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The New Orleans Pelicans’ season is over after losing in six games against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference first round.
It was an impressive accomplishment for the Pels to make it as far as they did considering they were without All-Star forward Zion Williamson for the whole season because of a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot.
Plus, New Orleans started the year 1-12 and appeared destined to be playing out the string of a lost season. That never happened, as the Pels played .500 ball the rest of the way and crept into the play-in tournament as the No. 9 seed.
With Williamson back in the mix next year, the Pels could be dangerous, especially considering that the former Duke star will be forming a Big Three with Brandon Ingram and now CJ McCollum, who arrived via trade from the Portland Trail Blazers in February.
For now, the Pelicans’ offseason has officially begun. Here’s a look at their current free-agent and draft statuses alongside potential targets for the team to acquire before the 2022-23 campaign.
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According to Spotrac, the Pelicans have two impending unrestricted free agents (wing Tony Snell and power forward Gary Clark) and a pair of restricted free agents (point guards Jose Alvarado and Jared Harper).
Snell, who came over to New Orleans as part of the CJ McCollum trade, averaged 5.9 points in 15 games for the Pels. Clark played just 9.9 minutes per game. Harper played in just five games. Clark and Harper were on two-way deals, and none of the three factored into the team’s postseason rotation.
Alvarado, 23, is an intriguing player. He averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 assists, 2.4 steals and 25.3 minutes over a seven-game period from March 13 to 26 and became a household name with his pestering defense on Chris Paul in the playoffs. The former Georgia Tech star could definitely be worth bringing back into the mix to add depth at point guard.
The rest of the team is under contract through next season, including core players Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas and McCollum. Other young role players such as Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy III and Jaxson Hayes are back too. Barring offseason trades, it appears there won’t be too much movement on the transaction front.
One thing to watch, though, is a potential extension for Williamson. As noted by Anthony Puccio of Front Office Sports, Williamson is eligible for a five-year, $181 million rookie extension this offseason.
The questions are (a) whether Williamson would take it if offered, considering he’ll be an RFA in 2023 and (b) whether the Pels would even offer it considering Williamson’s injury history. He’s played just 85 games for the Pels after suffering a torn meniscus before his 2019-20 rookie year and a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot before the 2021-22 season, keeping him out for the entire campaign.
Regardless, Williamson is expected back for 2022-23 at minimum, and that’s a huge boost for the team considering he had a 2020-21 All-Star campaign where he averaged 27.0 points per game on 61.1 percent shooting from the field.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
The Pels aren’t about to go on an offseason shopping spree. Per Spotrac, New Orleans has $141,185,509 committed toward the 2022-23 salary cap already.
They have nearly $65 million allocated to CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram alone and over $47 million toward Zion Williamson, Larry Nance Jr., Jonas Valanciunas and Devonte’ Graham just for next season.
Per Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic, the salary cap for the 2022-23 season will be $122 million, and the luxury-tax level will be $149 million.
New Orleans cannot sign anyone outside the organization without an exception, which salary-cap guru Larry Coon explains in his CBA FAQ.
Provided the Pels stay below the luxury-tax number, they can sign someone to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors projected a first-year salary of over $10 million for the non-taxpayer MLE.
With that being said, here’s a look at three players who could sign for the MLE in New Orleans. The focus here is on filling out the team at guard with the Pels sporting star power and depth in the frontcourt with Ingram, Williamson, Jaxson Hayes and Larry Nance Jr.
Malik Monk bets on himself and is poised to cash in and win. He signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers last offseason and proceeded to score 13.8 points on 47.3 percent shooting and 39.1 percent from three-point range. He’d be a great fit as a sharpshooting sixth man for a contending team off the bench a la Jordan Clarkson or Lou Williams.
Schroder signed a one-year deal with the Boston Celtics, who traded him to the Houston Rockets before the deadline. He averaged 13.5 points and 4.6 assists last offseason. The 28-year-old could give the Pels another ball-handler and provide insurance in case McCollum or Graham misses time.
The Atlanta Hawks reserve guard doesn’t see much playing time behind superstar point guard Trae Young, but he’s done well when asked to provide more minutes. Examples include a 20-point outing against the New York Knicks on Christmas Day and an 18-point, six-assist, five-steal game in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s a stout defender who shot 37.9 percent from three and could help on both ends.
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Nuccio DiNuzzo/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Lakers will hand over their first-round draft pick to the Pels if it falls within the top 10. The latest odds from Tankathon show that the pick has a 99.6 percent chance of landing in the top 10. Therefore, the Pels are almost certain to land a top prospect in this year’s draft.
New Orleans will almost certainly lose its own first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of the CJ McCollum trade. It is protected for pick Nos. 1-4 and 15-30, but Tankathon gives a 92.9 percent chance that it will fall in between those ranges.
Ultimately, New Orleans should be looking at point guards and/or stout three-point shooters.
The Pelicans are 27th in the NBA with a 33.2 percent three-point rate. They are also 19th in offensive efficiency, although that figure should rise with the return of Zion Williamson.
The midseason addition of CJ McCollum should help the Pels from long range, but they still need to surround the Pels’ Big Three of McCollum, Williamson and Brandon Ingram with more shooters if they are to contend with the deep, sharpshooting Western Conference offenses.
At point guard, Devonte’ Graham has three seasons left on a four-year, $47 million deal, but he has not done well in New Orleans. He shoots 36.3 percent from the field and averaged just 11.9 points and 4.2 assists per game. Kira Lewis Jr. could be an option, but he’s also coming off a torn ACL suffered last December. Jose Alvarado has done well as a substitute but still shot just 29.1 percent from three-point range.
Therefore, the Pels should be looking closely at players such as Purdue point guard Jaden Ivey (17.3 PPG, 35.8 percent from three) and Kentucky point guard TyTy Washington Jr. (12.5 PPG, 35.0 percent from three).
Ivey could go early and therefore be gone before the Pels pick (Tankathon’s odds favor the New Orleans-LA selection landing somewhere between Nos. 8 and 10), but Washington could be there.
Other players will likely be long gone, like Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren.
Other notable choices include Duke forward AJ Griffin (10.4 PPG, 44.7 percent from three), Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (18.8 PPG, 40.7 percent from three), Iowa forward Keegan Murray (23.5 PPG, 39.8 percent from three) and Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin (17.7 PPG, 36.9 percent from three).