A win over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs the last day of the regular season to cap off an eight-and-three stretch over the team’s final eleven games and a 45-win season was a pleasant surprise for this young New Orleans Pelicans team.
They reached the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season when Chris Paul and David West were leading the way. The second appearance for head coach Monty Williams in his fifth season as the organization’s head coach. A first-round series loss to the Golden State Warriors was a surprise to no one.
But the true question is, with a young ascending superstar in Anthony Davis, where does the team go from here in order to continue the rise?
This is what the Pelicans look like next season as of right now (in salary order):
- Eric Gordon – $15.5 million (player option for 2015)
- Jrue Holiday – $11 million
- Tyreke Evans – $10.7 million
- Ryan Anderson – $8.5 million
- Anthony Davis – $7 million
- Quincy Pondexter – $3.3 million
- Norris Cole – $3.2 million (qualifying offer for 2015)
Although Eric Gordon wanted absolutely no part in being in New Orleans three years ago when he accepted a four-year, $58 million offer sheet from the Phoenix Suns, there’s no question now that he has every intention of picking up that overpriced player option for next season.
This season was the first time since his rookie year that Gordon played more than 62 games and while it was encouraging to see him actually be able to stay on the floor, averaging 13.4 points per game and shooting 41.1% from the field is not worth $15 million.
Nevertheless, there isn’t much the Pelicans can do about that now.
Aside from Gordon, the rest of the contracts seem to be relative bargains for this franchise. Obviously Davis is the best buy in the entire league but that’s because he’s still on his rookie deal. There have been reports of the Pelicans being extremely aggressive in their efforts to keep Davis in New Orleans, as they should.
Having Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson for a combined $30.2 million is great use of the salary cap. If the Pelicans do not elect to bring back Norris Cole then their cap will sit at $56.2 million, which would leave presumably eleven million in space to sign a free agent. The Pelicans do not have a first-round pick this season due to the Omer Asik trade with the Houston Rockets. Asik’s $14.9 million contract comes off the books this season.
The Pelicans have a pretty nice young core thanks to the wheeling-and-dealing of General Manager Dell Demps the last few seasons acquiring Evans and Holiday. This group could certainly use some veteran leadership.
Someone like a Tyson Chandler, perhaps.
Everything you’ve heard is how much Chandler enjoys it in Dallas, and the feeling may be mutual which would obviously make it harder to pry him away. But the future isn’t exactly bright in that Mavericks organization and he is an unrestricted free agent.
Whether or not the Pelicans would be able to lure a 32-year old Chandler with a contract in the three-year, $35 million range is another story. With the expected salary-cap jump the next two seasons, that could be an offer that would feel to be under market value for the former NBA Champion. But to be able to add some experience in the form of an NBA Champion and former Defensive-Player-Of-The-Year, that could go a long way in the leadership development for an Anthony Davis.
Another possibility for the Pelicans in a similar route of adding veteran leadership is a guy like David West, who started his career in New Orleans. Coming around full-circle and getting to end his playing career alongside Anthony Davis could be enticing. Also a likely more realistic option for the Pelicans since West will be 35 years of age entering next season, a two-year, $20-25 million contract could be had.
Should the Pelicans go the path of West they could create some offensive mismatches by playing small with Davis as the starting center. Or even a player such as DeMarre Carroll, who wouldn’t be a costly move, Anderson could slide back in the starting lineup and go with a starting group of Davis-Anderson-Carroll-Evans-Holiday with Gordon off the bench.
Evans, though, is one piece I have a hard time fitting in comfortably. His style as sort of a point guard but without a great shooting touch makes it hard for me to be completely excited about his future fit with the team. Evans had his best all-around year as a pro in my opinion, but maybe someone that’s more of a pure shooter and doesn’t like to handle it as much as he does could be a better piece to the New Orleans puzzle. Exploring the trade market for a 25-year old talented guard with a good contract wouldn’t be the worst idea.
And of course the elephant-in-the-room is head coach Monty Williams and whether or not he’ll return next season.
Williams wouldn’t be my first choice as a head coach of a young up-and-coming team. I would probably play a little bit of a waiting game if I’m New Orleans. See if the Chicago Bulls are crazy enough to let Tom Thibodeau go. If so, that’s someone they should pounce on. Immediately.
There were too many times, especially in the playoffs, where the Pelicans offense seemed out of sort and there were too many possessions that went in which Anthony Davis didn’t even touch the ball.
Sometimes just a coaching change is enough to make a big leap. Just look at the opponent they lost to, Steve Kerr helped catapult that team from a good one to potentially great.
I don’t think New Orleans has to add a ton. They just need to revolve the offense around the improving Davis and surround him and Holiday with some good shooters and defenders and they’ll be in good shape to make some noise over the next few years.
Once the salary cap makes the big jump it’s expected to make, this team could be really dangerous if they add the right piece.
They’re certainly one to watch.