Pelicans plan to be active in free agency, build on successful 2017-18

by Jim Eichenhofer

Alvin Gentry was answering a media member’s question Thursday about the potential attractiveness of New Orleans to NBA free agents this summer, but he just as easily could’ve been giving a recruiting pitch to a player and his agent at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.

“We’ve got a great town, a city that is second to none,” the three-year Pelicans head coach said of the Big Easy. “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 Anthony Davis). When you look at the season Jrue (Holiday) had and the level he’s played, what (Rajon) Rondo brought to the table and the level that (DeMarcus) 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.”

Those will be among the major points highlighted by the Pelicans during free-agency negotiations this summer, as they try to retain Rondo and Cousins, while potentially acquiring contributors who are currently on other NBA rosters. They’ll also point to a very successful 2017-18 campaign, featuring a 48-win regular season and their first playoff-series victory in a decade.

“We want to bring a lot of players from this team back, but we also want to add to this group, in order to take the next step,” Pelicans GM Dell Demps said. “We’re going to really dig into it and try to add to the group, and bring guys back to make a run for it next season.”

Demps and Gentry reiterated Thursday that re-signing Rondo and Cousins is a priority. The point guard provided an invaluable veteran presence and pass-first floor leadership, while the four-time All-Star big helped New Orleans start 27-21 prior to his Jan. 26 season-ending Achilles injury.

“We definitely want (Rondo) back,” Demps said. “I just talked to him last night a little bit. His leadership, he’s been there. The guys look to him in those (important) situations, like, ‘Hey, how do we react to this type of situation?’ He found a place where he felt his need wasn’t always on the court.”

“We want DeMarcus back on our team,” Gentry said. “Everybody has said that. Obviously there are a lot of things in free agency that you have no control over, but yes we want him back on our team.

When a team has multiple prominent unrestricted free agents – reserve guard Ian Clark also fits that description for New Orleans – it’s understandable that retaining them will receive the lion’s share of attention. But Demps and Gentry are also looking forward to exploring ways to supplement what the Pelicans already have on their roster. New Orleans owns a second-round pick in the June 21 draft and will attempt to pull off a second straight extremely fruitful summer, after signing the likes of Rondo, Clark and Darius Miller to contracts in ’17. The Pelicans seem to have a need for more guards and wings who can create their own shot off the dribble, including in situations where the 24-second clock begins to dwindle.

“I think we need to add some size and a little depth, as far as the perimeter (positions),” Gentry said. “I think you can always use that. That’s where the game is going, from the standpoint of having guys who can continue to make plays, and it doesn’t have to be your point guard.”

Like executives and coaches from every NBA team, Demps and Gentry are barred from mentioning specific names of free agents who are under contract with other clubs, but the rumor mill will begin to churn soon, as the playoffs head toward a conclusion next month.

Demps noted Thursday that the NBA’s 2018 free-agent market should be a competitive one. New Orleans could have at least one advantage over 20-plus rivals this summer, however, with an advancement to Round 2 of the postseason fresh in everyone’s mind.

“That’s the hope,” Demps said of a possible positive impact of New Orleans winning a playoff series, a sweep of Portland. “There are a lot of good teams in the NBA, and there are going to be a lot of competitors. We’ll see what happens in July and August when free agency starts, but we’ll be active. We’re committed to building on this.”