Despite big cap space, Pelicans best served by prudent approach to free agency
The countdown to the NBA’s free agency period is in full fervor as fanbases wait with either eager anticipation or persistent dread for the choices of some of the league’s biggest names and top contributors to be announced.
The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off of what most agree was quite a successful draft, are among the teams flush with cash to spend.
According to Spotrac, the Pelicans currently rank ninth in total cap space available for the 2019-20 season.
Note: All figures in between brackets denote team over the cap.
Brooklyn Nets—$66.9 million
New York Knicks—$60.4 million
Sacramento Kings—$59.1 million
Philadelphia 76ers—$58.9 million
Los Angeles Clippers—$54.1 million
Dallas Mavericks—$46.9 million
Indiana Pacers—$32.5 million
Boston Celtics—$32.3 million
New Orleans Pelicans—$31.2 million
Los Angeles Lakers—$23.1 million
Phoenix Suns—$21.4 million
Chicago Bulls—$18.6 million
Orlando Magic—$17.7 million
Milwaukee Bucks—$17.2 million
Atlanta Hawks—$12.7 million
Memphis Grizzlies—$10.3 million
Charlotte Hornets—$5.8 million
San Antonio Spurs—$4.3 million
Washington Wizards—$2.6 million
Toronto Raptors—($5.9 million)
Minnesota Timberwolves—($7.7 million)
Denver Nuggets—($12.1 million)
Detroit Pistons—($15 million)
Houston Rockets—($17.1 million)
Golden State Warriors—($17.5 million)
Portland Trail Blazers—($28.9 million)
Miami Heat—($35.1 million)
Cleveland Cavaliers—($36.4 million)
Oklahoma City Thunder—($41.8 million)
Fans would love for the Pelicans to make a big splash by signing players like Al Horford, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris or Khris Middleton. I understand that line of thinking. It comes from the still fresh burn of the Anthony Davis exit, the impression that the last seven years were a waste of an elite talent and the fear that the same could happen with Zion Williamson.
However, I disagree with it strongly.
There are a lot of teams that will be competing for a small pool of difference makers. Much like the summer of 2016, there will be teams overpaying on all talent levels, driving up the cost of acquiring the veteran depth that New Orleans needs to fill out its roster.
The Pelicans need to heed the words of Warren Buffett, who said “It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.”
David Griffin has been clear that his goal is to set the Pelicans up for long-term success. Outside of acquiring a Kawhi Leonard-type, overspending on players in later stages of their careers doesn’t do that.
The motivation for many of those players will either be getting the biggest payday possible or playing for a contender in a season where more teams could conceivably be in the mix for a title than any other in recent history.
The top priority for New Orleans this season, or next, isn’t winning a championship. Having a bevy of players under the age of 21 means that Alvin Gentry and his staff have to be focused on player development and assessment.
Gentry’s offense is certainly player friendly, but there will be an adjustment period for the seven players currently on the roster with three years or less of experience.
A high-priced veteran takes touches away from Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart. Ingram is entering a season where the Pelicans must decide to exercise a player option or potentially extend him. Ball and Hart do the same next season. They need time on the floor so the Pels can make the most informed decision possible.
Instead, the Pelicans should exercise some patience.
The desperate teams (Lakers, Knicks) will jump out early. Many of last season’s contenders will be focused on retaining their own free agents.
So, going back to the words of Mr. Buffett, here’s another quote that applies to the Pelicans:
“Price is what you pay; value is what you get. Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.”
That markdown isn’t going to happen this summer.
With the large amount of cap space, the abundance of first and second picks, and the expiring contract of E’Twaun Moore, New Orleans has the ability to absorb a higher quality player or two as the season nears the trade deadline, giving them the time to find out what they have in their new core.
In the meantime, I suggest going after players like Derrick Favors, Dewayne Dedmon, Jared Dudley, Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph or Justin Holiday. Each brings experience and skills that the Pelicans need.
Building this team won’t happen overnight. The mistakes that happened at the beginning of Davis’ career can’t be repeated with Zion Williamson.
I leave you with one last thought from Warren Buffett:
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
David Griffin should say no to any urge to skip some steps in the process, and Pelicans fans should be supportive if/when he does.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…