NBA Free Agency: New Orleans Pelicans Primer

The NBA free agency period kicks off later today at 5:00 p.m. CT, at which time teams can start negotiating with free agents. In most cases, however, new contracts cannot be officially signed until 11:01 p.m. CT on Thursday, July 6. The New Orleans Pelicans are not expected to be one of the more active teams during the process, with the team skirting dangerously close to the luxury tax line.

“We were looking for rim protection and shooting,” David Griffin told local media after the conclusion of last Thursday’s NBA draft. “We feel like we certainly addressed part of that tonight. But I think as we go through, if we’re able to address that other portion, we would, but as {Trajan Langdon} said, we’re pretty comfortable with the group we have. We understand it’s not enough to say, ‘We’ll be healthy,’ but we’re comfortable that we’ve got a group as we sit now that’s pretty competitive.”

After not picking up the team options on Willy Hernangomez ($2.6 million) and Herb Jones ($1.8 million) plus not extending the qualifying offer to Jaxson Hayes ($7.7 million) yesterday, the Pelicans have 11 players under contract. The combined salaries approach $154 million, or about $11 million and some change shy of the $165 million luxury tax line.

It is important to note that the New Orleans franchise has never paid the luxury tax in their 21-year history.

There are several presumptions that can be made about the 2023-24 salary cap sheet. Temple’s contract isn’t expected to remain on the Pelicans’ books for much longer — he’ll soon either be traded or the team will not guarantee his salary on July 7, Jordan Hawkins’ signing will be made official in due time and Herb Jones is widely expected to sign a new contract in New Orleans, one that could be worth up to $53.3 million for the next four years.

Name2023-24 SalaryYears Remaining on Contract
CJ McCollum$35,802,4693
Zion Williamson$34,000,0005
Brandon Ingram$33,833,4002
Jonas Valanciunas$15,435,0001
Larry Nance Jr.$10,375,0002
Dyson Daniels$5,784,1203
Kira Lewis Jr.$5,722,1161
Garrett Temple$5,401,0001
Trey Murphy III$3,359,2802
Naji Marshall$1,930,6811
Jose Alvarado$1,836,0962
Total Salaries$153,479,162
Expected Additional Salary
Jordan Hawkins$4,309,560
Herb Jones$ ?

Removing Temple and adding Hawkins and Jones to the salary cap sheet, the Pelicans could suddenly find themselves within about $1 million of the luxury tax line, with three roster spots still sitting available and a clear vacancy at the center position behind Jones Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr.

Not surprisingly, Valanciunas and Kira Lewis Jr. have both been mentioned in trade rumors by Yahoo’s Jake Fischer in recent days. The Pelicans could make a transaction for a starting center making less money or say move off of Lewis’ salary completely in the form of a salary dump; however, that perhaps isn’t a given considering David Griffin’s stance less than one year ago, per’s Christian Clark.

“I believe when it’s time to really go all in on something, we will,” Griffin said. “Mrs. Benson has shown that on the Saints side as well. I think there is a long track record of that being true.

“At the same time, you have to pick your spots a little bit. This is not a league that is completely equitable in the financial structure. Some teams can be wrong in their mistakes. We can’t do that. We’re going to be much more mindful in the way we go about it.”

If the Pelicans are unable to find a trade partner that provides either more shooting or rim protection at a lower cost on the books, they could begin the season over the luxury tax line when filling out the rest of their roster. Remember, luxury tax penalties are not determined until the end of the regular season, so a team that starts the year above the tax line could get under it before the end of the season through trades or buyouts.

Of course, if the Pelicans do look like a legitimate championship contender at the trade deadline, the front office could decide to stay above the tax line for the entirety of the season and thus pay any accompanying luxury tax penalties.

In declining Jones’ team option, the Pelicans demonstrated a priority to re-sign a valuable member of their core instead of utilizing that space remaining under the luxury tax line on another player or several, whether through trade or via a salary exception like the mid-level or bi-annual exceptions.

As for how the Pelicans decide to fill out the rest of the roster is anyone’s guess. With a lack of viable alternatives, maybe Hayes is brought back on a new deal worth far less per year than his qualifying offer. Maybe after a good showing in the upcoming summer league, E.J. Liddell’s two-way contract is converted to a standard NBA contract. Maybe Valanciunas is moved on from in some deal involving Daniel Gafford, Kelly Olynyk or one of Detroit’s multitude of centers. Maybe Jaylen Nowell, Seth Curry, Thomas Bryant or Yuta Watanabe can be had for a portion of the MLE.

The Pelicans largely appear satisfied with their good-sized core so any changes or additions made in this free agency period are likely not going to be of the splashy variety. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, provided the team plays consistently more closely like the group that briefly found itself in a first place tie with the Denver Nuggets in December than the walking wounded who suffered through a 10-game losing streak after the New Year.

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6 thoughts on “NBA Free Agency: New Orleans Pelicans Primer

  1. Glad Herb got new deal. He deserves it. JRich signs with Heat. No loss.
    I know Murphy still has 2 years left on rookie contract. When can Pels offer him a new deal? Is it after next year?
    Hoping Piano Man is working a deal for rim projector.

    1. Yes. Trey Murphy can first get offered an extension next July, before the start of his fourth year on his rookie contract.

  2. Val needs to be moved. He is a talented offensive center, but that is not what the Pels need, and he eats too much salary cap.

    1. Honestly, I feel Valanciunas’ contract is quite fair. However, I agree there’s a salary crunch and that he or Lewis feel most expendable. But I would hate to see the Pelicans replace JV with a questionable starter. If you’re serious about winning, production can’t wane over dollars.

  3. I’m a JV fan. He’s a good scorer, excellent rebounder, and a good teammate. I know his defense isn’t ideal, but he can also shoot the 3 sometimes, and if he can develop that more he could be even more valuable. If Zion could ever be healthy, he can defend the rim to some extent, JV can do the rest.

    My opinion is Willie Green needs to use him better. I don’t like giving up on a good player.

    1. We’re JV advocates. You know what he is and what he can do. He’s durable and an efficient scorer. The problem has been in Willie Green’s usage and the lack of a decent backup center.

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