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Pelicans push focus onto off season with playoff hopes extinguished

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Retaining Jrue Holiday remains at the top of the list

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The off season is here. Last night the New Orleans Pelicans faint playoff lamp was extinguished. Everyone is now almost completely focused on the draft and free agency. Alvin Gentry said immediately after the game that DeMarcus Cousins has a lingering minor injury and more minutes for the young guys are on tap. The ruse of “development” can be laid aside; this wasn’t about learning for next year. It was all about trying to make the playoffs this year.

Now, Cheick Diallo will likely get more minutes and the Pelicans will try to find out if Quinn Cook is worth additional investment before the end of the season. Valuable minutes Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins could use to learn together will be passed on for different ventures. Hopefully you don’t feel too duped.

So, now what? Have the Pelicans demonstrated enough since the All-Star Break to keep Alvin Gentry around for his lame duck season? Gentry’s final guaranteed season on his contract is next year, the following year is a team option. Was the Boogie trade enough to keep Dell Demps on board for his seventh season as General Manager? I won’t pretend to have answers on either front.

A Holiday Conundrum

What we should focus on most pointedly is Jrue Holiday. This summer the Pelicans have few good options on Holiday. If they elect to keep him it’s going to be very expensive, lock up the cap for the foreseeable future, and limit reasonable flexibility. Sure, New Orleans could waive and stretch Omer Asik and trade away Alexis Ajinca to create some cap space, but not a substantial amount above the mid-level exception without another big contract (read Solomon Hill or E’Twaun Moore) headed out of town. Possible, but probably unlikely. The “big” move also costs additional draft capital, and thus limits the Pelicans options for cheap talent in the short term as well.

The alternative, letting Jrue Holiday walk, is also fraught with danger. Replacing him is unlikely given a lackluster free agent class. If New Orleans is unable, or unwilling, to retain Holiday they take a step back from a talent perspective. Next year. This part is important. Signing Holiday this summer costs his cap hold this year and then his cap number in future summers. That’s the opportunity cost of retention. The one the Pelicans now pay for the decision to keep the roster together and re-sign Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca in 2015. Those moves are still costing the Pelicans flexibility today.

Why not be willing to take a small step back this summer? Even without Jrue Holiday a team built around Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins should be competitive next season. Flexibility in 2018 could be far more fruitful. Or make smaller short term moves and see how things work out. Offering Jrue Holiday a huge contract is going all-in on a Davis-Cousins-Holiday trio with few avenues to add more significant pieces. Is Jrue Holiday really that good?

Lottery Luck

There is a chance, albeit small (4% as of tonight), that New Orleans could hop up into the top three of the draft. A team hasn’t jumped up from 10th or worse in the lottery since the then-Charlotte Hornets moved up from 13th to 3rd in the 1999 NBA Lottery.

Should the Pelicans get lucky, the debate on whether to trade the pick will begin immediately. Sign me up for keeping the pick and selecting Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson. I understand the urgency of trading the pick and maximizing Anthony Davis right now, but I really like Ball or Jackson in New Orleans. Guys who don’t need the ball to be effective will be better than your average rookie and the combination of Davis and Cousins makes the transition easier than any high lottery pick in recent history.

Hunting Second Round Gems

Last year I wrote that looking for older guys who do many things should be the target in the second round. Malcolm Brogdon was my top pick, and lo and behold he might win rookie of the year. It’s still early in the process, but I have a couple names on my radar this spring. Josh Hart of Villanova and Monte Morris of Iowa State. Hart is better known thanks to Villanova’s tournament run last year but Morris might be the purest point guard in this class. In his last two seasons Morris has collected 458 assists and just 99 turnovers. Incredible.

Now what? We’ll see. The tendency here for me is to expect small stuff instead of big stuff. You think Mickey Loomis wants to run a search for a new general manager in the weeks before the NFL Draft? Nah. Dell Demps is probably safe, and Alvin Gentry along with him. Comments streaming out of the locker room all season point to retaining Jrue Holiday. With the exception of a lucky bounce of the ping pong balls, the next couple months will probably be underwhelming if you’re hoping for significant changes.