by Chuck Edwards
The clock is ticking.
NBA teams can begin negotiations with unrestricted free agents just after Midnight Friday morning, although the signings can’t be officially announced until July 8th.
This off-season should be a bit more interesting than usual, primarily because every NBA team will have MUCH more money to spend. Thanks to the new national television broadcast rights deal, the NBA salary cap will jump from $70M last season to $94M for 2016-17.
The New Orleans Pelicans have six players that are unrestricted free agents:
G Eric Gordon
F Ryan Anderson
G Norris Cole
C Kendrick Perkins
F Alonzo Gee (Player Option)
F Jordan Hamilton
The Pels also have two restricted free agents, meaning the team has the option of matching any offer these players receive from another team:
G Tim Frazier
F James Ennis
Here’s my best guess as to what will happen with each free agent player…
Eric Gordon: The oft-injured Gordon had a base salary of $15.5M last season. The only way he returns to the Pelicans is if he agrees to a significantly lower salary. Otherwise, he’s gone. That opens the door for Buddy Hield, the Pelicans’ first-round draft pick, to possibly start in his place opening night.
Ryan Anderson: Ryno made $8.5M last season, and the three-point specialist is expected to command quite a bit of interest from multiple teams in free agency. The Pelicans offense fits Anderson well, he is a fan favorite, and he seems to have great chemistry with the face of the franchise, Anthony Davis. If Anderson wants to remain in the Crescent City, the Pelicans will pay him handsomely to do so.
Norris Cole: A solid player who, thanks to the Pelicans’ brutal injury bug last season, spent a great deal of time in the starting lineup. Cole only made $3.04M last season, and he deserves a raise. I suspect the Pelicans agree, and they’ll offer him one.
Kendrick Perkins: Big Perk is a leader in the locker room and on the bench. He’s an enforcer on the floor when needed. His teammates and Head Coach Alvin Gentry love him to death, and the feeling appears to be mutual. At 31, and with 13 seasons under his belt, Perkins’ NBA playing days are winding down… but what he brings to the team simply can’t be measured in the final box score. Kendrick’s contract was just $1.499M last season, and I suspect he would sign a deal for the same money, or slightly more. Bottom line? Big Perk ain’t goin’ nowhere.
Alonzo Gee: Late Wednesday night, Alonzo Gee declined to pick up his $1.4M player option with the Pelicans for 2016-17, so he is now officially a free agent.
Jordan Hamilton: Hamilton was one of the Pelicans’ “Hardship Exemption” players last season, as their roster was riddled with injuries. He signed a ten-day contract on March 25th, and signed for the rest of the season April 4th. On April 27th, he signed with Bucaneros de La Guaira of the Liga Profesional de Baloncesto in Venezuela. Hamilton was a solid contributor, for the Pels, but they will likely let him walk and see what other players are available in free agency.
As far as Frazier and Ennis go, it all depends on what other teams are willing to offer them. If the Pelicans think the price is too high, they will have no problem letting both players go.
The next question for the Pels is, “Who can they get?” One new source to recruit players to New Orleans is Danny Ferry, the team’s new Special Advisor. Ferry was President of Basketball Operations and General Manager for the Atlanta Hawks from 2012-15, so he still has connections to many of the now free agent players on the Hawks’ roster. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ferry used his influence to help the Pelicans pursue at least two of those players, specifically C Al Horford, and SG Kent Bazemore.
Free agency is like a high-dollar game of musical chairs. Let’s see who ends up where once the music stops.