Dell Demps at a press conference

2018 New Orleans Pelicans free agency primer

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Timeline: Each summer, the NBA free-agent period begins July 1, but that only applies to the Eastern time zone. Technically, for New Orleans, free agency actually commences this Saturday, June 30, at 11 p.m. Central, when the Pelicans will be allowed to speak to players from other NBA teams who are free agents.

In the recent past, clubs were not allowed to officially sign free agents until after an extended moratorium period, which was sometimes up to 8-10 days. However, partly due to issues created by what was deemed an overly lengthy timeframe – problems such as free agents reneging on informal agreements to sign with a specific team – the NBA decided in 2016 to shrink the moratorium to a tighter window. This summer, the moratorium is from July 1-5, meaning all 30 teams will be able to announce the official signing of players July 6. As a result, that means any press conferences featuring signed or re-signed free agents won’t take place until July 6 at the earliest.

On TV: There will be a multitude of free agent-specific programming on league broadcast partners ESPN/ESPN2 and NBA TV over the next several days, as NBA player movement becomes a primary focus of news reports across all North American sports.

ESPN will tip off its proceedings Friday with a 6 p.m. show (all times listed here are Central) hosted by NBA experts Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, followed Saturday by The Jump’s two-hour “Free Agency Special” at 10:30 p.m. NBA TV’s series of “Free Agent Fever” shows is highlighted by a three-hour late-night special Saturday that begins at 9 p.m. On Sunday, the network will broadcast a marathon, six-hour show discussing and reporting on free agency, starting at 11 a.m.

Free-agent crop: NBA rules prevent Dell Demps and every other front-office executive from even mentioning the names of any free agent under contract with another club through June 30, but there will be 100-plus players available in free agency this weekend. As a group, New Orleans has one of the more prominent collections of free-agent names in the league, a list that includes a pair of four-time NBA All-Stars, DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo. Reserve guards Ian Clark and Jordan Crawford are also unrestricted free agents, allowing them to sign with any NBA franchise this offseason.

Positional and team needs: In its recent comprehensive preview of free agency, ESPN.com listed New Orleans as needing help at starting small forward – where 6-foot-4 E’Twaun Moore did a commendable job last season, despite giving up height nearly every night – and multiple bench positions (PG, PF, C). Many NBA teams shrink their rotations during the playoffs, but by the end of a Round 2 defeat vs. Golden State, the Pelicans were using only seven players to log more than a handful of minutes. Additional proven depth could come in handy over the course of the 82-game schedule, as well as in potential postseason matchups against some of the juggernauts of the Western Conference.

New Orleans areas of improvement: The Pelicans finished 2017-18 as a top-10 offensive team (ninth in efficiency) and an above-average defensive squad (13th in efficiency), but they often struggled to rebound (21st in percentage of boards collected, including 28th in offensive-rebound percentage). Although they finished middle-of-the-pack in three-point percentage (13th at 36.2 percent), that was a bit skewed because they were much better before the All-Star break than after it (35.3 percent, ranking just 22nd). With three-point shooting becoming more and more important every season – teams attempted a league-record 29.0 per game in 207-18 – every NBA franchise is looking more perimeter scorers, but the Pelicans would benefit greatly from that, particularly in an offense where five-time All-Star Anthony Davis draws considerable attention from opposing defenses.

The Crescent City sales pitch: On May 10, three-year Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry outlined some of what should make New Orleans attractive to potential free-agent signees by saying, “We’ve got a great town, a city that is second to none. We’ve got the best food on the planet. And we’ve got arguably one of the three best players in the league on our team (in Davis). When you look at the season Jrue (Holiday) had and the level he’s played, what Rondo brought to the table and the level that Cousins was playing when he was here before he got hurt, all the things we’re doing are moving in the right direction. And (we have an owner in) Mrs. (Gayle) Benson, where she’s not going to start anything that she can’t finish.”

Not to mention, there are few NBA cities that boast a better climate during basketball season, with average high temperatures in December, January and February of 65 degrees. The Pelicans also have one of the league’s premier practice facilities, a building that opened in ’13 and is used virtually year-round by some of the team’s developing players.

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