Summer agenda: New Orleans Pelicans

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·The Vertical
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The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks, a 20-year executive with the Nets, examines the off-season plans for teams that didn’t make the postseason.

THE PLAN GOING FORWARD
Don’t waste the Anthony Davis years

New Orleans needs to keep Anthony Davis (center) healthy and happy. (AP)
New Orleans needs to keep Anthony Davis (center) healthy and happy. (AP)

The rookie extension Davis signed does not begin until July, but the clock is ticking on the Pelicans. Although he’s under contract for the next five years, Pelicans management cannot have the mindset that time is on its side to improve the roster.

If New Orleans takes a lackadaisical approach to improving, the franchise power forward will be looking for a new address sooner rather than later.

Assess the roster
Are the pieces broken?

How much can a lost season be blamed on injuries, rotating lineups every night, lack of bench depth, and Alvin Gentry, in his first year with New Orleans, trying to implement a new style of play? Well, a lot.

Even with 11 players returning from a 45-win team, the Pelicans faced an uphill battle from the first day of training camp. Restrictions to starting point guard Jrue Holiday, off-season surgery for Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter, and an ankle injury to backup point guard Norris Cole put the Pelicans behind to start the season.

However, it would be foolish to blame this season on injuries alone. There were times when the Pelicans resembled last season’s team (a 123-116 win over Oklahoma City on Feb. 25) and others when they looked like a mess (a Feb. 4 loss to the L.A. Lakers).

It’s imperative for the Pelicans to find some consistency going forward.

Ryan Anderson vs. cap space
The Pelicans find themselves in a difficult position.

Ryan Anderson is one of the top power forwards on the market. (AP)
Ryan Anderson is one of the top power forwards on the market. (AP)

How do they improve upon the roster but also retain free agent Ryan Anderson?

Anderson is one of the top power forwards on the free-agent market and will command a salary close to $20 million. Bringing back Anderson at that price will wipe away any cap space New Orleans might have. Even if the Pelicans were to leave his cap hold ($12.7 million) on the books, New Orleans still would only have $8.6 million to spend on upgrades. That, of course, factors in letting free agents Eric Gordon and Cole walk.

If the Pelicans elect to let Anderson go, their cap space will approach close to $20 million.

However, free agency is often unpredictable and rarely do teams ever have leverage. In the case of the Pelicans, cap space might sound appealing, but the norm is overpaying for players.

The draft and health
Having the No. 6 pick and second-round picks from Sacramento and Denver are good starting points. Even in a below-average draft, New Orleans should find a quality player to fill a reserve role, or use the lottery pick as a trade chip. The Pelicans will need to rely on their personnel department with regard to the second-round picks. Can they package both and move up in the draft? Or is there a player (think established senior) they can draft to help now.

Clarity is also needed on the long-term health of Pondexter and Evans. Ideally, both players would to be ready for training camp. The last thing New Orleans can afford is a repeat of last season, even if both players are on the right course of recovery

TEAM NEEDS
Where do you start?

There are glaring needs across the board for the Pelicans.

For starters, let’s focus on shooting guard and small forward position. With Gordon likely not back and the health issues of Evans and Pondexter, New Orleans will need upgrades at both positions. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, there is nobody under contract who can step up and fill those roles.

Last year’s signing of center Omer Asik did not turn out the way New Orleans had hoped. Asik was often injured, did not equal his previous production when he did play and is locked into a long-term contract. Although New Orleans clearly needs an upgrade at center, it will be hard with so many other more pressing needs. Also factor in that Davis can slide over to the center position if needed.

The Pelicans also need depth at point guard, shooting guard and power forward.

SUMMER CAP BREAKDOWN

Guaranteed

2016-17

Insider info

1. Anthony Davis

 $21,109,000

 None

2. Jrue Holiday

 $11,286,518

 Eligible for extension

3. Tyreke Evans

$10,203,755

 Eligible for extension/Trade bonus

4. Omer Asik

 $9,904,494

None 

5. Alexis Ajinca

 $4,563,203

 None

6. Quincy Pondexter

 $3,617,978

 None

7. Dante Cunningham

 $2,978,250

 None

8. Alonzo Gee

 $1,370,400

 Player option

Non/partial

 2016-17

 Guarantee date

9. Luke Babbitt

 $1,227,286

 Full protection/July 12

10. Toney Douglas

 $1,315,448

 Full protection/July 12

11. Bryce Dejean-Jones

 $874,636

 None

FA cap holds

 2016-17

Free agents 

12. Eric Gordon

 $23,271,047

 Full Bird rights

13. Ryan Anderson

 $12,750,000

 Full Bird rights

14. Norris Cole

 $5,770,163

 Full Bird rights

15. Kendrick Perkins

 $980,431

 Non-Bird rights

16. Tim Frazier

 $1,180,431

 Restricted/Non-Bird rights

17. James Ennis

 $1,180,431

 Restricted/Non-Bird rights

First-round hold
Pick No. 6: $2,931,000

CAP PICTURE

Guaranteed:

$65,033,598

Non/partial:

$2,542,734

FA cap holds:

$45,132,503

First-round holds:

$2,931,000

Minimum holds:

0

Dead money:

0

Total:

$115,639,835

Salary cap:

$92,000,000

Cap space:

$23,639,835

PROJECTED CAP SPACE
Before cap space is established, the Pelicans will need to figure out the plan for Gordon and Anderson, both free agents. Both players currently count $34 million toward the cap for next summer, and flexibility will not be created until a decision is made.

Even if New Orleans elects to let Gordon walk and hold onto Anderson’s cap hold, the Pelicans will only have $8.6 million in cap space. That number could shrink in half if Davis earns All-NBA honors in May.

JUNE DRAFT PICKS
First round: own No. 6 selection

Second round: to Milwaukee; own picks from Sacramento and Denver

FUTURE PICKS
First round: own all first-round picks starting in 2017

Rights to: none

PREVIOUS SUMMER AGENDA: Nets

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