Gentry Needs To Find Out Now If The Three Bigs Can Play Together

Published: October 21, 2018

When Julius Randle unexpectedly became a free agent on July 2nd, the Pelicans put in a call to his agent half expecting to get blown off. They had no cap room left, and only had the mid-level exception to offer to the 23 year-old unrestricted free agent. Even in a slightly depressed market, guys like Randle usually have multiple suitors offering multi-year deals starting at 10-12 million, but Randle was interested in the Pelicans and Anthony Davis did a good job selling him on the franchise. Hours later, he was signed.

For the Pelicans, it was a pure talent play. There was literally no chance that they could get anybody else that talented for the MLE, so they happily signed Randle and started to dream up all the different ways they could utilize him in their system. And so far, the results have been fantastic, as he has looked good no matter which stud big man he has been paired with. And while it is a coach’s dream to be able to have two elite bigs on the court every minute of the game, Alvin Gentry needs to find out over these next few months if those three can all share the court together effectively.

When you are paying three front court players a combined $45 million dollars, you can do what the Pelicans are doing now with them and still have enough money and resources to fill out the roster with good enough players to allow one of those bigs to be on the bench at the most crucial part of the game. But if the Pelicans are lucky enough to keep all three, they will be paying them a combined $75 million dollars or so per season, and at that point those three plus Jrue essentially become your team. The rest of the role players come and go, with very little chance of any of them giving even half the production that any of the Big 4 give. It’s acceptable to have your $8 million dollar power forward on the bench now to close games, but a future that sees Randle, Niko, and AD eating up a much larger chunk of the cap only works if those guys can play together.

And because of that, Gentry needs to start testing that now, because the Pelicans have decisions to make on all three men this summer. Anthony Davis is the easy one – they will offer him the super max on July 1st. But decisions on Mirotic and Randle are a little more nuanced. The Pelicans have Bird Rights on Niko, so he will be easier to keep but they can also clear out cap room to bring back Randle if they need to do that. Or, they can offer him another 1+1 deal, with the idea being that they can give him big money in the summer of 2020 when they have Early Bird Rights on him.

If those three can play well together, it is a no-brainer and you do what it takes to keep them all. You make sure at least two of them are on the floor at all times, and you have all 3 on the court for 10 minutes or so per game – including the final five. But if they can’t play well together, it becomes hard to justify the dollars and opportunity costs it will require to keep them all together. What the Pelicans have right now is the ultimate luxury up front, but if those three can’t play together, their tremendous advantage lessens as early as this postseason.

In the postseason, rotations shrink and the minutes of elite players go up. But when there are only 96 minutes available for these three players, each of their minutes can’t go up. In fact, when AD’s minutes go up, that means that both Randle and Niko’s minutes will go down slightly or one of their minutes will reduce significantly. No championship team plays their 3rd and/or 4th best players LESS in the postseason than they do in the regular season. That simply doesn’t make any sense.

So while it is hard to mess with something that clearly isn’t broken, Gentry needs to start playing the three bigs together and finding out the kinks in that unit. Then he has to go to work on smoothing out those kinks and getting that unit to not only be good, but to be great. If it can’t be, then Dell has to start considering his options. That doesn’t mean he has to trade one in February, or even let one walk in July. He can bring them all back, knowing that eventually he will have to move on for a wing.

But the team needs to start collecting that data now. They need to get as much of it as possible, and they need to try to find different guys who can compliment those three guys when they are on the court together. They should be doing everything possible to create lineups that feature those three guys that can compete with the best closing five man units in the league. Because it is much easier to make it work with what you already have in house than to hope and pray that you can land something better down the line.

Find out now, because before you know it, a luxury is going to turn into a necessity.


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