Pelicans Scoop: Davis, Ajinca, Asik, and Free Agency

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Published: July 2, 2015

With big Pelicans news coming out in the first 24 hours of free agency, BSS writers give their opinions on five pressing questions. 

1. What was your reaction when you saw AD had signed his extension?

Michael McNamara: Instant relief. I knew that AD would sign it at some point this summer, but having him do it at the first possible moment showed that he had no hesitations in his commitment to this franchise and this city. He could have played hardball or pulled a Lebron and used his power to get some things done, but instead he put his faith in Demps and Gentry and signed on the dotted line as soon as he could, and that was a relief.

Graham McQueen: Reassurance. I didn’t really have doubts about this deal getting done, but for avid fans who talk sports all day you come across those select few who seem so confident in their beliefs of players “coming home” or “going to big markets” that it puts that little twinge in the back of your head. The first thing I saw in the morning was Davis resigning, then the first thing I read about it is about how he’s already in the gym focused on basketball. If that doesn’t make you feel good his and the franchise’s future I don’t know what will.

James Grayson: Excitement. I was over the moon as evident by my tweet. In fact I actually thought it was a fake twitter account so I paused for a little bit, thinking, “Nah, this has to be fake Woj. It’s JUST turned 12.01am – there’s no way!” Then I saw it was actually happening and I did a quick couple of fist-pumps and sat with glee. I had a discussion a while back with one of my good friends who said, “Well Thibs isn’t going to be your coach because he doesn’t think Davis will sign on long term.” Ha! Guess Gentry is laughing at that notion.

Jason Calmes: Other than “Already?” . . . not much. It was a no-brainer. The sun came up . . . nice, awesome in fact, but expected.

Michael Pellissier: A sigh of relief.  The extension was always going to happen, but getting it done as early as possible will probably go a long way in calming the nerves of Pelicans fans.  As long as AD’s around, we will have a very entertaining team to watch.

Jake Madison: I went to bed somewhat early Tuesday night expecting everything to be quiet on the Pelicans’ front. When I saw the news the next morning I honestly was about as surprised as possible. It was an inevitability that he would sign the extension, but the statement he made by signing it the minute he could shows AD’s belief in this team and vision going forward. For a city that still feels burned by Chris Paul forcing his way out, it’s a cathartic moment of sorts. And one worth celebrating—as I did that night.

2. Grade the Alexis Ajinca signing (4 Years/ 20.2 million)

MM: C+. It is a great contract for a 3rd big and a solid one for a 4th big in this new NBA economy. I trust that Gentry sees something that he likes with Ajinca and both Marresse Speights and Festus Ezili took huge steps forward in Gentry’s system last year. Like Speights, Ajinca is a versatile scorer and he also played very well with AD last year. I don’t love the number of years, but if the coaching staff can work on his screen setting and fouling it could be a bargain down the line.

GM: B-. Good contract for a fairly decent 3rd/4th big who has visibly improved every season. Ajinca was a pleasant surprise for the Pelicans this season when injuries forced him into a bigger role. He deserved a pay raise, and you can’t teach height. 4 years is awhile, but if he keeps improving it could turn out to be a steal. As long he doesn’t regress this is a fine deal.

JG: B. It’s a decent contract, but not overly great. Ajinca has been a foul-machine, but his offensive capabilities are good and he provides the depth needed for the bench. My issue is with the role. It’s my understanding that Ajinca wants to be the third big – where does this put Ryno? Outside of Asik and Davis there’s absolutely no defense along the front line. Davis or Asik get in foul trouble… and boom! There’s a problem because the Pels need to improve defensively if they ever want to contend.

JC: B. This seems to be a little bit better than the trade for Lopez, at the time, but the standards were lower, and Lopez was coming off of injury. Ajinca’s biggest issue has been his fouling, as I have pointed out often, but he has improved his foul rate to the best of his career. In fact, his season average, a pretty high 5.7 / 36 minutes, actually makes his stead improvement through the season. A smart guy like Ajinca who can pass and score from more than one area of the floor may have a little extra value in Gentry’s offense. If so, or if those fouls keep coming down, this goes to a B+.

MP: C+.  Ajinca is a serviceable backup big and made some gigantic strides as an offensive weapon last year, but he still fouls too often and is a liability on defense.  However, considering the contracts that are being handed out and the skyrocketing cap, I think the Pelicans made the right move. If the Pelicans can surround Ajinca with some good perimeter defenders and feed him the ball in the post, he will be a very valuable weapon off of the bench.  In sum, a good player on a reasonable contract.. so I’ll count this as a small win.

