What overall grade would you give the New Orleans Pelicans for their major free agent signings thus far (Randle, Payton and Clark) and why?
This offseason has been a strange one for the Pelicans. General Manager Dell Demps has always seemed to aim for big, splashy moves, but he kept it pretty quiet this year: Adding a couple of solid young players in Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton on team friendly deals, re-signing Ian Clark to a one-year minimum contract, and picking up a potential rotation player in Trevon Bluiett, who lit it up in the Summer League. I suppose that just means he believes in this roster’s talent level. So, a decent B- sounds about right.
This was a golden ticket idea dipped in the mathematical formula that produced the 8-bit Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson of an offseason for Dell Demps. The only reason that it doesn’t get two more plus signs and a lower-back tattoo of a dolphin riding a unicorn/pegasus over a tropical island floating inside of giant tropical rum cocktail served inside of a coconut next to the A is that it could be a very short build — Nikola Mirotic and Payton expire the next offseason, and Randle will likely opt out of his deal, too.
Still, Dell Demps took a roster that swept Portland and took a game from Golden State and added Randle, creating the best big man rotation in the league with three very different players that can all play together — and even all three at the same time. He also replaced Rajon Rondo with a seamless on-court replica and hometown hero, Elfrid Payton, on the cheap. That’s not to say that Payton can replace the intangibles, leadership and IQ of Rondo, but if you were playing 2K with both players, you could make them do the same exact things. Even if Payton is a drop off from Rondo, the addition of Julius Randle more than offsets what may have been lost.
So for this year, we are golden — let’s hope some semblance of these guys are signed up long term.
No one expected the Pels to make any noticeable splashes outside of retaining their own, so my grade doesn’t revolve simply around the signings alone. It also includes Dell Demps learning from past mistakes and standing his ground with Boogie and Rondo. Whether you like it or not, Demps had a plan and he stuck to it.
When Rondo and Boogie decided to leave, he quickly responded with additions that have great overall value. Payton is a low-risk, high-reward signing; Randle is a walking double-double most nights, after improving every year in his young career. The next step elevation for Randle could make him a star, and playing with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday could do just that. Ian Clark’s return at the minimum is also a huge return for a bench that could be really good this season if healthy.
This roster, as currently constructed, is not better than last season’s, but we know Dell Demps probably has a move or two in store for fans in time for the February trade deadline. Lost in the afterglow of excitement following the surprising acquisition of Julius Randle was the alarming losses of Rajon Rondo as well as All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins.
”Playoff Rondo” performances were matched by “Regular Season Rondo” during the Pelicans 20-7 stretch to end the regular season. The numbers, per 36, are identical; however, Rondo saw the end of the bench in certain clutch time performances during the regular season. In fact, some may remember I was the one calling for his benching early in the March 15th loss to the Spurs, in which he carried an abysmal -23 rating in 24 minutes when matched against the speedier Dejounte Murray.
But Rondo’s value far exceeds that of 11/11/7/2 per 36 in the regular season. Elfrid Payton may mirror Rondo’s offensive production, but in terms of IQ on both ends of the floor, as well as leadership, there can be no debate. It is no accident that both Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday celebrated their best seasons to date with Rondo at the helm as he instilled a chemistry and leadership this franchise had sorely been lacking since Chris Paul left town.
”Oh, we definitely want him back.” - General Manager Dell Demps
”Obviously we’d like to have him back. He did a lot of great things for us and I know you guys used a “Playoff Rondo” thing, but he was a regular season Rondo for us also. He had a game where he had 25 assists and I think our guys just truly believe in him. So yes, we’d like to have him back.” - Head Coach Alvin Gentry
It’s difficult for me to believe the Lakers won the Rondo sweepstakes with but a 500k bonus as their ammunition. After all, last year the Pelicans were able to woo Rondo with just over $3 million dollars.
