Pelicans Nuggets Basketball

New Orleans Pelicans forward Solomon Hill goes up for a jumper between Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, left, and center Nikola Jokic during a game Oct. 29 in Denver.

The New Orleans Pelicans’ balance sheet is, well, a bit out of balance.

Yes, the Pelicans are thriving, having won six of their past seven games to boost themselves into Western Conference contention.

And they’re doing it without their third-highest-paid player, Solomon Hill, who spent all of those games on the bench. The small forward will earn $12.2 million this season and $12.7 million next season, according to Sportrac, putting his $25 million cap figure only behind stalwarts Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday on the Pelicans’ payroll.

And while Davis and Holiday are courting All-Star votes, Hill is watching from the sidelines.

Two years after starting 71 games, and just weeks removed from averaging 17.7 minutes over the team’s first eight games, Hill was purged from the rotation, and hasn’t re-entered the court since.

He has logged nine consecutive absences from the box score, including Monday’s 140-126 blowout win over the San Antonio Spurs — even as New Orleans emptied its bench in the final minutes.

“I’m healthy enough to play,” Hill told The Advocate this weekend. “I’m physically fine. I just can’t control those decisions, so I try not to worry about them.

“I’m a player. I’m not the coach. It’s their decision, but I’m just trying to do what I can to keep myself ready and help these guys in the locker room, from the bench and in practice, and be what the team needs me to be.”

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said he believes Hill will get another chance to play at some point this season, and isn’t being benched because of personality disputes or team disruption. Gentry claims Hill simply lost his spot when the Pelicans decided to go in a different stylistic direction.

Namely, he was jumped in the wing rotation by a more versatile Wes Johnson (acquired via trade in October) and the team re-engineered lineups that didn’t require Hill. The Pelicans have often opted to play three guards together to optimize their offense, and they've even used Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle simultaneously, experimenting with lineups during the early portion of this season.

Meanwhile, Hill and Gentry both claim there’s no ill will toward one another.

After sitting for several games, Hill said he approached Gentry for a meeting, and the two discussed his production shortfalls and his contribution to the team.

“I just want to be a professional and I want to help this team win,” Hill said. “If that means I’m not on the court, then that’s what it is. I want to help everyone who is helping us win games. That’s the most important thing.”

Hill said he understands why his role changed drastically last season, when he went from a full-time starter to a rotational reserve after missing 70 games with a torn hamstring. By the time he returned, Hill had gone from the team’s primary wing defensive stopper to averaging just 15.6 minutes.

In conjunction, under the direction of assistant coach Chris Finch, the Pelicans drastically altered their offensive style from Hill’s first season in New Orleans. They’re more reliant on creation and creativity, going with a smaller lineup in the process.

It’s an NBA-wide trend that left Hill, a hybrid forward with limited ball-handling skills, in a difficult position.

And as the NBA’s emphasis on 3-pointers kept growing, Hill’s shooting cratered. After making 35 percent of his 3s in 80 games in 2016-17, he has converted just 7-of-35 regular-season attempts since then.

“There’s a domino effect,” Hill said. “E’Twaun (Moore) was able to step up into that spot because of my injury, and he’s played really great basketball for us and presented the case for playing that style going forward. He’s been great, and I’m happy for him. It’s a domino effect, and I understand that.”

Fundamentally, the issue isn’t about whether Hill plays, because it’s unlikely to make a major impact on the team’s record. It’s about the opportunity cost associated with his contract.

And that’s an issue neither Hill nor Gentry can control.

In a league obsessed with salary cap value, Hill’s contract is burdensome. He’s the 108th-highest-paid player this season, according to Basketball Reference, and will be in a similar spot next year.

But in many ways, his contract is a product of his era.

When New Orleans signed Hill to a four-year, $48 million contract in the summer of 2016, it was in the midst of an aberrational cap spike responsible for driving up the price for many of the league’s free agents.

In fact, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Chandler Parsons, Ian Mahinimi, Ryan Anderson and Miles Plumlee are all minimally used players who received deals just as long, for even more money than Hill that summer.

Hill was signed with the hopes he could be a traditional “3 and D,” with an ability to not only defend premier wing scorers, but also add spacing from the corner, where he converted 38 percent of his 3s over 221 games from 2014-17.

But the league changed, the Pelicans changed and Hill’s game didn’t follow, hampering his fit within the new landscape.

Now the lingering question remains: What is Hill’s future in New Orleans? Will he be moved in a trade? And if so, what’s his value to potential trade partners?

The same question was asked of Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, who each were dealt for significant contributors — Mirotic (with a first-round pick) and Johnson — despite getting minimal playing time in their final years in New Orleans.

So it’s not unprecedented.

But it also might not be the desired outcome.

With 65 games remaining, there’s an unknown element about what the future holds. Gentry and Hill both expressed optimism about a potential return and contribution during the remaining 80 percent of this campaign.

“It’s a long season,” general manager Dell Demps told The Advocate. “I am optimistic and hopeful that Solomon will contribute to the Pelicans having a successful season.”