JM: Rather than give it a letter grade I’m just going to say, “Eh.” Under the old cap I wouldn’t like it. But most deals given out in free agency have been focused around when the cap will rise. Ajinca is a decent backup big who has potential to breakout into a solid rotation player under Gentry. 4 years may be a little long, but he should be tradeable on the tail end of it. My biggest question is did they need to get this done day one or could they have waited to see if there was a market for him?

3. Grade the Omer Asik signing (5 Years/58 million; 5th year non-guaranteed)

MM:C -. It is essentailly a 4 year/44 million dollar deal that allows the Pelicans to use Asik as a major trade piece in year 5, and while I don’t hate it, I would have loved it if it were one year shorter. The average salary per year is right where we expected, but it is impossible for me to imagine some other team offering him similar years and money. In some ways, it feels like we bid against ourselves, and so I say it is a below average deal based on the fact I think playing hardball could have gotten him back cheaper.

GM: C-. Don’t hate it, don’t like it, just…meh. I am totally fine resigning Asik, though just looking at the total money and years it seems too much. It is Dell’s little workings that make this a much more tolerable signing. Basically only $44 million guaranteed, incentive based, unguaranteed last year (lined up as a trade chip before Davis’ last year under contract) all make up for the fact that this contract seems just a little bit too much and just a little bit too long. However, if the Pels get the Asik they originally thought they were getting when they traded for him, it’ll look a lot better this time next year.

JG: D+. I’m not overly thrilled with it mainly because of the length of time and amount of money. Now, with the new salary cap after 2016 it’ll look a little better but you’re committing a significant amount of money to a position that really only requires 20-25 minutes from it per game. Davis will be playing the 5 (I dislike to concept of traditional positions) for most of the fourth quarter. I always love to find silver linings in any deal and there is some good news. Asik was top-10 in the NBA in TREB% last season and provides solid interior defense. If he can stop being the fumbling mess on offense that he was last season perhaps it won’t be as bad.

JC: B-. This contract is really not so bad. Measured in units reflecting today’s market, it’s about 1.5 Aminus, or about 0.85 Chandlers, which is good for a big man, especially a talented rebounder like Asik. Asik is 4 years younger than Chandler . . . 29 compared to 33 when the season starts. He’s underrated, in my opinion, which is a statement about his ratings, not about him. This contract scales with the cap to be as good as or better value than his last contract, on average. No issues. I do discount the quality due to Asik’s low minutes last season. If that’s the way it will continue to be, the grade has to reflect that; it does for not, at least. This signing also allows use of the MLE. If that signing is a good one, I bump this move to a B.

MP: C. Before Asik stepped onto the floor as a New Orleans Pelican, I noted how Asik looks different as an offensive player in a lineup that doesn’t force him to catch the ball in traffic.  There are some issues with the Tyreke/Asik pairing, though Gentry giving Tyreke the green light in transition and in early offense may mitigate some of these concerns.  But Asik still rebounds at an elite level, is a very good defender, a very good screener, and most importantly, protects Anthony Davis.  His price tag isn’t nearly as steep if you consider the skyrocketing cap, but I certainly wouldn’t argue that Asik is being underpaid.  Overall, I’m meh–not particularly excited, not particularly concerned.

JM: I grade it with a shrug. The Pelicans’ conference has a ton of big, bruising centers; Asik has his place on the roster if for nothing else than during the regular season. He may be situational in the playoffs but if the team doesn’t make it there then what does it matter? Asik will help in that regard. More than that he is a tradeable asset—something Demps likes to have. The Pelicans can’t bring in someone from a trade without sending something out. For that reason alone he’d be worth it to me.

4. Assuming Cole signs his QO, what would you do to round out this roster with the resources the Pelicans have?

MM: I want a couple of guys on 1 year deals, with Dante Cunningham being one of those guys. Bring back DC so that we have our top 10 all back next year, Then, go get a vet who can provide some help on the court and in the locker room (like Richard Jefferson) and maybe one project to see if you can develop. A 5th big wouldn’t hurt either.

