As the 2020-2021 NBA season nears a conclusion, some questions about free agency and contract extensions ramp up. The case is no different for the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans’ focus in the eyes of the media has been centered around Point Guard Lonzo Ball, but there are quite a few free agents that the Pelicans will need to make decisions on this offseason. Along with dealing with the players on his own team, David Griffin will need to keep an eye on the other free agents available. Finding valuable free agents to put alongside Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson will be crucial in piecing together a winning season. For the sake of this article, however, I will be focusing on the upcoming free agents that are on the Pelicans currently.
The focus of the upcoming offseason for the Pelicans has been widely centered around what the team will do with restricted free agent Lonzo Ball. According to USA Today, Ball is hoping for a contract in the range of $20 million annually. After it was discovered that Ball would not be traded at the trade deadline back in March, many began to speculate about his future in New Orleans. David Griffin gave an interview following the trade deadline where he mentions, “Lonzo made it very clear 1 on 1 that he wants to be here [in New Orleans].” Whether or not Griffin decides to extend Ball is up in the air, but looking at his output this season can give us an idea of whether or not he should.
According to NBA.com, Ball is averaging 13.8 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game and 5.7 assists per game. Ball’s output this season has garnered some attention from executives around the league who are sure to be asking about his availability. For Pelicans fans who want to keep Lonzo in New Orleans, it can be seen as a positive sign that he was not dealt on March 25. His injury issues are one thing that may play a role in his extension as he has had hip flexor injuries multiple times this season.
If Lonzo were to accept a number less than the $20 million annually, it would likely be due to his desire to stay in New Orleans and make something with Zion and Ingram. With Rich Paul of Klutch Sports as his agent, though, it is unlikely that Ball will settle for much less than that. Pelicans fans may remember a rather unpleasant dealing with a client of Paul’s: Anthony Davis. The Pelicans to have a chance to match any offer from other teams, but the question is if they will.
The other restricted free agent on the Pelicans this offseason is Josh Hart. Prior to an injury that has sidelined Hart for the majority of the second half of the season, Hart’s production was enough to warrant an extension in the eyes of many. According to NBA.com, Hart’s numbers on the season are sitting at 9.2 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game and 2.3 assists per game. Hart is one of the best rebounding guards in the league, despite coming off the bench the majority of the time. Hart brings hustle and energy to the game every time he steps on the floor, and he has the ability to swing momentum in favor of his team. One of the more underrated pieces brought over in the Anthony Davis trade, Hart has been stellar for the Pelicans since arriving.
Unlike Lonzo Ball, no salary expectations have been released yet for Josh Hart. Hart may end up being worth more money than the Pelicans are willing to give him, but they will have the chance to match any offer thrown Hart’s way.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Apart from Ball and Hart, the Pelicans have other free agents that either need to be re-signed or let go. This offseason, center Willy Hernangomez, forward James Johnson and guard Naji Marshall all have expiring contracts.
Hernangomez has shown immense improvement under the guidance of Steven Adams. Hernangomez is currently making approximately $1.7 million, but he is due for a pay raise. Depending on what the Pelicans decide to do with Ball and Hart, David Griffin may elect to let Hernangomez walk in favor of Steven Adams and Jaxson Hayes.
James Johnson has been crucial for the Pelicans since arriving as part of the JJ Redick trade. Johnson is currently making over $16 million, so if he is willing to take a small pay cut, David Griffin should re-sign the veteran forward.
Naji Marshall has also proven himself to be a force on both sides of the ball. He has solidified himself as a solid rotation player for the Pelicans and needs to be re-signed. Marshall is currently on a two-way contract, and that is nearly guaranteed to change this coming offseason.
The pressure is heating up for David Griffin, and he has a lot of work to do this offseason.