With news that the NBA is seriously contemplating the start of the 2020-21 season on December 22nd — that’s in less than two month’s time and the plan is gaining traction, the New Orleans Pelicans best course of action just might be to run things back.
For the uninitiated, this means keeping any significant changes to the roster in the upcoming offseason to a minimum.
This opinion will not be popular with most at first impression, but the idea isn’t as dour as one may think upon evaluating the situation fully.
We know the 2020 NBA Draft will be held on November 18. If this upcoming season begins right around Christmas Day, that’s an incredibly small amount of time to cram in a free agency period, have coaching staffs devise applicable systems and teams implement an assortment of material in shortened training camps.
With the Pelicans having already added Stan Van Gundy as their new head coach, shaking up the roster too much during these next few months could increase the likelihood of another failed run at the postseason. Although fresh faces and returning players alike would be asked to execute new strategies, maintaining continuity could be beneficial out of the gates and perhaps pose a crucial difference between a few wins and losses inside the first month or so. For a team that’s predicted to at best compete for one of the last few playoff spots out West, the importance of this possibility cannot be overstated.
Immediately after the Van Gundy hire was announced, keeping Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick around in New Orleans made a lot more sense. Now I’m of a mind that this logic should extend to the Pelicans re-signing some of their own free agents like Derrick Favors — provided the price tags are appropriate.
Whether the NBA carries over the same salary cap from last season ($109 million) or artificially increases the figure by a few million dollars more, the Pelicans would not have the resources to fill all their holes on the roster adequately if they decided to move on from nearly all of their free agents. Brandon Ingram’s cap hold combined with the salaries still under contract alone make chasing cap space a foolish endeavor.
Make no mistake, the Pelicans want to claw their way into the next postseason. Their odds would be improved by possessing a starting-caliber center, a good-sized 3-4 wing defender, a serviceable veteran at point guard and other reliable options off the bench behind Redick and Josh Hart.
I’ve waffled on this position previously, but now believe Griffin should explore offering Favors a short-term deal, say a 1+1 player option starting at around 10 million for next season, if medical/other pertinent staffs sign off. Utilizing bird rights on Favors, E’Twaun Moore and potentially a few others would allow David Griffin to concentrate spending the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions on defensive holes and a steady initiator behind Lonzo Ball.
It’s highly unlikely Favors would be able to score a deal worth more than the full MLE with another team, but New Orleans’ offer would not represent a slap in the face. If Favors lives up to billing and enjoys a mild bounce back campaign, it would be a win-win. He would likely be able to sign a more lucrative proposal down the road while New Orleans prospers from being able to spend limited resources elsewhere.
With the newfound freedom in filling out the roster, a serviceable wing defender and an experienced point guard could be signed. David Grubb recently made cases for Trey Burke, Josh Jackson and Jae Crowder to fill those dimensions, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Griffin kick the tires on Maurice Harkless or Shabazz Napier.
A 1+1 for Favors would also fall more in line with the contracts of Holiday and Redick. If the Pelicans fail to meet expectations before the next trade deadline, the front office could choose to move away easily from the current cast of vets. Holiday isn’t going to lack for suitors and some playoff-bound team would love to acquire Redick too.
Despite this plan tilting towards boring on fan excitement meters, it would be far from the worst outcome. The success of the Pelicans preferred starting lineup last season was talked about ad nauseam — and they came up flat in the bubble, but it still makes for a good beginning point for Van Gundy.
During their solid run before the pandemic shut the NBA down in March, the Pelicans offense and defense ranked in the top 10. Many wrote off their defensive improvement to good fortune afterwards, with opponents missing more than their fair share of desirable three-point attempts. While true to some extent, did you know, for instance, that the forwards and centers did a much better job of thwarting opponent looks inside of six feet during that span?
|Start of season - December 17||December 18 - Pandemic Shutdown|
**Per NBA Stats
Opponents torched individual Pelican defenders before December 17th, but the entire group outside of Zion enjoyed a remarkable turnaround. And I believe more sits in the tank.
Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson have displayed consistent bursts of unstoppable offense, with Redick, Holiday, Ball and others providing enough firepower in support. Van Gundy could institute necessary improvements defensively and greater structure could lead to better late-game execution without overly suffocating the vibrant offense.
It’s not hard to imagine this core taking a step forward in personal development while learning to keep opponents out of the restricted area a little more often or reducing the number of silly turnovers per game under the guidance of their newest head coach.
The parts in New Orleans are not beyond salvage. In light of this uncertain climate, running it back with stronger depth has a lot of merit. If Stan Van Gundy is who we think he is, let’s see what he can do with a group that should have beat more people’s asses.
There exists more than blind hope for last year’s roster. In my honest opinion, they have the potential to be a more impactful version than the 22-14 team we saw between December 18 and the pandemic shutdown. If Van Gundy can gain the ear of the locker room and moderately improve team defensive concepts while nurturing the games of Ingram, Zion and the rest of the young guns, it’s not far-fetched these Pelicans could put themselves in position to fiercely challenge for the 2021 playoffs.
Big journeys begin with small steps. The Pelicans are not ready to make that jump to a championship-caliber team, but inroads must be made immediately with the culture. Nothing helps more than simply winning basketball games. Going with a semi-proven group whose members are familiar with one another could be the ticket.