GM: A little bit more wing depth. Guys like the ones the team has already been linked with (Dante Cunningham, Richard Jefferson, even Quincy Acy) who come to work, won’t cost much, and can effectively guard on the wing. Defensive versatility is key. Last season Pondexter and Cunningham were adequate, but the Pels need more than adequate. There isn’t a ton of space to work with but there is room to bring in a vet or two who can help in the locker room and still contribute on the court. Think Jared Dudley, who has been a big help to a young Bucks team and is staying there for less than 5 mil.

JG: This team needs wing help – especially on the defensive side of the ball. Outside of Jrue Holiday it really is a turnstile. Get guys on shorter deals – 1 year if possible. The Pels still have some sort of flexibility with the MLE and BAE up their sleeve. I’d love to look at Gerald Green or Corey Brewer too.

JC: In an effort to shore up the locker room, I’d try for Tayshaun Prince, then maybe Richard Jefferson. Both have experience and would likely help the young vets and new coaches. Additionally, while either could be valued on a contender for the same reason, neither will command more than the MLE. A one-year deal that can be traded in-season to add an over-MLE player would be nice, and other teams can sell the name to their fanbases. Other than that, fun min contract guys, keep some space for a waiver claim or somesuch.

MP: Shooting wings. Several of the guys have already mentioned Richard Jefferson and he’s a feasible option.  I’m not a big fan of Gerald Green, so I’d prefer not to go there.  KJ McDaniels is a guy I’d love to bring along slowly (certainly not known for his shooting), so if there’s a way to pry him from the Rockets, I would love that.  We don’t have that much money, so options are limited–but I think getting a couple of wings before or during this season is a necessity.

JM: I think they still need to add another deep-shooting swingman with the MLE. Target someone who can fill the role that Anthony Morrow did two seasons ago. With Pondexter potentially out until the start of the season adding some depth there is important.

5. Assuming the Pelicans are running back practically the same roster, what would the ceiling be for this team in 2015-16?

MM: 56 wins and/or a 2nd round playoff birth. I think anything short of 50 wins would be a disappointment, and continuity combined with health and a better system could easily lead to the Pelicans winning 10 or 11 more games. Whether they win or not in the first round will likely come down to matchup and/or health, but advancing beyond that would be tough in the Western Conference. This year, at least.

GM: When talking projections with this team there are two very frustrating words that always come up: “if healthy.” 50 wins should be the bottom line, but if everyone can stay healthy there is no reason this team can’t win ~55 games. A full season of Holiday (instead of a half), a full season of good Gordon (instead of 3/4’s), and a full season of good Anderson (instead of 3/4’s of inconsistent Anderson) with improved team defense under a new coaching staff could definitely increase the win total by 10. But more than that the Pels need post-season success. The West is so deep that you’ll have a tough matchup first round no matter what seed (see Clippers v Spurs) so I won’t put the burden of winning a series on them this year, but they should at least win a couple games. Stephen Curry and his Warriors’ second playoff appearance was a first round loss, but then this year happened.

JG: 52 wins and 2nd round playoff exit – more or less falls in line with McNamara’s prediction. My only thing is that the West is so damn good I feel like teams will cannibalise each other win totals. Some of their lesser teams will start to compete more strongly. They definitely will evolve and my belief is that it’s all dependent on health. This team needs to stay healthy – it’s so frustrating. It’s a positive time to be a Pelicans fan, with a healthier Anderson and Holiday there’s no telling how badly the Pelicans can make my prediction look. On either side of the spectrum.

JC: I’m not getting into wins, but I’d say the reasonable ceiling is 4 seed with a shot of luck. With a few shots, Conference Finals participation ribbon..
MP: 54 wins.  Realistically speaking, this team isn’t going to be ready to win a championship this season–the road is too long and too hard.. but I feel confident in saying that the Pelicans could certainly be in the 50-54 win range. This was a different team once it acquired Cunningham, Pondexter, and Cole last season. Assuming AD’s continued development and a boost from continuity, I think the Pelicans have a chance to make a real mark this season.  And if Darren Erman can help the team make gains on defense, watch out.

JM: Obviously it is higher than last season—especially if the team stays healthy. But the problem is the nuclear arms race occurring in the West. The Spurs look to be reloading. The Warriors are still the Warriors. The Mavs look like they will be improved. So will Memphis. While the Clippers and Portland will take a step back that is still some tough competition. But the Pelicans showed they can compete with anyone last season, and I think they’d like their chances if they were seeded 6th.

