The New Orleans Pelicans are taking aim at the salary cap.
On Monday, league sources confirmed to The Advocate that the franchise will extend qualifying offers to a pair of reserves — guard Norris Cole and center Jeff Withey — pushing the amount of committed money on the team’s payroll within $5.5 million of the $67.1 million projected salary cap.
With free agency officially opening Wednesday, this move gives a glimpse of General Manager Dell Demps’ plan for the upcoming month.
If the Pelicans spend more than the salary cap on players returning to the team, it opens up the possibility of using the $5.5 million mid-level exception and $2.1 million biannual exception to bolster the roster.
Otherwise, the Pelicans would have to shoehorn at least four players into the remaining $5.5 million under the cap, a nearly impossible task considering New Orleans is currently without a starting-caliber center.
“I like our roster,” new coach Alvin Gentry said last week. “I think they just haven’t had much time to play together.”
Monday’s moves should add some continuity, and the implications go beyond the salary cap. They give the Pelicans the highest likelihood of hanging on to both Cole and Withey in free agency, meaning New Orleans probably is returning at least eight players from last year’s season-ending roster.
By extending the qualifying offer, New Orleans has the opportunity to match any contract either player is offered by another team. If neither Cole nor Withey negotiates a better deal than the one-year qualifying offer, they can sign with the Pelicans for this season and become an unrestricted free agent in 2016.
Cole, whose qualifying offer checks in at $3 million, joined the Pelicans via trade late last season and helped spur the team’s run to the playoffs; it won 18 of its 28 regular-season games with Cole on the roster. He averaged 9.9 points and 3.2 assists in 24.4 minutes off the bench while adding a level of professionalism to the locker room, former coach Monty Williams said.
“Norris has done a lot for us in terms of showing what’s necessary to be a champion,” Williams said in April. “He is always prepared, and he’s tough, and he defends every possession. He’s someone who added a lot down the stretch for us.”
Withey’s presence is a much smaller one. Typically the last man off the bench, he played in just 37 games last season after getting into 58 as a rookie on the injury-plagued 2013-14 team.
But his $1.1 million price tag on the qualifying offer isn’t costly, and the front office believes the 7-footer has developed, making him a preferable backup center.
If Cole or Withey receives an offer sheet from another team, the Pelicans will have three days to match the offer or let him leave.
Report: Aminu to meet with Pelicans
Former Pelicans forward Al-Farouq Aminu, an unrestricted free agent, is scheduled to meet with New Orleans, TNT’s David Aldridge reported.
Aminu spent this past season in Dallas after signing a one-year deal with the Mavericks last summer. He helped the Mavericks earn the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, playing in 74 games (starting three) and averaging 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes.
The No. 8 selection in the 2010 draft spent three years in New Orleans, coming to the franchise from the Clippers following his rookie year as part of the Chris Paul trade. Aminu played in 222 games for New Orleans, starting 157, and averaged 9.8 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Along with New Orleans, Aminu is expected to visit New York, Boston, Portland and Toronto, Aldridge reported, and he could re-sign with the Mavericks.