Pelican Scoop: How Intriguing is New Orleans to Free Agents?

Published: March 8, 2016

In a season that most would describe as “lost”, it is impossible for fans to keep themselves from thinking about the offseason. Unlike the last few years, the Pelicans actually have their first round pick, and beyond that, they have two scond rounders as well. At best, though, a young player helps contribute to the win column in year 2 or 3, if ever. So for fans hoping for success as soon as next year, the free agent market offers even more appeal. But this summer, and perhaps next, will be unlike any other in recent memory. With the cap spiking significantly these next two years, almost every team will have major room to operate with, and that will dramatically shift the power to the players.

In years past, the great players had their choice of teams. If a transcendent player like Shaq wanted to go to LA, the Lakers would move heaven and earth (or Vlade Divac) to create the space. But for 95% of players, the options were far more limited. You had 4 or 5 teams with money that you could play against each other, and if they weren’t an option for you, then you fought with a handful of other guys for mid-level exceptions. This year, almost every team will have max money and there will only be 3-5 quality free agents that will demand that full amount. After that, you will have 20 teams with a combined 400-500 million dollars to spend and that is why the players will have all the power. It’s no longer about a few teams having 5 million dollars to spend and 30 guys playing musical chairs with only 15 seats. Now, there are 60 chairs and those same 30 players. They can take their time, and even if the first chair gets pulled out from underneath, there are plenty more just as comfortable.

So money won’t be the deciding factor this year in free agency. If Harrison Barnes wants the max, every team with a need at small forward will be able to offer it up to him. So, with money pretty much becoming a non-factor in a player’s decision (because he can get the same amount from anyone), what will tip the scales? How will a player choose team A or team B, C, D, L, etc.? Players care about minutes, but you would think that if teams are offering gobs of money, they plan on playing the guy, so from there it goes to things like: Ability to Win, ownership, coaching, etc.

For a team to be the one a player chooses over every other, they have to be able to sell him on a multitude of things. If not, someone else will. So, where do the New Orleans Pelicans rank in these other categories? How appealing is this organization to the guys set to hit the free agent market. I had my opinion, but I wanted to get the thoughts of a few others in this week’s Pelicans Scoop.

Where do the Pelicans rank amongst the 30 teams in the following categories in your opinion:


1. Ability to Win (short term) – From a free agent’s perspective, where would you rank the Pelicans ability to win big in the next year or two?

Michael McNamara: There is a top tier that consists of at least 6 teams that is infinitely more appealing if you want to try and win big right away. Add in teams like Boston who can make the leap with a move or two that won’t cost any players on their roster and teams like Miami who people always seem to believe can make the jump because of Riley, and a handful of teams like Chicago, Washington, Indy, and Atlanta who have had more recent success and are in the East, and the Pels are middle of the pack at best. Objectively, I would put them at 18 or 19.

Jake Madison: Given the Pelicans made the playoffs last season, that the West is weaker right now than other people thought, and several perennial playoff teams should start regressing I’d put the Pelicans higher than most. Now, they are not anywhere in the top third of the league with this, but I’d slot them in maybe around 14th. Just in the top half of the league.

Jason Calmes: Win big is making a conference Finals for this team. With Davis in his first couple years, you could set the bar at a second round sweep, but not today. I’d say the Pelicans are simply in the middle half of the League in terms of outlook, which is not saying much. Focusing on the West, that puts them between, say, 5th and 12th, inclusive. That’s where they are now with a pretty bad case of injuries and a relatively healthy Davis and Holiday. With some good moves and health, that can increase, but they’re going to need time or luck to get higher in the next couple seasons. Looking at the League, 9th to 24th. if you need a fine point, call them 15th, sliding them just in the top half, as Jake just said.

Graham McQueen: Hard to go against the consensus here, Pels are a middle of the pack team in this regard. Not as bad a spot as some might think, but definitely outside the top 3rd of the NBA by a good margin. I tend to agree with Jake that some teams that have been at the top are going to start falling out. By this time next year the Pelicans could be much more in the mix, but this season was a big step in the wrong direction.

2. Ability to Win (sustained success) – If you wanted to be a part of a team that could both win soon and likely sustain that success for the duration of your next contract, and perhaps beyond

McNamara: As Pelicans fans, most of us would rank the Pels high in this area because of Anthony Davis, but this year is evidence alone that Davis by himself doesn’t equal a 50 win team. Heck, he won’t get 40 wins this year. Sustained success is as much about management than it is about players, and Dell Demps or Alvin Gentry do not have track records that scream sustained success. For me, the Warriors, Cavs, Raptors, and Celtics are atop this category, with teams like San Antonio and Utah close behind. The Nuggets have good players, contracts, and assets, while the Wizards have more young talent and Wall is on a better deal than AD. Portland has a ton of flexibility, the Mavs have Cuban and Carlisle. OKC still has a chance to keep their two studs, while Portland and Detroit are building something nice. I see the Pels in the same tier as Milwaukee, Orlando, and Indy – so like, 15-17.