7 Comments

  1. 504ever

    July 2, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Go JC on the Ajinca & Asik contracts!  I think everyone else is too group-think pessimistic. 
    Look at dollars/year on other contracts this free agency.  Also, look at these contracts in terms of percentage of the cap next year and, for a bench mark, compare that to contracts under the prior cap as a percentage of that cap.  These contracts looks good numerically.  
    Then add in Pelicans only had the MLE to use otherwise.  I’ve read a lot about Asik not having options, but neither did the Pelicans.  The Pelicans signed both of these guys AND retained as much of the MLE and BAE as they want to use, while presumably staying under the tax line.  Finally, these contracts each could be great trade chips in later years.
    This may be the summer that positions the Pelicans for a championship.

  2. Houpgarou

    July 2, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Also think you are too harsh on the center contracts. While we will be playing a nice percentage of small ball we still have gasol randolph howard duncan maybe deandre to deal with on a regular basis and playoffs as well as boogie et al.  

    the big ez does not want to bang with these guys as our 5.  we’ve devoted 15-20% of our cap to provide him with two capable bigs  willing to do dirty work and help him remain as healthy as possible.  bravo to dell getting that done, and I think the speed of the signings is a clue to the priority ad placed on having some backup.  also think the higher than expected #s for omer and the speed with which the contract was signed likely means dell had an inkling there were other suitors / offers.

    like the skillsets of both particularly omer.  think he will have a significantly better year (though back problems worry me). look forward to all the fast breaks his rebounding will kick off.

  3. Sydney_sider

    July 2, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    Houpgarou
    Totally Agree.
    RE: Asik & Ajinca… 
    “the first check you write is for the mortgage, but the second is for the insurance”… 

    Forget about Asik’s Hands & offensive rating, with the scoring power we have on the roster it’s really not needed, actually if we had a high usage offensive centre it’d probably hurt the number of possessions AD, Tyreke, Jrue, Ryno, Gordon and Qunicy get to have in a game… no need for scoring centre. Also, if our guards are slashing & passing the ball in tight spaces to Omer, thats a low percentage play on by the guard, Gentry (most likely Pack) needs to speak to the guards to get them to cut that out this coming season. 
    Asik is there to defend (without fouling) and take big bodies off AD (insurance).
    Ajinca played really well when AD had a few games out mid-season, he had his best patch of the season during that time (that patch is probably why he’s getting paid). Again Insurance.
    Could we get better insurance… For continuety sake, i don’t think so.

  4. Sydney_sider

    July 2, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    Houpgarou
    In saying that, Omer needs to work on his offensive rebound/put-back and Ajinca needs to stop missing leg day at the gym and put on a little more size.
    Omer A-
    Ajinca A

  5. RobertWelch

    July 3, 2015 at 12:29 am

    Makes me wonder what Gentry said to Demps and Loomis when they were interviewing him. I’m thinking something along the lines of, “this lineup is great, I’d want to keep it as it is.” Not sure if hew might have been sucking up to Demps with that. But you do have to keep in mind, he did coach against this team in the first round, so he got to study them up close and personal, I think he liked what he saw (and probably didn’t like having to coach against them). I also wonder if they promised Davis they were going to keep the team from last year at least mostly in tact. I wonder if they talked to him about any specific players he wanted to return?

    As for Asik & Ajinca, like the article said, you can’t teach big. If they didn’t resign them, who would they get? I’m sure they won’t be in the conversation for Jordan or Aldridge, so who else could they go after? R Lopez is going to NY, and he wouldn’t be better than Asik. Anyone else would be no better either, and would still be over paid. Might as well over pay the talent you know than the talent you don’t. Besides, bigs are always tradeable, unlikely they will get stuck with either of these guys if they decide they want to move them.There is always someone looking for a big.

  6. Janice Wills

    July 3, 2015 at 10:25 am

    I luv the fact that they kept all the players but Asik was not a good choice bcuz he has not shown me nor the fans anything to be excited about it’s funny when he played in Houston and since he has been here he play like he don’t know what his doing, I hate players that’s good with 1team and when they are traded they play like Shit.

  7. IhateDellDemps

    July 9, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Why haven’t we signed any shooters? We need shooting off the bench and dell has failed to sign anyone who shoots. Money isn’t an excuse when you see guys like Gerald Green, Wesley Johnson and Wayne Ellington signing for league minimums or very close to league mins. (jimmer money).

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