Dell Demps isn’t one to shy away from making a move.
In his five previous offseasons with the New Orleans Pelicans, the general manager has shown a penchant for dealing in nearly every conceivable scenario. Free agent pickups, sign-and-trade deals, shedding nonguaranteed contracts, flipping draft picks and a myriad of player swaps has earned Demps the reputation as someone willing to improve the roster by any means necessary.
But when free agency officially opened at 11 p.m. Tuesday, it appeared the Pelicans may be taking a different approach.
Now that the biggest piece of the puzzle is down — the signing of first-team All-NBA forward Anthony Davis to a reported five-year extension worth nearly $145 million — the Pelicans don’t appear to be on the hunt for the names that draw gasps from the NBA universe. While fans and media are locked in to the helter-skelter drama of trades and signings that free agency brings, the Pelicans appear to be more concerned with keeping the majority of their roster intact.
With Davis now signed, the team’s top-six players currently under contract for this season — Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter and Davis — and qualifying offers extended to Norris Cole and Jeff Withey, there’s ample reason to expect the Pelicans will trot out a familiar lineup in 2015-16.
“We like the guys on the roster right now,” Demps said last week. “We want to give it fair chance. The last few years we haven’t been healthy, but I’m excited to see these guys compete together. Obviously, we are still looking at every option to improve but we like the direction we are going in.”
But there are still moves to be made.
The most noteworthy item on the Pelicans’ to-do list is negotiating with free agent center Omer Asik. Demps traded a first-round pick for the 7-foot defensive and rebounding specialist last offseason, and although he sputtered badly on the offensive end (Asik’s shot was blocked more often than any player in the NBA), Pelicans sources say it’s a priority to bring him back if the price is right.
His appeal on the floor is centered on an ability to keep opponents out of the paint and off the glass, but from a salary cap perspective he’s the most attractive center to the Pelicans because they own his Bird rights.
So New Orleans can exceed the salary cap to keep him, an option it doesn’t have with anyone else on the open market besides Alexis Ajinca, who won’t command the money Asik will.
The Pelicans also own Ajinca’s Bird rights and the more offensively inclined center has piqued the curiosity of new coach Alvin Gentry, according to league sources.
New Orleans doesn’t have the same option with Dante Cunningham, meaning the Pelicans will likely need to use part of its $4.5 million midlevel exception or $2.1 million bi-annual exception to bring him back into the fold.
Yet even if those core pieces return, the Pelicans are still in the market to bolster the roster’s depth by using the two exceptions at its disposal.
Reports already surfaced the team is set to meet with swingman Al-Farooq Aminu and rugged power forward Quincy Acy this week.
Wing players like Corey Brewer and Gerald Green could be had for the mid-level exception and centers Bismack Biyombo and Jason Smith might squeeze in the bi-annnual exception.
Those candidates could replace Toney Douglas, Jimmer Fredette and Luke Babbitt, who are free agents the Pelicans aren’t making a high priority to hold on to.
Still, this free agency period is unlikely to provide be the kind of roster makeover Demps has displayed in the past.
And it looks like that’s the way the Pelicans want it.
“I want the whole roster back,” Gentry told a group of reporters last week. “I like the roster we have. This team never really had that roster to play any length of time together. I think it would have been interesting to see all of these guys healthy and playing together.”