After making their first playoff appearance in the Anthony Davis era, the New Orleans Pelicans are heading into an offseason with a lot of changes to be made and players to be replaced or re-signed, not completely sure that their postseason spot is assured next season.
The Pelicans are going to need a completely new bench next season. The only players on contract for the 2015-2016 campaign are Eric Gordon (with a player option for $15.5 million which he’ll opt in), Tyreke Evans (signed until 2017), Jrue Holiday (also 2017), Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis (team option which they’ll use although they’re also going to offer him a max extension) and Quincy Pondexter, signed until 2018.
The rest? Start from scratch more or less, or keep some of the guys. Omer Asik, the starting center, who hasn’t given the team the defensive boost they were hoping for, slightly hurt his stock price this season. He became even less useful offensive despite his efficiency numbers remaining the same, while his defense didn’t create the twin tower effect the Pelicans were hoping for next to Davis.
The Pelicans defensive rating was 22nd in the NBA this season, giving up 107.3 points per 100 possession. They were slightly better when Asik was playing, but obviously it also has something to do with the players around him. The perimeter defense needs help but not in the way Pondexter offers it, which means another player who is almost useless offensively. Anthony Davis still has some way to go. It’s not all about shot blocking.
Except for Anderson and maybe Evans, if he goes back to the bench, the Pelicans need to fill every backup position possible. Is Norris Cole going to stay, averaging 9.9 points per game for them? Is Dante Cunningham useful enough? The Pelicans owe $56 million in cap commitments next season, which means we’re not going to see too many big signings, but there is wiggle room, not to mention the max Mid Level exception to use.
The Pelicans did catch a break in one way this season, with the Thunder going through a weird, almost Durant-less season. But Holiday missed more than half the season as well. Davis was out for 14 games. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon both missed more than 20 games. The Pelicans could have used a bit more health and luck as well. Maybe they were better than a 45-win team.
One thing they have no control over is the Western conference retaining star power. Obviously it’s a bit too early to say, but in a Western conference that’s loaded with 10-11 teams trying to make the playoffs, five or six of them thinking of themselves as potential champions, it’s hard to make accurate predictions about what happens and your playoff seed.
The Pelicans will be better next season as long as they stay healthy. Anthony Davis will be in the MVP discussion once again, and maybe play so well he’ll get crowned as the best player in the NBA. But are the Pelicans going to take the next step? That’s not exactly up to them. It has to do with strengthening and weakening of others. Without improving the defense this playoff appearance might be a one-and-done scenario, despite all the talent on the team.