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Top 2016 Offseason Priorities for the New Orleans Pelicans

this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; The New Orleans Pelicans finished their injury-riddled season with a 30-52 record, missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Just how hurt were they? The Pelicans lost a combined 351 games to injuries, the second-most of any ...

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Old 04-28-2016, 10:31 AM   #1
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Top 2016 Offseason Priorities for the New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans finished their injury-riddled season with a 30-52 record, missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

Just how hurt were they? The Pelicans lost a combined 351 games to injuries, the second-most of any team in the past decade, while fielding 42 different starting lineups, according to ESPN's Justin Verrier.

Someone has to take the blame when a team regresses, but it's difficult to point any fingers here. Head coach Alvin Gentry, who took over the wheel from Monty Williams this season, never had a chance to truly implement his system, and withholding judgement is only fair for now.

New Orleans will, as Gentry so eloquently put it, flush this year down the toilet and move on. A swift return to the playoff picture isn't unrealistic, but a firm plan must be set in motion to properly navigate the impending cap boom.

Try to Dump Omer Asik

Perhaps in an attempt to establish consistency, the Pelicans rewarded Omer Asik with a five-year, $60 million deal last summer. He has always been an offensive liability, even more so in an uptempo system, and the swift evolution of NBA small ball has ensured that rim protection doesn't make up for that. SB Nation's Tom Ziller explained:
But as a big man switching out on the perimeter in today's NBA, you have to be able to credibly slow or divert the attacker into more helpful places. Asik isn't quick or long enough to make life difficult for even players far lesser than LeBron. His size, which worked in his favor as he entered the league, is now an albatross.

Asik's minutes per game decreased from 26.1 to 17.3 this year, and it's hard to justify an eight-figure salary for a big putting up four points and 6.1 rebounds. If New Orleans wants to win now, freeing up his $9.9 million salary slot for an efficient contributor would be beneficiary.

With an influx of cap room around the league, teams who fail to compete for free-agent signatures will be able to use that space to absorb contracts for trade exceptions, as long as there are appetizers attached. The Pelicans have a lottery draft pick which should land in the six-to-nine range, but they'd have to receive a great rotation cog to even consider parting ways with such a high selection.

Let Eric Gordon Go

No one could blame New Orleans when it matched the four-year, $58 million offer sheet that Eric Gordon signed with the Phoenix Suns in 2012. He was the main return in the Chris Paul trade, and the Pelicans simply had to protect their investment.

But it's time to part ways now.

Gordon has declined since signing that deal, and he hasn't managed to log more than 64 games over a regular season. Max Gaegauf of Sportsquotient.com summarized the dwindling role of the shooting guard:
His usage percentage has also been the lowest out of the four in each season they have been together. Pair this with the fact that his three worst scoring seasons have been the past three years (in terms of points per game), and it seems as if Gordon simply does not fit within the system.

Losing Gordon really shouldn't hurt the Pelicans much. He is a good spot-up shooter and can create his own looks, but those skills aren't irreplaceable. Anthony Davis can handle an increased scoring load, as long as the new starting 2-guard can spread the floor and play defense.

Courtney Lee and Allen Crabbe would both help and should be cheap. If the Pelicans want to spend some more, Evan Fournier and Arron Afflalo are worth a look. Evan Turner has been solid for the Boston Celtics, and he adds a dose of positional versatility despite the lack of a three-point shot. Someone like Troy Daniels could be brought in as bench depth.

Then there's the draft. If Oklahoma's Buddy Hield falls to the Pelicans, he could be a long-term replacement for Gordon—the 22-year-old guard put up 25 points per game and shot 45.7 percent from three-point range last season.

Make a Decision on Ryan Anderson

While waving goodbye to Gordon is easy, Ryan Anderson's future is significantly harder. He fits nicely as a stretch-4 next to Davis, and the Pelicans offense was 5.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court, according to NBA.com.

Anderson's $8.5 million contract this season was terrific value, but he's in for a hefty raise. If the figure rises above $12 million per year, exploring alternatives at power forward would be wise, and there are numerous candidates.

New Orleans can attempt to free up as much cap space as possible to pursue a pseudo-star like Al Horford, who would likely be a seamless fit next to Davis. They'd form an elite defensive frontcourt, capable of switching the pick-and-roll at will. Floor spacing wouldn't be a problem with both players expanding their range, and the passing prowess would help ball movement.

If Horford is out of reach, there are cheaper stretch-4s available. Jared Dudley is an elite shooter, smart defender and well-liked veteran. Mirza Teletovic has made strides since adjusting to the NBA, and he finished the year with a bang, averaging 22.3 points per game in April. Then there's Matt Barnes, who can play both forward positions, plus adds a dose of hustle and craziness wherever he plays.

Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter can also log minutes at power forward when Gentry wants to go small.

Anderson is an excellent player, but he's not irreplaceable. If he becomes too expensive, the Pelicans can let him go, land a serviceable replacement and spend the leftover cash on other additions.

Focus on Adding Depth, Not Stars

The Pelicans have swung for the fences over the last couple of seasons, making some dubious decisions in the process. Stepping back and taking a more calculated approach this summer should be the way to go, argued RealGM's Keith P. Smith:
New Orleans needs to take a careful, measured approach to this offseason. The first step is to hope for better health, but to plan as if that won’t happen. Getting serviceable backups in behind Davis, Evans and Holiday will make it that much easier to compete if any of them should go down.

Using their limited resources in a smart manner should allow the Pelicans to build a deeper team that fits Alvin Gentry’s desired style around Davis. Overextending questionable contracts, as has been done in the past, could set the team back for years going forward.

Smith hit the nail on the head—New Orleans has reached by overpaying mid-tier free agents. It did so with Gordon, Asik, Jrue Holiday and, to some extent, Tyreke Evans.

Being heavily invested in a couple of guys is a dangerous game, a recipe for disaster whenever one or two go down. Spreading the money more evenly to field a balanced roster around Davis is essential.

Just look at the Boston Celtics, who have gone down this exact route.

Despite not having a superstar, Boston is an elite team, with a deep rotation and many capable contributors. It can bulk up and crash the glass, or downsize with five shooters and bombard opponents with a barrage of threes. That ability to transform identities on the fly adds an element of unpredictability.

It's not unrealistic to emulate what the Celtics have done—New Orleans can strip its core and pursue the aforementioned players to follow those footsteps. Even Evans, who is on an expiring $10 million deal, could easily be moved.

The Pelicans already have a transcendent superstar. It's time to give him the right supporting cast.

All salary statistics are courtesy of Spotrac.com, unless otherwise noted.

You can follow me on Twitter: @VytisLasaitis

Read more New Orleans Pelicans news on BleacherReport.com

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