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2019 NBA Free Agency: Salary cap outlook for the New Orleans Pelicans

A quick look at just how much cap space the Pelicans will have to work with on June 30th

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans-Draft Fest Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans made it official last night, drafting Zion Williamson with the first overall pick. Their next three picks; Jaxson Hayes with number eight, Nickeil Alexander-Walker with number 17, and Marcos Louzada Silva with number 35, are all pending completion of the Anthony Davis trade with the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks. Despite that we can have a good idea on how much salary cap space David Griffin, Trajan Langdon, and company will have to work with once free agency starts.

There are a couple assumptions I am making in the chart below. First, I assume that the Pelicans will sign all three of their first round draft picks to 120% of the 2019-20 NBA rookie scale. This is common practice in all but the rarest cases. NBA Summer League begins on July 5th, and with the Pelicans (and Hawks) insisting on a July 6th execution date they both expect their drafted players to participate this July in Las Vegas. Have at them Oleh Kosel and Kevin Barrios.

Second, I have the Pelicans waiving Dairis Bertans minimum salary. New Orleans already has an absolute embarrassment of riches on their roster and keeping a fringe NBA player (at best) who was brought in by the prior regime wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

This allows the Pelicans functional cap space to climb to $32,495,141. It assumes the Pelicans do not maintain cap holds for any of their pending free agents Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Cheick Diallo, and Darius Miller. In addition to the above $32.5M in cap space the Pelicans would also have the room exception of $4.76M available. That exception is greater than any of the pending Pelican free agent holds outside of Randle, meaning the Pelicans could make a big offer to a free agent or two using the $32.5M in cap space and still bring back Elfrid Payton (for example) with the room exception.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans-Press Conference Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There are other paths available. The Pelicans could choose to keep those salary holds on the books and get a massive cap exception out of the Anthony Davis trade if they preferred to do so. In that scenario New Orleans wouldn’t be a cap space team at all but would have access to the mid-level exception (MLE) of $9.2M. Given their ease of access to cap space, and the variety of ways David Griffin and Trajan Langdon could use it, I would be surprised if that was the route they take, but it is an option.

Now, onto the cap table. Current player salaries thanks to Basketball Insiders. Rookie scale numbers thanks to Real GM, linked previously, at 120% of the scale.

Sharing it as a tweet means I can keep the various colors that are lost when sharing it as a Google table. All of the red salaries (Christian Wood, Frank Jackson, and Kenrich Williams) are not fully guaranteed. Purple are team options, and green are qualifying offers for restricted free agents, not actual salaries. Lastly, blue (Jrue Holiday in 2021-22) is a player option.

You may read from a Laker fan that the Pelicans could get some more cap space if they delay the trade until July 30th. That’s old news. The Pelicans have Solomon Hill going out ($12.7M) and just $7.8M (Hayes and Alexander-Walker) coming back in this trade with Atlanta. Delaying it for the sake of the Lakers cap space decreases the functional cap space for New Orleans. They won’t do it. Neither will the Hawks. Yes, the Pelicans have more cap space than the Lakers.

New Orleans is just shy of the $32.7M in cap space needed for a 7-9 year veteran max such as Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, or Tobias Harris. I don’t believe that’s in the cards, but good information to know. They do have more than enough room to offer a maximum contract to D’Angelo Russell ($27.25M) but I would be surprised if that is their path as well given David Griffin’s press conference last night where he said none of the players being acquired are intended to be moved immediately.

What do the Pelicans need? I see two primary areas they could target; big men who can shoot and another lead guard to initiate the offense when Lonzo Ball is off the floor.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Brook Lopez is the best shooting big man available with Al Horford right behind him. Both will command large contracts, but would provide the veteran leadership lacking in a locker room with 10 players under the age of 25. Past those two, Tobias Harris (more of a combo forward than a pure power forward) and Nikola Mirotic stand out as possible big men who can shoot on the market.

As far as initiating guards, Malcolm Brogdon (an old favorite of mine) leads the way. Brogdon is a restricted free agent and will likely command a large salary to pry him from the Milwaukee Bucks. Other options on the market would include bringing back Elfrid Payton, Darren Collison, or even Ish Smith. One final name to look for would be Cory Joseph.

As far as what will happen? We’ve seen enough from David Griffin and Trajan Langdon to know predicting the next move feels almost futile. Let’s just enjoy the ride.

Let’s dance!