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New Orleans Pelicans salary cap sheet and remaining options after signing Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton

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Building on a playoff run, the front office still has tools at their disposal to improve the roster.

New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Coming off their most successful season in a decade, the New Orleans Pelicans must abandon course. DeMarcus Cousins decided ring hunting while cheerleading on the Golden State Warriors sidelines is a better idea than ensuring his checking account add an extra $35 million over the next few years, while Rajon Rondo made Kevin Garnett and all once loyal leprechauns everywhere turn away in utter disgust after joining forces with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nothing immediately made sense for the vast majority of us, but fortunately General Manager Dell Demps pivoted well and nabbed Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton during the first week of free agency. Once Cheick Diallo’s contract guarantees by the end of today, the Pelicans will be committed to eleven players for a grand total of just under $107 million in salaries.

Player 2018/19 Cap Figure
Jrue Holiday $25,970,000
Anthony Davis $25,434,263
Nikola Mirotic $12,500,000
Solomon Hill $12,263,928
E'Twaun Moore $8,808,685
Julius Randle $8,641,000
Alexis Ajinca $5,285,394
Elfrid Payton $2,700,000
Darius Miller $2,205,000
Cheick Diallo $1,544,951
Frank Jackson $1,378,242
Total $106,731,463

The luxury tax line sits at $123.7 million, yet that’s not a figure the Pelicans will touch barring particular trades. Yes, New Orleans has never paid the luxury tax in their 16-year history, but reluctance is currently not the reason for avoiding this threshold; rather, the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement will disallow such action.

When a team is hard-capped — as the Pelicans are after signing Randle to the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception, they are not allowed to go over the apron at anytime during the fiscal period, or sticking to numbers for the 2018-19 season: an amount of $129.8 million. In addition to counting salaries, which include likely incentives, the unlikely bonuses must also be factored into the equation, and the Pelicans have four players with such parameters built into their contracts that need calculation.

  • After failing to meet his games played incentive (he didn’t appear in a single game in 2018-19), Alexis Ajinca will have a total of $225K in unlikely incentives.
  • Solomon Hill has almost $1 million in unlikely bonuses for minutes played and making an All-Defense First Team, among other things. One year ago, this sum was half that amount because Hill reached his minutes played minimum during the 2016-17 campaign, but after appearing in just 187 minutes, it will once again be deemed unlikely — but at least his cap figure drops by nearly half a million.
  • Jrue Holiday has approximately $4.7 million of annual incentives built into his contract for a wide variety of things. After a season in which he reached incentives for minutes, games, a few statistical benchmarks and making the All-NBA Defensive First Team, he pocketed an additional $865K, thus leaving around $3.9 million in unlikely incentives.
  • Nikola Mirotic has $1 million in unlikely bonuses (four statistical benchmarks valued at 250K each if he appears in 65+ games) that he could earn on top of his $12,500,000 guaranteed salary. You would be correct in wondering whether a fight with Bobby Portis cost Niko a chance of potentially earning an additional million dollars at the start of the schedule when he missed the first 23 games of the season while working back from a broken jaw.

Adding together these unlikely incentives, the total comes to $6.114 million. The difference between the apron and the luxury tax this season is $6.084 million. Consequently, the Pelicans are set to be hardcapped at $123,703,000 — a mark just under the luxury tax line of $123,733,000 — and hence they will not face the possibility of entering the tax unless one of these four players above are traded at some point during this season.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

As for filling out the rest of the roster, the Pelicans have options available to them. They are limited to signing free agents via veteran minimum contracts — hoping for James Ennis or Shabazz Muhammad might be the most lucrative catch, or absorbing low-cost salaries from other teams with one of the their available Traded Player Exceptions ($3.853 million being the largest via Quincy Pondexter trade).

Obviously, New Orleans can guarantee Emeka Okafor and/or DeAndre Liggins, or bring back any remaining free agents. However, would Ian Clark accept a salary of just $1,892,676 (120% of his $1,577,230 salary last season)? On the other hand, it’s hard to fathom New Orleans being interested in bringing back Jordan Crawford to this roster, but as Jason Calmes nicely laid out last month, Crawford could be involved in a sign-and-trade because the Pelicans own his early bird rights. His salary would be used to bring back more useful salary, and the receiving team could be paid in draft compensation for their troubles of paying Crawford a salary for that first guaranteed year.

Lastly, Dell Demps could facilitate a trade — something he’s apparently considering since there have been rumors posted of the Pelicans trading for Kent Bazemore or Dennis Schroder of the Atlanta Hawks over the last week. The New Orleans front office will remain active, pursuing any and all leads in filling the remaining holes on this roster as the Pelicans have about $16 million dollars in space below the hard cap. The team could wait until the trade deadline to make a move, but if the right deal comes along now, expect the go ahead to be given.