Amid another disappointing campaign by the New Orleans Pelicans, there have been some bright spots. Two that should come to mind are the useful pair of former Rockets, Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones, but be careful to not go overboard with excitement — there’s a catch.
While posing as wonderful value on the salary cap sheet with their 1-year minimum contracts, it is conceivable that neither player returns to New Orleans next season, and most likely, not both.
You see, by spending just a single season with the Pelicans after being signed as free agents, Jones and Motiejunas will qualify for the non-bird exception. They are a form of bird rights, but they’re seldomly used, especially when it comes to impact players.
As non-qualifying veteran free agents, the Pelicans can re-sign Jones and Motiejunas for 120% of their 2016-17 salaries. Considering their 4-year veteran minimums qualified for paychecks of less than $1.1 million each this season and the fact that Jones and Motiejunas are proving to be healthy and productive, you better believe they’ll be in line to fetch much more lucrative offers on the free agent market.
Consequently, the Pelicans will have to open their pocketbooks and likely dig into future cap space, provided the duo has any interest of returning in the first place. According to the latest estimates, the 2017-18 salary cap will be in the neighborhood of $102 million with a tax line of $122 million. This means New Orleans should have anywhere between approximately $23 million (if Langston Galloway and Dante Cunningham choose to accept their player options) and close to $32 million available to spend on free agents.
Less than two months ago, the Brooklyn Nets tendered Motiejunas an offer sheet of upwards to $37 million for four years, but it was structured heavily in favor of the organization in case D-Mo’s back injuries flared up again. If he makes it through the rest of the year unscathed with the Pelicans, except that figure to be a starting point in any upcoming negotiations, minus the injury provisions.
As far as Jones, a group that also included Zach Lowe figured it was worth throwing eight figures at Terrence, despite his underwhelming final year in Houston. In the midst of a fine bounce back campaign in New Orleans, it’s impossible to imagine him getting offered anything less than $10-12 million a season.
Consequently, this all but removes the option of using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception -- although it’s slated to increase by 45% under the new CBA to a figure of around $8.4 million.
One last item of merit: the 2017 free agent class is going to be loaded, so it’s somewhat believable that even the lowly destination of New Orleans could attract a solid player. Perhaps Dell Demps chases down his long-time crush Greg Monroe, convincing him home is where the heart is, or looks to solve the scoring issues at small forward with Danilo Gallinari. Maybe the Pelicans decide or are forced to move on from both Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans and wind up in the Jeff Teague sweepstakes.
Personally, I believe New Orleans will try and re-sign Holiday and he’ll strongly consider staying, as the Pelicans, owners of his full Bird rights, can offer him more years and money than any other franchise. Will he fetch the maximum? At this point in time, I’d say no, but it won’t be too far below that threshold so forget any thoughts of him accepting something in the neighborhood of $15-20 million. Now, if he finishes the year anywhere as strongly as he’s played over the past week, I’m allowed to change my answer and shed a tear because it’ll be the max or bust.
For argument’s sake, let us assume Holiday gets close enough to his potential maximum of $28.8 million; after all, the front office is reportedly worried he may walk. That would put New Orleans anywhere from around $14-23 million away from the tax line, a barrier this oft disappointing team will not be allowed to pass. This remaining sum should be enough for one of Jones or Motiejunas to be re-signed before adding Holiday to the salary cap sheet, provided the general manager isn’t able to lure another decently prominent name, but certainly not both.
For a second straight season Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca have proven incapable of playing well in Alvin Gentry’s system — boy, wouldn’t the removal of their combined $15 million from off the books be a welcome sight — but the front office was able to secure the services of Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas. Enjoy it while you can because it’s all but assured both will not return next season, and there’s a decent chance the Pelicans wind up retaining neither.