Dell Demps speaks to the media during Monday's press conference in Metairie

Dell Demps believes Pelicans can find good players in both rounds of ‘deep draft’

by Jim Eichenhofer

It’s been a while since New Orleans relied significantly on a first-year player, with no Pelicans rookie logging more than 1,500 minutes in a season (only about 18 minutes per night in an 82-game schedule) since Anthony Davis debuted four years ago. That could easily change in 2016-17, however, as New Orleans enters Thursday’s NBA draft owning the sixth pick in Round 1, as well as overall selections 39 and 40.

Pelicans GM Dell Demps said Monday that he projects the 2016 draft class will include a crop of players who could be immediate contributors. Demps also likes the depth of this draft, which may allow New Orleans (30-52 last season) to find valuable players in the second round.

“We feel like we’re going to get a good player,” Demps said of the team’s lottery pick at No. 6. “I prefer not to get into names, in order to not show our cards. But we feel like we’re going to be able to get a player who can help us. We also feel like at 39 and 40, we’ll have an opportunity to get good players, too. We think it’s a deep draft, with a lot of good players in the second round, that could potentially make our roster and impact us.”

The Pelicans have opted to deal three of their recent first-round picks to acquire veterans, including 2013 NBA All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and starting center Omer Asik. Asked if New Orleans would consider the same approach instead of using its No. 6 pick on a young prospect, Demps said the decision will be based on acquiring the best player.

“The philosophy is to get the best players you can,” he said. “Each draft, you analyze the draft and if the situation presented itself where we can get better players in the draft, to help us not only short-term but long-term, we’re going to do it. I think this is a talented draft. Sometimes young players take time to develop, but there are players in this draft who can come in right away (and play). We have the opportunity to find some core pieces (on draft night), as well as through free agency.”

Just eight days after the June 23 draft, NBA free agency will begin July 1 (technically it opens June 30 in the Central time zone, at 11:01 p.m.). Although New Orleans brought back a sizeable chunk of its 2014-15 roster for the 2015-16 campaign, that may not be possible this offseason, because a few notable Pelicans are unrestricted free agents. Three of the team’s top eight players in total minutes logged are in that group.

“Free agency’s right around the corner – this is the biggest time of the year for us – and we have a number of free agents,” Demps noted. “Namely Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Norris Cole and Kendrick Perkins. Alonzo Gee has a player option. We have a couple restricted free agents, James Ennis and Tim Frazier.”

Anderson, Gordon and Cole played the second-, sixth- and eight-most minutes for New Orleans in 2015-16, respectively, while Gee was fifth in aggregate playing time. Demps did not rule out the possibility of each free agent being re-signed, but said it will depend on what will be a very unpredictable free-agency period. The NBA’s salary cap is dramatically rising, the biggest spike in league history, making for an uncertain market, with teams having more money to spend than ever.

“It’s just hard to speculate on free agency right now,” he said. “We’re going into a period that’s going to be different than any free-agency period in the history of the NBA. In exit interviews, all the players indicated that they like being here, and the door’s open for them to return… They’re good players; they’re going to have other opportunities. But at the same time, we have to do what’s best for the New Orleans Pelicans. If those guys return, it has to be a win-win situation for everybody. As they’re going to be looking at other opportunities, we’re going to be looking at other opportunities ourselves. We’re going to do what’s best for the New Orleans Pelicans and bring in players that can impact winning.”

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