Madison: I agree with McNamara that Davis by himself does not equal sustained success. To me this question is mostly about the coach and GM. Right now, they have not proven it. I think it helps that teams like Dallas, Memphis, and potentially Houston will be taking steps back in the next few years, but the Pelicans haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt here. I’d rank them still in the middle third of the league, but on the bottom part of that. Probably around 18.

Calmes: See prior answer. It’s the same logic with different details. I’m not going to sink them based on track record based on the following reasons. First, injuries have been very bad, which is a small impediment to their judgment of team building in terms of play on the court, and it’s not like they grabbed guys with big injury history across the board. Also, taking a team from the bottom to the middle is different than taking a team from the middle to the top in both management and coaching. I’m not saying these guys have it. I’m saying I’m open, but they get no higher than 15th here. I know they are willing to spend when it is wise to do so and to take risk, so I’m not going to saddle them with more “win now / lose later” than appropriate.

McQueen: Somewhere in the 20-15 range. The Pelicans/Hornets after this season ends will have 2 seasons above .500 and 2 wins in playoff games in 7 years. If we are talking sustained success that is not good, but better than that bottom 3rd of the league who have barely sniffed the playoffs in that time frame. If a free agent is looking at the roster, looking at the most recent seasons, he would probably say we are closer to putting a playoff team together than most non-playoff teams, and we could be “on the rise” while others are moving the wrong way, but we are still a non-playoff team. This question comes down to both team and organizational leadership, which is lacking.

3. Foundation Stability – As a free agent, one of the last things you want is to sign a long term deal, and then all of a sudden you have a new coach or GM or even owner who maybe doesn’t see you the same way the last regime did.

McNamara: In the second lowest tier. I have the Kings, Lakers, and Suns as all worse situations and the Pelicans tied with Philly,New York, and the Nets in the next tier. Remember, Philly and Brooklyn have made huge improvements lately, so though their past is embarrassing, they seem to be making steps forward. The Pelicans, meanwhile, have an owner desperate to win now and a GM and coach who seem to be on board, either because they believe in it or because they have to do their contract situations, or in Gentry’s case, his age as well. In New Orleans, there is no way you can honestly tell a free agent who the GM, owner, or the coach will be two years from now, with absolute certainty.

Madison: I’m not as negative on this one–even though on the surface it seems bad. The Pelicans kept Monty for five years–he was one of the longest tenured coaches in the league–and now Demps for 6. The Saints and Pelicans haven’t been known to make knee jerk reactions. So I’d expect both to be back next season. If you’re a free agent and expecting this team to improve, those two probably aren’t fired after next season. Philly and Brooklyn may have made improvements but there is no reason to believe those situations will change anytime soon. So who cares if the GM is the same person? Again, I put them right in the middle at 15.

Calmes: I think my colleagues are both partly right. There is the real stability and the perceived stability. The real stability is not where I’d like it to be with ownership, management, or coaching. Addressing Mc, I think they have made a commitment to ride this thing out for 3 seasons. Now, commitments can be overcome by events, but being flush with NBATV money may help them weather the storm of losses. They’ve got a good PR team that weaponizes every possible fact to convert it to money and control. The better the money situation, the easier it is to endure. Plus, they want to appear stable. Monty’s firing was abrupt. My thoughts on why are documented, and I can’t disagree with the thinking, but part of the longer-range cost of the move is the need to avoid the appearance of being unstable, which brings me to Jake and others. The real stability is not what affects free agents and other talent. They have no real incentive to try to prove to themselves that New Orleans is a tick better than it appears or better by a country mile. When we are talking bananas of the second-to-fourth quality on the free agent market, we are likely talking guys who are about to sign that third contract. This is the biggest financial moment of their lives, and it comes laden with questions about where they will live, what their legacy will be, and setting the stage of the rest of their lives. A hint of a shadow of a smidge of a tingle of doubt matters. Today, 25th. Next year, that could be 10th, but that does not affect today.

McQueen: Around 20-25 simply because there are other teams out there whose owners have shorter leashes on coaches and GM’s, but make no mistake, I’m getting more negative about this by the day. Even though Monty Williams’ firing seemed “out of nowhere,” it really wasn’t, people had been talking about it for awhile. I completely agree with Jake that this organization doesn’t make knee-jerk reactions (already putting them ahead of several others), but we can all see change looming just around the corner. For instance, if next season the team misses the playoffs/finishes below .500, I think we can all expect some change. In terms of stability, the next 3 years we could see a new owner (won’t be around forever), GM (seat is getting hotter by the season), and coach (if those above him change hard to see him staying). Pels definitely fall in the bottom third of the league here.

4. Market – Not only the size of the market, but the appeal of playing for the market. Including, but not limited to, how engaged the fan base is, the tradition of the team, and additional financial opportunities that can come from the market

McNamara: Most players hate living in Utah, so that’s one below us. The Kings are a mess and California’s taxes are insane, so there is another. Minnesota and Milwaukee are both frigid wastelands, and Detroit has fallen on hard times. I would put New Orleans in that next tier, somewhere between 20 and 25, as it is a smaller market without a great basketball tradition that is overshadowed by not only the Saints, but LSU football as well. If you are a superstar, you can get national commercials (see: AD), but outside of that, you won’t get much exposure playing here.

