Casspi Out 4-6 Weeks with a Broken Right Thumb – Do the Pelicans have a Decision to Make?

Published: February 24, 2017

Shortly after last night’s game, it was announced that new Pelicans small forward Omri Casspi broke his right thumb after making contact with Eric Gordon when trying to steal ball from him (because of course Gordon had something to do with it). As a result, Casspi will be out for between 4-6 weeks, meaning he will likely be sidelined until roughly the last 3 weeks of the regular season. While the vast majority of the attention given to the Pelicans’ blockbuster trade with the Kings was focused on all-star center DeMarcus Cousins, Casspi was also a very nice addition as a true “small forward” who has made over 40% of his 3-pointers since the start of the 2014-15 season on almost 400 attempts. Now, after just one game with New Orleans, he goes down a pretty fluky injury, which has become an unfortunately common issue for Pelicans players in recent memory.

Casspi is in the final year of his current contract and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Based on that information alone, it would seem as if the Pelicans have an interesting decision to make. Should they keep Casspi for what he could bring to the team down the stretch (or possibly in the playoffs), or should they waive him (he would still get his full year’s salary) so that they can replace him with a healthy player who may be able to help more now? In a vacuum, this decision would be far from an easy one for the front office to make – Casspi is likely better than any other free agent small forward currently available, but the team has an even bigger lack of depth on the wings now.

However, there is a wrinkle to Casspi’s contract situation that makes this decision far easier for the Pels. Casspi signed a league minimum contract with the Kings in the summer of 2014, followed by a 2 year, $6 million contract in the following off-season. Because he was under contract with the same team for three consecutive seasons, he is a full Bird rights player, and New Orleans can therefore go over the cap to re-sign him this summer if they keep his $5.6 million salary cap hold on the books. As mentioned earlier this week, the most straight-forward strategy this off-season is for the Pelicans to operate over the salary cap (the only way to simultaneously keep Jrue Holiday & also adding pieces around him without shedding a ton of salary), meaning their only free agency avenues to upgrading the roster are retaining their own players, salary cap exceptions, or minimum contracts. Retaining Casspi allows the Pelicans to add another rotation wing player to next season’s team while retaining their entire ~$8.5 million Mid-Level Exception, for example, to use elsewhere.

Long story short – releasing Casspi in order to get some short-term roster help would be a mistake long-term, so don’t expect him to go anywhere.


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