Norris Cole is staying with New Orleans.
On Wednesday, the reserve guard accepted the Pelicans’ qualifying offer valued at $3 million for one year, a source told The New Orleans Advocate.
In his four NBA seasons as a rotation player, the 26-year-old has never missed the playoffs, reaching the NBA Finals in three consecutive seasons with the Miami Heat to begin his career before helping spur the Pelicans to the No. 8 seed last season.
New Orleans went 18-11 after trading for Cole as part of a three-team deal at the deadline, and teammates Anthony Davis, Quincy Pondexter and Eric Gordon all said they’d like him to return for the upcoming season.
“We definitely hope he comes back, because he was a huge spark for us,” Davis said this past August. “He did a wonderful job for us in the playoffs. When we brought him in with Dante (Cunningham) and Quincy (Pondexter), we definitely went to another level defensively.
“He brought a lot to the table for us.”
Cole’s return is particularly important in the season’s early months, because starting point guard Jrue Holiday will be limited in his minutes due to an ongoing struggle with a stress reaction in his lower right leg, according to coach Alvin Gentry.
Without Holiday’s full complement of minutes, Cole serves as a needed stabilizing factor in the backcourt, helping buoy the bench unit with his defensive prowess and ability to pass off the dribble.
“(Holiday) will definitely be on a minute restriction,” Gentry said. “We are going to proceed with caution there. I think he’s progressing great and doing a great job. He will be ready for training camp, but as for how much he can do, we’ll have to monitor that.”
Having a reliable veteran presence behind Holiday proved to be valuable down the stretch last season. He averaged 24.4 minutes and scored 9.9 points per game, with 3.2 assists along the way (many of which were alley-oop lobs to Davis).
But it’s his defense that teammates admired most about Cole, who was able to nab 2.1 steals per 36 minutes and help keep ball-handlers on the perimeter.
“He’s a bulldog,” Pondexter said in April. “He plays with so much toughness, and he makes it tough for guards to get into the paint, which is something we’ve really needed. He’s made a big difference for us defensively.”
Beyond Cole’s skills and experience, General Manager Dell Demps and Gentry have repeatedly harped on the benefits of roster continuity and backed those words up by retaining four unrestricted free agents this offseason (centers Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinica along with forwards Dante Cunningham and Luke Babbitt) before Cole’s re-signing Wednesday.
“We thought (continuity) was really important because we wanted to bring back the roster,” Gentry said Monday. “We thought it was a good roster that if it could be healthy for most or all of the season, that this team could really be something special. Now, that has yet to be seen, but we liked our chances with everybody back and healthy.
“Now, we are going to see what this group can really do.”