st) and still small. A starting wing platoon of Pondexter and Bazemore is positively tiny compared to the rest of the league. With only one successful season under his belt there's also the possibility (like with Barnes) that he's a product of a system while surrounded by excellent players. Sledding will be tougher on the Pelicans roster.
Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic (Restricted): Magic GM Rob Hennigan said "one of our biggest, if not our biggest, priorit[ies] is to make sure Evan stays with us, and we're confident we'll be able to do that." Fournier is a restricted free agent. He's not going anywhere.
Evan Turner, Boston Celtics: He cannot shoot behind the arc. But, the remaining things the Pelicans want from a wing? Turner can do that. Turner has missed seven regular season games in his six year NBA career. He's a plus rebounder on the wing and can serve as a secondary creator. He's also a solid system defender with experience under assistant coach Darren Erman's scheme last year in Boston. Turner will be much cheaper than Parsons or Barnes and probably cheaper than Bazemore thanks to his limited range.
Allen Crabbe, Portland Trail Blazers (Restricted): Portland has an absolute boatload of salary cap space so if they want to keep their restricted free agents it is going to be very difficult to sign them for the Pelicans. Crabbe can shoot the lights out; he shot 39.3% behind the arc and 86.7% at the foul line this season. It's also Crabbe's first chance at heavy minutes in the league. At this point in his career (he just turned 24) Crabbe is just a shooter in the league. New Orleans probably needs more than that in a freee agent.
Maurice Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers (Restricted): Harkless was traded to Portland for almost nothing this summer. A 2020 second round pick that's top-55 protected. This season he's logged over 1,400 minutes across 78 games for the Blazers. He can't shoot (yet). Harkless is also about to turn 23 years old and has four years of NBA experience. He does have the physical tools to be a great defender, which New Orleans is desperate for on the wing. Still, his lack of a shot makes him a younger version of Alonzo Gee and the Pelicans already have Gee under contract.
Solomon Hill, Indiana Pacers: Referred to as "Solo" by some Indiana folks on Twitter (Star Wars goldmine!) Solomon Hill is an interesting case. Like Al-Farouq Aminu many moons ago the Pacers declined Hill's team option for next year, making him an unrestricted free agent while also limiting how much Indiana can offer him to $2.3 million. Exceeding that amount should be easy and the Pelicans were attached to Hill in trade rumors last December.
Hill is a decent defender and capable of playing some time at power forward, where he logged 28% of his minutes this season according to Basketball Reference. His 3-point shot is still a work in progress; he's connected on just 32.5% of 305 career attempts. However, his free throw stroke (83.1%) suggests the potential is there. Despite playing four years at Arizona and three so far in the NBA Hill is a relatively young 25 years old. Ease of acquisition, a lower price than others, versatility, and age make him the most likely signing in this tier.
Big spending ($26M Tier)
Making room for a max offer (necessary for Durant or Batum) will take a trade or two. Moving just Alexis Ajinca is not going to be enough, so a big contract (Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, or Omer Asik) will need to be traded out with minimal salary in return.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: Ha ha! That was fun. Moving on.
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets: The (realistic) dream candidate for Pelican fans for ages. Batum does everything New Orleans could possibly ask for in a small forward; he can be a primary or secondary creator, contributes on the glass, is a passable shooter beyond the arc, and is an excellent defender. If there is a box to check, Batum does so for the Pelicans needs.
Actually signing Batum is harder. Ask yourself, in an era when everyone has cap space, why Nicolas Batum would pick a skeleton roster (after the Pelicans move Evans or Holiday to create room) in New Orleans over other situations? Anthony Davis is a good primary selling point to be sure. Beyond that? There's an absence of substance. Maybe New Orleans can appeal to Batum's French roots.