Madison: This is the one that may surprise people that I’m fairly low on. Making commercials about cell phone towers isn’t the type of endorsement players want. The practice facility, while gorgeous, is out in Metairie and I’m not sure players want to live out there instead of downtown. Combine that with the fact that this just isn’t an NBA town and I’m butting the Pelicans in the bottom third of the league at 23.

Calmes: I’m going start of by saying that Market is one of those terms that gets tossed around thoughtlessly, but you did a good job of putting good meaning to it here. Thanks. I’d say New Orleans is within a few clicks of 30. For top stars, I think this matters less ,for the reasons you mentioned, but for that next tier guys, they need some local support. The New Orleans business community has never quite fit with the Pelicans or the Hornets before them. It’s been a struggle for them to really get businesses to use their tickets, for instance, the way they are used in other markets. The idea of using tickets as rewards for employees, gifts to vendors or clients, or a means to entertain was not widespread or embraced. It was just a question of how many games the owner would go to. This may be a correct reflection of the value of the tickets in a fanbase that is still growing locally, so I’m casting no shadow on our businesses, but the fact remains that their is a gap between the business community and the team. That said, we have seen locals rally around a guy they really love for relative random reasons (e.g. Kyle Turley). One phone call to each player to ask about local commercials will seal their fate here, but the potential for this to change is simmering there, just waiting to be tapped in. This is yet another example of why building the business matters far more than casual observers may realize. This is a war on many battlefields.

McQueen: Outside of the token “uniqueness” of the city/area and Mardi Gras mid-season, there isn’t much to separate New Orleans from the bottom markets in the NBA. The opportunity for non-tier one talent to “market” themselves is severely limited. I can’t add anything here that hasn’t already been said, but New Orleans is my favorite city in the United States, no where else can you walk into a hole-in-the-wall and get 5-star food and take your beer to go, but unfortunately, that is completely irrelevant and isn’t factored into most athletes’ decisions. 20-25 range.

5. After ranking the Pelicans in those four categories, approximately where do you think they would rank overall as a free agent destination, assuming every team can offer the same money?

McNamara: I would say that they are somewhere between 18 and 23. Think about going in to pitch to a free agent. You have a strong selling point in AD, but it’s not like AD has equaled winning these first 4 years. Guys don’t look at what could be, they look at what is. What is your 2nd best selling point? Gentry? A coach who has lost over 53% of his games? Ownership? Honestly, the second best selling point is probably the practice facility, and even that will be trumped by several teams. To me, winning would have been the sell this summer, if they had continued their upward trajectory, but that is gone. And free agents won’t care about excuses or injuries. Again, they care about what is, not what could be. And the fact is that the Pelicans are just not a team with much to offer.

Madison: Still going to put them in the middle of the road around 14-19. Somewhere in there. Having Davis helps, but you need more on the table than that. A huge selling point could be playing time, getting a good amount of shot attempts during a game. There are a lot of other factors we haven’t touched on. Another big negative could be the injury history. It seems everyone who comes to New Orleans gets hurt. But the Pelicans made the playoffs recently, and people expected them to be in this season. That has to help and it’s why I think the Pelicans are somewhere in the middle.

Calmes: I think it depends on the star. To the kind of “third contact guy” I discussed above, pretty low. The Pelicans’ winning is about as low as it can get barring Davis being shut down, and I think that is easily seen by agents and players. So, I’d put them in the 17-20 range on average, but lower for those guys, more like 25-30. The only thing that can affect that is being “stranded” in market. That seems unlikely, this summer will be unprecedented. A cartoon example would be a guy that is, say, fourth on everyone’s list. So, some teams over to their top 2 guys, others go for 2 and 3 because they feel they can’t get the top guy, and this guy gets left out of the max money offers upfront, even if they would offer or do offer this guy the money but not in a “here’s the contract” way. In that case, they could grab a guy. The other big variable is a player’s desire to play with Davis. This last thing is what actually puts them higher in the race to get a big name, though still not high by any means. their best chance is to collect value guys in that next tier, then hope to trade for better guys if the climate here improves. For those guys, the Pelicans can offer minutes, sadly, and that is important for guys who have something to prove. This is their real currency, frankly, and it means nothing to guys who can get there wherever they go.
McQueen: I’d put them somewhere from 15-25, it really depends on the Free Agent. There isn’t a ton of pressure (some guys like that), there is the prospect of the playoffs and growth with a superstar, there are shots available, and there is the foundation of a modern, up-tempo NBA system. If the team can get back to where it was last year, we saw the league was more than willing to pass us nationally televised games to get Davis out there. But basically AD and maybe shots/minutes are the only thing they can pitch that another team can’t.


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