As the 2016-17 NBA season winds down, the thoughts of the playoffs and offseason loom. With a new CBA, who will benefit in year one? Who will make massive makeovers to put themselves ahead of the curve? Will a team look to trade a star player a year or two early because they have too much talent? Those questions may loom around the Utah Jazz, but a team that also has some similar questions is the New Orleans Pelicans.
Since the arrival of Anthony Davis, the Pelicans have been quick to build around him. The first iteration around Davis saw Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday traded for, Tyreke Evans acquired in free agency (via sign-and-trade) and Eric Gordon re-signed off of his rookie contract. On paper, it made for an interesting team, but they never got it together. Injuries and the lack of a supporting cast dampened this quartet, resulting in just one playoff appearance in four seasons.
Now, the Pelicans are going into building their second team around Anthony Davis and this offseason will make or break what will happen with the Pelicans and Davis’ relationship long-term.
The first is his point guard, Jrue Holiday. Holiday will be hitting free agency as one of the few good point guards on the market. He’s not an elite point guard, but he definitely changes the ceiling of a basketball team. After injuries hampered his first two seasons in New Orleans, Holiday stayed healthy for most of the 2015-16 season. He missed time to start 2016-17 to take care of his ailing wife, but has remained healthy since his return.
His averages are solid – 15.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists with 36 percent shooting from beyond the arc. A two-way point guard with size and excellent shooting, he makes sense for teams like San Antonio, Philadelphia and New York. The Pelicans have the leverage – i.e. that fifth year they can offer – but all of the teams that need a point guard will be calling.
What if Holiday leaves? The Pelicans have just one point guard on the roster (Tim Frazier), and with their draft pick most likely going to Sacramento, they won’t have a major asset to replace him. After Holiday and George Hill, the point guard market dries up rather quickly, too.
To take it a step further, New Orleans’ guard rotation is an even bigger mess. Giving up Buddy Hield for DeMarcus Cousins was a no-brainer, but it stripped New Orleans of one of its few guards. That true off-ball wing player is a need and after E’Twaun Moore, the Pelicans have been digging at the bottom of the barrel for talent. No offense to Jordan Crawford, who’s been playing well since his arrival to the Crescent City.
The second player New Orleans has to deal with? Their recent addition: DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins has been a force for New Orleans since the trade, averaging 21.9 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in 12 starts.
Cousins is an amazing talent – probably top-10 in the league – and the pairing with Davis has the potential to be great if New Orleans can get the right talent around it. However, New Orleans must be cautious, as Cousins can leave after the 2017-18 season. On one hand, Cousins is an elite talent and the Pelicans should roll the dice. Re-signing Jrue Holiday and giving the trio of Davis-Cousins-Holiday a full training camp and preseason to figure it out makes sense.
On the other hand, Cousins bolting in free agency might be a death blow. Acquiring nothing for him and leaving Davis with a barren roster as he approaches his free agency decision is a dangerous game to play. If a team came and called for Cousins with an interesting package this offseason, the Pelicans should at least listen, especially if it can stack them for the present and the future around Davis.
The Pelicans have a ton to think about with this roster. The arrival of Cousins effectively made Solomon Hill expendable, thanks to HIll’s inability to hit threes at an above-average rate. A significant anchor of New Orleans’ other money is tied into Omer Asik ($10.6 million next season) and Alexis Ajinca ($4.96 million) who, again, are deemed expendable because of their poor play and New Orleans’ desire to play one of Davis and Cousins at all times.
Along with expendable players who don’t fit the current core, New Orleans will have to balance paying Holiday, deciding on going all-in on Cousins for next season and properly finding shooters to put around these guys. That’ll take New Orleans through several channels to add the right players around their new “Big 3” and will make them one of the teams to watch this offseason.