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The Bird Calls Podcast Ep. 140: NBA Free Agency: New Orleans Pelicans roster could be close to ready for start of regular season

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With the additions of Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, and the return of Ian Clark, the Pelicans might be finished conducting business during the summer.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The success that the New Orleans Pelicans enjoyed in the 2018 NBA Playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers has appeared to continue into free agency with the surprising low cost additions of Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton.

By utilizing both the Mid-level and Bi-annual exceptions, the Pelicans took flyers on two former lottery selections in the hopes of upgrading their starting lineup.

The Pelicans depth chart could look a lot like this to start the regular season:

PG: Elfrid Payton — Frank Jackson

SG: Jrue HolidayIan ClarkDeAndre Liggins

SF: E’Twaun MooreSolomon HillDarius Miller — Garlon Green

PF: Julius RandleNikola MiroticCheick Diallo

C: Anthony DavisEmeka OkaforAlexis Ajinca

Earlier today, Garlon Green was signed to a partial two-year contract. The contracts of Emeka Okafor and DeAndre Liggins have yet to be fully guaranteed, giving the Pelicans the option to add two more players, or simply keep those slots open in the event that the Pelicans instigate an unbalanced trade, utilize a trade exception or sign addition veteran minimum contracts like Ian Clark.

In addition, the surprising play of 6’5 swingman Trevon Bluiett in summer league could garner a deeper look for the full-time rotation in the early stages of the regular season. As a two-way player, Bluiett can join the team for up to 45 days, and the Pelicans may seek to experiment with those days sooner rather than later should he impress right out of training camp.

Given all of these parameters, it appears unlikely that the Pelicans will fully guarantee Liggins’ contract by the end of this month. Unlike in previous seasons, however, the Pelicans do have the salary cap space to simply waive him midseason if need be.

Will the Pelicans add a point guard?

General Manager Dell Demps has been very active in free agency outside of the actual additions mentioned. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the Pelicans could still be seeking a stop gap at signal caller in the event things were to go bumpy with Payton in the opening weeks.

We’ve seen rumored interest in Yogi Ferrell:

Former Pelican, Tyreke Evans:

Even All-Star and former top five MVP finalist Isaiah Thomas:

Dell Demps has referenced Elfrid Payton’s potential numbers in a lightning quick offense as evidence that Payton is ready to emerge in the Pelicans starting lineup. However, his defense remains a concern, according to Philip Rossman Reich, Editor of and host to Locked on Magic:

“If you’re asking Payton to guard a team’s best back court player, you’re going to be scrambling to cover for him.”

“The Magic gave him every opportunity to succeed. The only way Payton will make the Magic regret losing him is if he becomes the defensive ace the Magic thought they were getting.”

“But at some point in the NBA, four years in, you are who you are.”

So while Pelicans’ fans have every right to be hopeful, it stands to reason they should be cautious as well.

Frank Jackson showed electric burst and athleticism in the first half of his sole appearance during the summer league exhibition. He remains the ace in the hole this offseason should his talent come to fruition, but the Pelicans cannot possibly know what to expect after three foot surgeries and his most recently sprained ankle.

Ian Clark has been more inconsistent than reliable. Clark shot under 30% from three point range in February and March, and under 20% in November and January.

Jrue Holiday will man the point guard position for large portions of games, though the Pelicans will likely keep him at shooting guard to reserve his energy for scoring and defense.

These four players may carry with them a bit of uncertainty, but between them, fans can be confident that Alvin Gentry, Darren Erman, and Chris Finch will find productivity from enough who man the position throughout the season.

Should the Pelicans dip their toes into what’s left at the position, they might seek a meeting with Shane Larkin?


The Pelicans are likely done adding to their front court with the addition of Julius Randle. Between Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Randle, there aren’t many minutes to go around to any potential free agents.

But Dell Demps still has a decision to make on Emeka Okafor. Okafor will turn 36 before the start of the season, and while impressive in his limited time, may be nearing the end of his career.

The Pelicans hinted interest in several big men including JaVale McGee, Greg Monroe, and Trevor Booker, to name a few. Also, who could forget the trade that almost was between the Pelicans and Philadelphia just a year and a half ago?

Okafor will almost certainly spend this year in China, but Booker, Monroe, Alan Williams, Noah Vonleh, and Lucas Nogueira remain available.


This is the most critical of needs for the Pels, but one they will likely seek to improve upon via trade. While they could seek to meet with David Nwaba, Paul Zipser or Luke Babbitt, the upside of these players probably doesn’t surpass that of Solomon Hill or Darius Miller.

The Pelicans were said to be close in talks with James Ennis, who opted to head to Houston, instead, but they did add Green, a 27-year-old who has thus far made a name for himself playing overseas.

The Pelicans roster is set, for now

With what remains available on the free agent market, it is likely the Pelicans believe their best option to win already sits in house. Giving Frank Jackson and Elfrid Payton the chance to flourish, as well as recoup some of Solomon Hill’s value, should be priority number one. As the trade deadline approaches and team’s begin to fall out of contention, Demps will likely target another Nikola Mirotic type to further bolster the depth chart in advance of what hopes to be another playoff run for New Orleans.

To hear Oleh Kosel, Kevin Barrios and David Grubb’s thoughts on the Pelicans’ free agent options, check out our latest episode of The Bird Calls!

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