NBA PM: Do the Pelicans Have Enough to Compete?

Do the Pelicans have the supporting cast around Anthony Davis to be a contender?

8 min read
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Do the Pelicans Have Enough to Compete?

The summer of 2015 will go down in the books as one of the most memorable in NBA history. We saw the salary cap rise from $67.1 million to $70 million (with an enormous jump expected next offseason), which enabled teams to hand out some big deals.

The estimated price tag of contracts handed out after just the first day of free agency was $1 billion. A big chunk of that number belonged to New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis. The Pelicans wasted no time locking up Davis, as his deal was the first reported once free agency began on July 1 and among the first that was officially signed once the moratorium period was lift on July 9.

The end result was Davis signing a five-year, $145 million deal that will begin in the 2016-17 season and run through the 2020-21 season. The most remarkable thing about this is that Davis was able to secure the richest deal in NBA history after just his third season in the league. The fact is, Davis has already secured his place among the game’s best, and he has yet to tap into his full potential. His combination of athleticism and skills make him one of the most dangerous players on the court at any given time.

The argument can be made that no one player is more important to his team than Davis is to the Pelicans. With Davis on the court, the Pelicans are a playoff team. It’s clear that he carries the team night in and night out. He led the Pelicans in scoring (24.4), rebounds (10.2) and blocks per game (2.94) last season and finished second in steals (1.58).

Following Davis’ rookie year in the 2012-13 season, the Pelicans made a conscious effort to turn the team around and to begin competing for the playoffs. After all, playing in the Western Conference puts the team at a disadvantage given how deep the conference is. So the team acquired Jrue Holiday from the Philadelphia 76ers and Tyreke Evans from the Sacramento Kings. The team gave up Nerlens Noel and a future first-round pick for Holiday. By making those trades, they sacrificed their long-term future by trading draft picks in order to improve in the short term and make a run for the playoffs.

The Pelicans were able to sneak into the playoffs last season as the eighth seed, but they have yet to fully benefit from the Holiday trade as he has played in just 74 games in his first two seasons in New Orleans. Health has been a huge problem for the Pelicans over the past couple of seasons. In addition to Holiday, key players like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have missed time as well. Anderson rebounded last season to play in 61 games after a herniated disc sidelined him for 60 games the previous season following a scary collision with Gerald Wallace in which he had to be carted off of the court on a stretcher.

Evans has been extremely productive since arriving in New Orleans two seasons ago. Last season, Evans averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. His PER of 17.77 ranked sixth in the West among shooting guards. Although he’s commonly listed as a two-guard, he can also play point guard at times, which gives the team versatility in the lineup.

But it seems as though depth will be an issue for the team this season. Davis, Evans, Holiday, Gordon and Anderson make up a big part of their scoring production, but there are questions on the roster after those players. Players like Alexis Ajinca, Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham and Alonzo Gee will be relied on heavily to lead the second unit. To be successful in the league, a deep roster is needed. It’s no surprise then that teams like the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets have had success in the West given their deep benches.

There’s no denying the fact that Davis will be a serious candidate for the MVP award over the next several years. The problem after Davis and the rest of the core players is, do they have enough to compete? The answer on paper is presumably no. It’s possible that bringing in new head coach Alvin Gentry from the Warriors will breath life into the team and create a new system in the process.

Now, trying to further improve the second unit may be easier said than done. The team is already over the cap for this season, and already has a little under $64 million guaranteed on the books for 2016-17. That figure doesn’t include Gordon or Anderson, who will both be unrestricted free agents next summer. Reports indicate that the salary cap for the ‘16-17 season could be around $90 million, which will help give the Pelicans some more cap flexibility, but maybe not much given the pending free agency of Gordon and Anderson (if they opt to bring those players back).

They still currently own both of their first-round draft picks over the next two years, and only owe a couple of future second-round picks. But given how they’re projected to be in the playoff race over the next several seasons, their draft picks likely won’t yield anything more than a contributor off of the bench.

It’s clear the Pelicans hit a home run in locking Davis up for a long time, but it’s not as clear how much help he’ll have during that time. Their decision to sacrifice the future in order to compete now while Davis is still developing seemed to be a great move, but some of the moves they made to make it happen have been questionable. Unless big change is made, the Pelicans’ chances of making a deep run in the playoffs may not be great.

Phil Jackson: Afflalo, Knicks are a Good Match

Playing in the largest media market, the New York Knicks are usually always in the spotlight. Everything that happens on the team often makes front-page headlines, given the nature of where they play. The headlines can be both good and bad, and they’ve mostly been bad over the course of the past year.

With Phil Jackson in charge now, the team seems to be headed in the right direction. The Knicks finished dead-last in the Eastern Conference last season, finishing with a 17-65 record. That record earned them the fourth selection in the draft, and the rights to Kristaps Porzingis. He’s a project big man, but has a lot of upside.

Behind Jackson’s leadership, they were able to create significant cap space this summer. It was clear that the top free agents this summer wanted to play on contenders, and as a result passed on playing for teams like the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks then used that cap space and opted to sign several free agents, rather than overspend on a couple of players.

Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn, Kevin Seraphin, Derrick Williams, Sasha Vujacic and Thanasis Antetokounmpo were among the players the Knicks signed this offseason. The signings have brought mixed results as some have questioned the moves, while others have liked them.

One move that has been criticized was signing 29-year-old Afflalo to a two-year, $16 million deal. Afflalo is coming off a stint with the Portland Trail Blazers in which he averaged just 10.6 points on 41 percent shooting from the floor in 25 games. His time with the Blazers has left many wondering if he is past his prime, but Jackson clearly believes he’s not.

“He has the capability of playing aggressive defense on big guards and small forwards, plus he’s a shot-maker,” Jackson told ESPN. “In addition to his three-point range, Arron can be very effective scoring in the low post and at the pinch post.

“Some NBA watchers have questioned whether or not Arron has anything left as he nears his 30th birthday, but I’m positive that he does. He has a gym in his Las Vegas home and he works out religiously. Actually, he’s such a hard-worker that he holds his teammates accountable if they try to cut corners in any way. I look for Arron to be a leader on this team. He wanted us and we wanted him, so Arron and the Knicks is a very good match.”

The Knicks figure to have a starting five of Jose Calderon, Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Williams and Lopez to help lead them from the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They also have numerous promising young players, including Porzingis, Jerian Grant, Cleanthony Early, Langston Galloway and Antetokounmpo.

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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