Alvin Gentry knows a little something about sticker shock.

Twenty years ago, the Pelicans head coach was an assistant in Detroit when the Pistons offered star guard Allan Houston a reported seven-year, $30 million contract that didn't come close to keeping Houston around.

"We offered him more money than Michael Jordan was making at the time, and we were about $5 million a year short," Gentry said last week.

Houston left for the Knicks and a seven-year deal worth about $8 million per year. And that annual figure looks positively quaint compared to the money the NBA is about to toss around in what's expected to be one of its wildest free-agency periods.

"I don't know how you can judge anything," Gentry said. "I don't know how you prepare for it."

Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on Friday, and as the salary cap jumps to an expected $94 million, the market figures to erupt. Eighteen NBA teams could have $30 million or more to spend in free agency. Nine others could have between $20 million and $29 million.

Depending on what decisions they make with their own free agents, six teams could have $50 million or more in salary cap room. That means in addition to multiple max-contact offers for superstars, there likely will be sub-superstar rotation players fetching salaries well in excess of $10 million per season.

And the market won't be set until the first offers start to trickle in.

"It's just hard to speculate on free agency right now," Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said last week. "We're going into a free-agency period that's going to be different than any free-agency period in the history of the NBA."

For the Pelicans, it begins the same way it does for most teams: with decisions to make about their own free agents.

New Orleans can have almost $24 million in cap space if it renounces its free agents and opts not to pick up non-guaranteed contracts.

Even without a total housecleaning, the Pelicans can clear up space by renouncing its "Bird rights" – which allow a team to go over the cap to sign its own players – to free agents Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Norris Cole and Kendrick Perkins.

The Pelicans have a little more than $45 million in free-agent cap holds, including $23.3 million for Gordon and $12.7 million for Anderson. Both players are expected to at least explore their free-agent options and are considered long shots to return.

Norris Cole, Kendrick Perkins, Tim Frazier and James Ennis also are free agents, and the Pelicans have a cap hold of about $2.9 million for first-round draft pick Buddy Hield. They'll also have to spend some available money to sign second-round selection Cheick Diallo.

The Pelicans on Wednesday tendered a qualifying offer of $1.18 million to Frazier, a source said, making him a restricted free agent and giving New Orleans the right to match any offer sheet he signs with another team. The team was awaiting word on whether Alonzo Gee would opt out of the final two years of his contract, worth almost $1.4 million next season.

Though Demps said believes in the Pelicans' core players and said the door is open for their free agents to return, he stressed it would require "a win-win situation for everybody."

"As they're going to be looking at other opportunities, we're going to be looking at other opportunities ourselves," Demps said. "We're going to do what's best for the New Orleans Pelicans and bring players in here that can impact winning."

That's easier said than done.

With so much money available, the market for free agents will be fiercely competitive. And the Pelicans' needs – 3-point shooting, two-way wing players, versatile defenders – are in areas most every team is trying to improve.

It complicates matters that New Orleans so far has not proven a premier free-agent destination, and that the Pelicans, who made the 2015 NBA playoffs, are coming off a season in which they dropped from 45 wins to 30, 11 games out of the playoff picture.

There are selling points – a franchise player in Anthony Davis, an up-tempo system and Gentry, who has a reputation as a players' coach – but they might not be enough to lure A-listers.

The Pelicans likely will have to "get creative and overspend," said Yahoo Sports analyst Bobby Marks, a veteran of NBA front offices.

"Anthony helps," Marks said. "There's not that many players on teams who are a draw to (players in) the free-agent pool. If they would have gone into free-agency with cap room last summer, I think guys could say, 'Hey, sign me up. New Orleans is building something.' Now you've probably got a few more question marks."

The Pelicans will seek some answers starting this week. Demps said he'll "put my recruiting hat on, like I'm a college coach" and wade into free-agency waters to "sell what we have."

"I think we have great facilities," Demps said. "I think the Bensons have given us everything that we need to be successful. I think we have a great practice facility, a great arena. We have good players, good people. I think our style of play and our coach are going to be big selling points. And we do have a plan going into free agency."

Follow Brett Dawson on Twitter, @bdawsonwrites.