NBA AM: Pelicans Face Crossroads At Deadline

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Blow it up or stay the course in New Orleans?

The New Orleans Pelicans were one of the league’s biggest surprises last season, winning 45 games and earning a playoff berth over the injury ravaged Oklahoma City Thunder. Although the club was swept in the first round by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors, the stage was seemingly set for even bigger things this season.

However, heading into the All-Star break, the Pelicans (20-33) are one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA and sit in 12th place in the West – seven games out of playoff contention. This wasn’t supposed to be the case. All-Star forward Anthony Davis averaged a whopping 31 points and 11 rebounds in the team’s first-round elimination to the Warriors. He was supposed to come back better. Former All-Star Jrue Holiday was expected to come back fully healthy after being hobbled much of the 2014-15 campaign. New head coach Alvin Gentry was supposed to push the franchise to new heights that the departed Monty Williams couldn’t achieve.

Collectively, it hasn’t come together, which leads to the question: should the Pelicans become major sellers before next week’s trade deadline in order to plot out a new direction for the future?

Here’s where the team stands currently:

They have $79.6 million in guaranteed salary cap commitments this season. This number falls to $64 million for next season.

The Pelicans have three prime trade assets that are headed to unrestricted free agency this summer in guards Eric Gordon and Norris Cole along with sharpshooting forward Ryan Anderson. Gordon has been injured the past few weeks, but should return after the All-Star break. Although his time with the Pelicans has been rocky, Gordon remains a proven double-digit scoring threat each night. In Cole, the Pelicans have a guy who has thrived in spot starts this season and also has playoff experience. In today’s league, shooting comes at a premium and Anderson remains one of the best floor spacing power forwards in the game today.

Remember, these are guys the Pelicans could lose in free agency for nothing in return. For a team already facing the prospect of the draft lottery, that’s risky business.

But the Pelicans’ trade options don’t stop there.

Holiday ($10.6 million) and former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans ($10.7 million) are two other names that hold value. Both guys have injury concerns so expecting a monster return isn’t realistic. Holiday started the campaign on a minute restriction, but has looked like his old self over the past month. Evans was just ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a nagging knee issue, making it his third surgery since May.

Veteran center Omer Asik is owed $43 million over the next four seasons, making him virtually an unmovable asset for the foreseeable future. Toney Douglas and Luke Babbitt both have non-guaranteed deals for next season combined to total $2.6 million.

General manager Dell Demps has tough choices to make over the next week. The current iteration of the roster appears to be in a serious rut and may have already reached their ceiling as a unit. Plus there are numerous assets that could generate a positive return in the trade market headed to unrestricted free agency this summer, which involves plenty of risk. Factor in the long-term uncertainty facing Evans and Holiday as they continue to battle an assortment of knee issues and the Pelicans could be without their a big chunk of their backcourt at any given time.

The silver lining in the Pelicans’ situation is the presence of Davis, who should eventually develop into a top-five player during his prime years. Davis is just 22 years old and nowhere near his prime, but even with youth on his side Demps will need to put the foundational pieces next to him in the lineup and position the franchise for the future.