The New Orleans Pelicans completed the 2020-2021 NBA season with a record of 31-41 which placed them at 11th in the Western Conference and equal 21st in the league with Chicago and Sacramento. The Pelicans entered the season expecting big jumps from their three young guys in Zion, Ingram and Ball but instead saw disappointing seasons from 2 of the 3, letting the team drop outside of the playoffs for yet another season. There have been reports coming out of New Orleans that Zion is unhappy there and may yet request a trade sometime in the near future. Reports have also surfaced that the Pelicans won’t match any significant offers for Lonzo Ball during his restricted free agency period so it is likely that this team will go through several changes in the next season or two. This offseason, the Pelicans will have to act with some urgency to improve the state of this team if they want to keep Zion around. They need to increase the depth of the roster while keeping their books relatively clean in future seasons to allow room for a marquee free agent to pair alongside Zion.
Currently, the New Orleans Pelicans have 9 players with guaranteed contracts for the 2021-2022 NBA season. Didi Louzada has a $1.5 million team option which I expect to be picked up just as insurance to maintain their depth. Wenyen Gabriel is the only player on this team with non-guaranteed salary and I also expect him to return for similar reasons. Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart will be restricted free agents with bird rights alongside James Nunnally who will be a two-way free agent. The Pelicans will also have two unrestricted free agents in James Johnson and Willy Hernangomez. The Pelicans will likely look to retain one or both of their restricted free agents so will likely end up operating as an over-the-cap team. This means that they will only have access to the $9.5 million mid-level exception and the $3.7 million bi-annual exception available to them.
Depth Chart 2020-21 Season–
2021 NBA Draft
The New Orleans Pelicans will have the 10th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft as well as several second-round picks. The Pelicans will likely search for a guard with this pick as insurance for Lonzo Ball but can afford to go with best prospect available. With the 10th pick in this year’s draft, the New Orleans Pelicans should look to target James Bouknight, a 6’5” shooting guard out of Connecticut. Bouknight has shot up the mock drafts in recent weeks due to his impressive pro day and workouts. He is tapped as potentially the best shooter in the draft and would help to solve the floor spacing problem in New Orleans and make Zion happier. Other than his shooting skills, Bouknight has some great athleticism for a guard and can score inside consistently. He also projects to be a solid defender at NBA level but will need to improve his on-ball defence and playmaking to reach his full potential.
The New Orleans Pelicans will have a lot to consider during this free agency period. Lonzo Ball will be the main talking point for this team as he enters restricted free agency. The Pelicans have made it clear that they will not be matching any significant offer sheets for Ball which leads me to believe he won’t return to the side next season. Josh Hart is another restricted free agent for this team, and I do expect him to be on this team moving forward. There won’t be as much external interest for him, and he helps space the floor for Zion. The Pelicans will have two members of their frontcourt entering this period as unrestricted free agents, Willy Hernangomez and James Johnson. Due to their limited salary cap, it is unlikely the Pelicans will be able to make any significant offers in free agency and will ultimately have to settle on trying to bring back their existing free agents which will still help with maintaining their depth at these positions. With their remaining exceptions, the Pelicans could look at bringing in Raul Neto who can bring some experience and floor spacing to this roster at the point guard position.
The New Orleans Pelicans will enter the offseason with a lot of pressure on the front office. By the start of next season, they will have a new head coach, a new backcourt, and less time to reach the playoffs and please their young star player in Zion Williamson. The Pelicans must improve quickly in order to keep Zion and with limited free agency flexibility, look for them to make moves via the trade market either in the offseason or prior to the trade deadline during the season.
Projected Depth Chart 2021/22 Season –