”Come July 1st, the Lakers were the first ones to make the call.” - Rajon Rondo
Less than one day after the Pelicans signed his eventual successor in Payton, Rondo responded by jumping ship. Could this be a result of a few hundred thousand dollars or did Rajon Rondo feel disrespected as he watched New Orleans pursue another point guard while he waited by the phone? It was reported by an Arizona Radio Host that Rondo was seeking a two-year, $16 million dollar deal. Surely the Pelicans’ could have offered that, even beaten it utilizing the full Mid-Level exception.
And while acquiring Julius Randle after the fact was a major victory for the Pelicans’ front office, losing DeMarcus Cousins for nothing has to be considered an equally hurtful blow. Reports indicate the Pelicans were close to a sign-and-trade involving a package from Portland, but the deal never came to fruition.
So while the Pelicans were able to add young talent at a bargain bin discount, their continuity and proverbial “ceiling” has to be considered diminished at this time. New Orleans will no doubt end up in the back half of the playoffs once more, but contending with either the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors this season is a pipe dream.
The clock is ticking once more on General Manager Dell Demps to make another home run move at the deadline to secure a top four finish in the West, all but assuring Anthony Davis’ super max extension this summer. As we’ve seen in the previous two seasons, Demps has done it before, and he can do it again.
Recovering from losing both Rondo and Cousins into Payton and Randle is a great rebound by Dell Demps. The team, at least in the regular season, has the potential to be better. Payton isn’t better than Rajon Rondo overall, but he’ll give a better effort night in and out than regular season Rondo. Randle is 100% from the jump where Cousins was going to be recovering and playing himself into NBA shape. Certainly an above average summer considering the limited tools available.
I give it a C at best. I don’t know about you, but I like having a talent as good as DeMarcus Cousins on the roster. Regardless of injury, I’d prefer to have him than not. Same goes for Rajon Rondo, for all the statistics that say otherwise, Rondo added a special something to New Orleans locker room. I like Julius Randle, but I’m not wild about Elfrid Payton. So all in all a C.
Apologies for the baseball analogies but it’s late July. Julius Randle was a home run, Ian Clark, a solid base hit up the middle, and Elfrid Payton is still standing in the batter’s box, whacking foul balls. While the bases are loaded, New Orleans trails by four in the bottom of the ninth and Payton is down 0-2 in the count. Problem is, he’s not known for his prodigious power.
Look, we all understand that Payton wasn’t brought in to be some savior, but unfortunately, he’s going to be unfairly compared to Rajon Rondo and it’s a coin flip on how he’ll handle the adversity. While the veteran point guard most definitely has faults, the team responded well to him at the controls; Payton has yet to inspire any professional team to anything noteworthy.
This situation is truly no one’s fault though. Rondo wanted to get paid and I’m still giddy that the full MLE went towards Randle instead. However, none of this dismisses the fact that a key component of a lot of success last season is gone and now a lot of responsibility sits on Payton, who lacks the experience, leadership and brashness of Rondo, and Jrue Holiday, who seems to respond better to sharing a lot of ball-handling and play-making duties.
We can assume the front office isn’t entirely comfortable either after recently being connected to Dennis Schroder, but options are limited. With a long-standing hole at small forward, utilizing future assets for another point guard is far from ideal, but the alternative is relying on hope. We can be confident the coaching staff will try to unlock some further potential maybe hiding within Payton and a Chris Finch offense can function without a legitimate floor general, but it would be best if Davis and/or Holiday are ready to act out of character — mimicking the guy they looked up to every night last season when lacing up in some locker room.
Is it best to trust this route?
Given the context of DeMarcus Cousins’ exit from New Orleans, I think I have to give the Pelicans front office an A. Once Boogie bolted, real questions emerged about the future of this team and whether or not they could make the playoffs next season or have a realistic vision of the future moving forward. As of now, the fit looks great — this team might become an even faster team than they were last year — and just as importantly, it marks a new beginning for Davis. It was he who recruited Julius Randle to town; it looks like he has better taste in talent than most. Cough, LeBron, cough.