Two days after the nation celebrates Independence Day, NBA players will get to exercise their independence with the start of the league’s free agency period on July 6.
According to the latest numbers by Spotrac, the New Orleans Pelicans have a bit of work to do to get under the salary cap. The Pels have 13 players currently under contract, with more than $207 million committed to the roster. They sit $73.64 million over the cap. Only seven teams in the league are worse off financially.
This is professional sports however, and what is true today may not be true tomorrow.
David Griffin does have some flexibility and he has plenty of assets to sweeten a deal if need be.
The Pelicans have their biggest needs in the frontcourt, with length, athleticism, and rim protection; and in the backcourt, they need one more player to control the offense.
CJ McCollum was tasked with being the primary ballhandler, not the role he expected when he was traded to New Orleans. He averaged 2.4 turnovers per game, his highest since his third NBA season. McCollum’s 11.2 turnover percentage was the third highest of his career, even though his usage was down three percent from his post-trade minutes last season.
Injuries were a part of CJ’s problems, and those can heal. However, he is not a primary ballhandler. The rest of the Pelicans’ backcourt each have their own issues.
Herbert Jones is a solid passer, particularly when on the move, but he is not going to break defenses down off the dribble.
Jose Alvarado is coming off of injury, and turnovers have been an issue for him. Last season he averaged 3.0 turnovers per 100 possessions and his effectiveness in half court situations is impacted by his height. Jose is a fan favorite, and there’s no doubt he will work hard throughout the offseason to improve, but there is a ceiling that it’s going to be very hard for him to break through.
Kira Lewis Jr. should be coming into his own. He only played in 25 games last season, but only saw nine or more minutes of action in 12. The good news is, in those 12 games the Pelicans were a respectable 6-6, with Kira averaging 6.9 pts, 1.2 asts, 2.1 reb, and 0.6 turnovers per game while shooting 46.3% from the floor and 41.6% from three-point range. Going into the final year of his rookie deal, you would expect the Pelicans to find out what Lewis has.
Dyson Daniels fits the profile of an All-NBA defender, and he showed flashes of being an incredible passer at times. However, his offense left much to be desired. It seemed that by season’s end, he had little confidence in his ability to shoot or finish at the rim. As a rookie, he did as most rookies do; he had good moments and bad. In 26 of his 59 games he held a positive plus-minus. In 29 games he was a negative. In four, he was neither. Rookie point guards usually take time to develop, and even if Dyson shows improvement, he’s not going to get the ball when the game is tight late.
It’s been pretty much accepted that Josh Richardson will not return next season.
The Pelicans’ cap situation should immediately put an end to any notion of the team signing high-priced players like Kyrie Irving. Neither Russell Westbrook nor D’Angelo Russell fits the profile of the type of player that could complement Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
Perhaps one of these players could help provide a veteran presence in the backcourt and showcase the ability to run an offense and knock down a shot or two.
Gabe Vincent, Miami Heat
Gabe Vincent picked the right time to have the best season of his career. Heading into free agency after four seasons with the Miami Heat, Vincent should be sought in a market that has plenty of high-priced talent, but not a lot of value.
Vincent seems to be showing just how valuable he can be. During the regular season he posted career highs in minutes (25.9), scoring average (9.4 ppg), rebounds (2.1), and steals (0.9). Over the last two seasons, he’s also made 61 starts.
He’s been even better in the postseason, averaging 13.4 pts, 1.7 reb, and 3.9 asts. Vincent is shooting 40% from three-point range, while making almost three triples per game.
He’s also been very good in pick and roll situations, averaging 0.88 points per possession. By comparison, Alvarado (0.76), Daniels (0.68), and former Pelican Devonte’ Graham (0.67) were all noticeably worse.
Vincent fits the profile of the type of players that David Griffin has been drawn to as of late. He was a four-year college player, comes from a winning culture, and brings postseason experience.
Jevon Carter, Milwaukee Bucks
Carter, like Vincent, was a four-year college player who has had to fight for his NBA career. Taken in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft, Jevon Carter has played for four teams in five seasons, most recently with the Milwaukee Bucks.
He has a player option for $2.24 million that he must exercise by June 29th, but considering that the Bucks are in a win-now mode after falling in the first round of the playoffs, he may be deemed expendable by the organization and encouraged to find his fortunes elsewhere.
He could earn up to $5 million annually on the open market, which would mean that the Pelicans would have to move someone or two out to bring him in.
During the 2022-23 season he played in 81 games and made 39 starts for the team with the best regular season record in the league. The Bucks were 29-10 in his starts (.743), 57-24 overall (.695), with Carter averaging 9.4 pts, 3.1 asts, 3.1 rebs, and 1.1 stls. He also made 42.6 of his three-point attempts and nearly 83 pct. of his free throws.
Jevon Carter has also earned a reputation as an aggressive on-ball defender and he does not lack for confidence.
It has been said that the Pelicans lack edge. That wouldn’t be a problem if they added Carter to the roster this offseason.
Shake Milton, Philadelphia 76ers
If the Pelicans are looking to add some instant offense to their bench, then Shake Milton could be an attractive option.
At the age of 26, the former second round pick is coming off of another solid season as a reserve for the Sixers. Since easing his way into the rotation during his sophomore season, Milton has been one of the better second unit scorers in the NBA.
From 2020-2023 Milton has averaged 9.7 pts, 2.4 rebs, and 2.9 assists per game. He’s not a particularly exciting defender or creator for others, but he can score.
Milton has made 228 of his 619 attempts from beyond the three-point line, shooting almost 37 pct. from deep over the past four seasons, and averaging 57 threes per season. Last season, only CJ McCollum, Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, Naji Marshall, and Brandon Ingram made that many for the Pelicans. Only Murphy, Ingram, and McCollum made that many while shooting better than 37 pct. from distance.
Prior to the Devonte’ Graham trade on Feb. 7, the Pelicans averaged 30.8 three-point attempts and 11.0 makes on 35.6 percent shooting. Following the trade, the Pelicans’ attempts fell to 29.3, making them one of only three teams to shoot fewer than 30 triples per game the rest of the season.
The Pelicans need players willing to let it fly, and who can do so accurately. While limited, for the right price, it would be hard to not at least kick the tires on potentially adding someone with Milton’s shooting ability.
The rest of the unrestricted free agent pool is quite shallow. It is filled with overpriced veterans or players who have redundant skill sets compared to what’s already on the Pelicans roster. It’s not likely that the Pelicans can find what they’re looking for in the backcourt in free agency, making it all the more important that the front office make the right trade or draft pick.
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