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Pelicans stressing roster continuity in free agency

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

During the opening week of NBA free agency, the landscape of the ultra-competitive Western Conference changed significantly, with some teams making momentous additions (San Antonio), while others were weakened by the departure of key players (Portland). Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the Pelicans weren’t part of either development, opting to bring back several of their own free agents, keeping a roster together that earned the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2010-11.

In just over the time it takes to send a tweet, two-time All-Star forward Anthony Davis agreed to a long-term extension with New Orleans at the July 1 start of free agency (it was actually still June 30 in the Central time zone). In the ensuing days, Pelicans frontcourt contributors and unrestricted free agents Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca and Dante Cunningham also came to terms, ensuring that they’d be under contract for 2015-16.

As a result, among New Orleans’ 10 leading scorers who finished 2014-15 on the roster, nine are back in the fold, with point guard Norris Cole’s status still to be determined in restricted free agency. All nine of its leading rebounders remain in the Big Easy. That gives the Pelicans perhaps the most 2015-16 roster continuity in the entire NBA, a league that has seen seismic changes in July. In the Southwest Division alone, Dallas lost starters Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler. Memphis picked up Matt Barnes and Brandan Wright, but saw Kosta Koufous leave in free agency. San Antonio made immense additions by landing LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, while letting go of past key role players Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli and Cory Joseph.

For the Pelicans, the summer of 2015 reverses a recent trend of turning over a large portion of the roster in recent offseasons. Based on Basketball Reference’s “roster continuity” metric – a statistic that measures year-to-year changes on NBA rosters – New Orleans has relied on new faces more often than many teams. For instance, during the first three seasons of Dell Demps’ tenure as general manager, less than half of the team’s minutes were logged by players who were on the previous year’s roster (45 percent in 2010-11; 48 percent in 2011-12; 41 percent in 2012-13).

Perhaps not coincidentally, New Orleans enjoyed 66 percent roster continuity in 2014-15, its highest rate since 2008-09, en route to reaching the postseason. Over the franchise’s last 12 seasons (the 2002-03 campaign does not count because it is technically deemed an expansion year in the record books), NOLA’s best roster continuity rate was 78 percent in 2007-08. The then-Hornets compiled the finest season in franchise history that season, finishing 56-26 in the regular season, capturing the club’s lone division title and reaching Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Although 100 percent roster continuity is virtually impossible to achieve, the Pelicans appear poised to finish near the top of the league in that category next season. That’s usually a good thing: During the 2014-15 season, the three rosters with the most continuity all won 50-plus games, including San Antonio (98 percent continuity, 55-27 record), Atlanta (88 percent, Eastern Conference-best 60-22) and Memphis (85 percent, 55-27). NBA champion Golden State (67-15) used 80 percent of its on-court minutes on players who were also part of the 2013-14 Warriors.

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