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Breaking down the Pelicans roster at the beginning of training camp

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Jordan Crawford is the favorite, but with an unguaranteed contract he is likely to be pushed to earn the final roster spot.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans hold media day tomorrow. The off-season is finally coming to a close. An open practice is scheduled for next Saturday and their first pre-season game, against the Chicago Bulls, tips off on Tuesday October 3rd at the Smoothie King Center. While the game is not being televised locally by Fox Sports New Orleans, the Bulls are showing every single preseason game on CSN Chicago — so it should be possible to catch the game online. In fact, Pelicans opponents are showing every single game on their local broadcast or, in the case of the Oklahoma City Thunder, streaming the game on their website. The full schedule is below.

Pelicans Preseason Schedule

Date Opponent Time TV/Stream
Date Opponent Time TV/Stream
10/3/2017 Chicago Bulls 7:00 PM CSN Chicago
10/6/2017 @ OKC Thunder 7:00 PM okcthunder.com
10/8/2017 @ Chicago Bulls 6:00 PM CSN Chicago
10/13/2017 @ Memphis Grizzlies 7:00 PM Fox Sports Southeast

New Orleans comes into training camp with a heavy roster, but few questions on who will eventually make the team. The Pelicans have 14 guaranteed contracts, a handful of unguaranteed contracts, and two two-way players. To begin, here’s the 14 guaranteed contracts on the team. These guys, barring a trade, will almost certainly be on the roster on opening night.

Pelicans Guaranteed Roster

Player Position Height Age Note
Player Position Height Age Note
Rajon Rondo PG 6'1" 31
Jrue Holiday PG/SG 6'4" 27
Dante Cunningham SF/PF 6'8" 30
Anthony Davis PF 6'11" 24
DeMarcus Cousins C 6'11" 27
E'Twaun Moore SG 6'4" 28
Tony Allen SG 6'4" 36
Ian Clark PG/SG 6'3" 26
Darius Miller SF 6'8" 27
Alexis Ajinca C 7'2" 29
Cheick Diallo PF/C 6'9" 21
Omer Asik C 7'0" 31 Not yet healthy?
Frank Jackson PG/SG 6'3" 19 Injured
Solomon Hill SF/PF 6'7" 26 Injured

Let’s focus our attention on the end of the roster. Six other players will be at training camp. Who are these players and could any of them make the team?

Jordan Crawford: Already carries the largest guarantee ($250k through November 10th) of the group and played for the Pelicans heavily in the final month and a half of the year. Michael Jordan Crawford is willing to take every single open three that presents itself; on a roster with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, it’s a strength.

Perry Jones III: A late first round pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 Perry Jones III failed to catch on in his first stint in the league. Since being cut by the Boston Celtics in 2015 Jones has played for the Iowa Energy in the G-League and one game in Russia. It is extremely unlikely Jones makes the team.

Martell Webster: Once a favorite wing target of mine for the Pelicans, Webster has been out of the NBA since 2015. At his peak, Webster was a solid threat behind the arc, knocking down over 40% of his 701 attempts from 2013-15 with the Washington Wizards. Webster will turn 31 this December, and while he has a far better NBA track record than the other names here, the combination of health and a long stay away from the NBA also makes the chance he sticks on the roster instead of Jordan Crawford low.

Cliff Alexander: Alexander’s battles with Jahlil Okafor as high school stars in Chicago were legendary and many expected the rivalry to continue when Okafor landed at Duke while Alexander headed to Kansas. Instead, Alexander did not seize a starting position with the Jayhawks and he went undrafted after an uneventful freshman year. Cliff Alexander is only 21 years old, yet has played just 36 NBA minutes over two seasons since leaving Kansas. Given the continuing log jam of big men, his stay in New Orleans is likely more about future career opportunities around the NBA than making this version of the Pelicans.

Jalen Jones and Charles Cooke: Both are on two-way contracts. Unless either woefully underperforms, it is likely the Pelicans maintain that relationship into the season. With the rules on two-way contracts, they can serve as reserved 10-day contract guys to use throughout the season (with a 45 day limit on their NBA experience without signing them to a full-blown NBA deal).

.....

The most likely scenario (barring an additional and surprising trade) has Jordan Crawford making the roster while Jalen Jones and Charles Cooke are sent to the G-League. Past Crawford, I give Martell Webster a slight edge on making the team above both Perry Jones III and Cliff Alexander. It’s not impossible Webster makes the team, but odds would seem in Jordan Crawford’s favor.

Alvin Gentry will have 17 (or 18 if Omer Asik is ready to go) healthy bodies to work with at the beginning of training camp. Questions about the rotation will focus upon the small forward spot. Who starts? How much does Gentry lean on playing three guard lineups? Dante Cunningham, Tony Allen, Darius Miller, E’Twaun Moore, and even Jrue Holiday are options there.

Figuring out how to best manage Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will also need to be discovered. Last season AD played a long first and third quarter while Cousins rested early to carry the second unit at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters. Should Gentry stagger his two superstars to ensure one is always on the floor to shoulder the offensive burden, or are the Pelicans best served playing the two as often as possible together?

Lastly, the fit in the backcourt between Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday will need to prove functional. Will Holiday also be a point guard with other units, necessitating him to flip the switch between setting the table and being aggressive? If not, which combo guard (Ian Clark and E’Twaun Moore) handles the ball with the second unit? Some positions are easier to slide between (SG and SF) than others (SG and PG), especially for a player like Holiday who has struggled finding his way to being appropriately assertive.

Lingering over all of these questions, a near playoffs-or-bust mandate looms. Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry are considered to be on the hottest of seats around the league. While a firing mid-season feels out of character under the ownership of Tom Benson, failure is likely to end in consequences. Gentry is also in the final guaranteed season of his contract, making his removal easier for ownership to stomach if necessary.

Basketball season is upon us. The Pelicans field the most talented roster since the heyday of the Chris Paul-led Hornets. Can they live up to the hype?