30 Teams in 30 Days: DeMarcus Cousins shapes New Orleans Pelicans outlook
Franchise without cap flexibility banking on three ex-Kentucky stars, Holiday to compete in West
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: New Orleans Pelicans
2016-17 Record: 34-48
Who’s new: Rajon Rondo (free agency), Ian Clark (free agency), Frank Jackson (Draft)
Who’s gone: Tim Frazier
The lowdown: The Pelicans enjoyed a rare boost with their midseason blocker trade for DeMarcus Cousins, but beset by injuries and inconsistent play, New Orleans failed to squeeze out one of the final playoff spots in the rugged Western Conference.
After that midseason move, the Pelicans’ summer was mild by comparison. Lacking in assets — they sent their first-round pick to Sacramento as part of the Cousins deal — their entire offseason centered on the free agency of Jrue Holiday.
He had the Pelicans in a bind. Because of the hefty contracts on the roster, they couldn’t replace him with an equally-talented player had they decided not to sign him. Therefore, Holiday had all the leverage and it worked in his favor when New Orleans forked over $126 million over five years, a hefty sum to a point guard who, while solid, has only been an All-Star once.
Some eyebrows were raised over the money given to Holiday, but he did mesh well with both Cousins and Anthony Davis. The Pelicans also couldn’t risk losing Holiday and hear grumbling by Cousins, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. A stripped-down New Orleans team would’ve given Cousins a good excuse to shop elsewhere, even if it meant taking less money with another team. Remember, the Pelicans surrendered a first-rounder and Buddy Hield in the Cousins deal and will have nothing to show for it if Cousins bolts next July. Once again, the Pelicans will have little to no leverage with Cousins as they had with Holiday.
The problem is, once they ink Cousins, the Pelicans will be locked in with three players — Davis, Cousins and Holiday — and still saddled with dead-weight contracts that were mistakes from past summers. At best, the following are serviceable role players: Omer Asik, E’Twaun Moore, Alexis Ajinca and Solomon Hill. And you wonder why the Pelicans, a non-contender, are $19 million over the salary cap.
Imagine how much better positioned the Pelicans would be, flexibility-wise, without those deals clogging up the cap? New Orleans must wait one and maybe two more years before getting relief, barring a trade, and a trade will likely mean bringing back a bad contract. Because of those deals and the urgency to bring back Holiday, the Pelicans were too financially hamstrung to chase any free agents this summer.
The good news for the organization is Davis has three more years left on his deal and is not in danger of leaving anytime soon. Also, he’s a good soldier who doesn’t complain and, if anything, speaks highly of playing in the city while expressing confidence in the organization. But we’ve heard that from big-time players before, only to see them do an about-face (Paul George) and force their team to move them a year prior to free agency.
Interestingly, the Pelicans didn’t make any changes to the power structure. Alvin Gentry returns as coach even though there was dissatisfaction among the fan base with Gentry. That’s not entirely fair to him, though. Gentry has dealt with injuries ever since he arrived and he wasn’t the one who gave Asik a new deal.
Dell Demps also remains the GM, which is the bigger surprise. It could be that Demps saved his job by getting Cousins, although it’s questionable whether he got the better of the deal. After some Draft-day maneuverings the Kings haul is Hield, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, all 23 and younger and cheap, and they don’t have to give Cousins a max contract.
The Pelicans did sift through the bargain bin and came away with Rondo, who’ll either give Gentry fits or make the coach’s job easier. Hard to tell with Rondo, who had issues in each of his stops after leaving the Celtics (and clashed with Doc Rivers while in Boston as well). Last season Rondo openly questioned the leadership of Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler with the Bulls. That said, he also turned in a vintage performance in Chicago’s short stay in the playoffs.
Rondo bonded with Cousins while both were with the Kings and that’s primarily why the Kings decided to take a chance. Cousins, Davis and Rondo all starred at Kentucky and know each other well. There will be times when Rondo will nudge Holiday to shooting guard, and that backcourt will pose problems with its passing, provided Rondo can still play at a reasonably high level at times.
The other bit of summer news was bad: Hill suffered a left hamstring tear during off-season workouts and scheduled to miss roughly six months, which puts him back in uniform around the All-Star break, making a bad swingman situation worse in New Orleans.
New Orleans simply couldn’t do much else this summer to polish a roster with issues. The Pelicans must hope this one is good enough to provide a taste of the playoffs.
Coming Next: Charlotte Hornets
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