The free-agent market is filled with cheap, under-the-radar players who could be solid contributors for the New Orleans Pelicans next season. In some cases, finding a bargain in free agency has been as important to a team’s success as reeling in a marquee name.
Look no further than this season’s NBA Finals.
The San Antonio Spurs squeezed quality playing time out of the likes of Danny Green ($3.5 million this season) and Gary Neal ($854,389). As for the Miami Heat, they hit big on thrifty signings this season such as “The Birdman” Chris Andersen (just under $540,872) and veteran shooter Ray Allen ($3 million).
With a considerable amount of cap space and the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft, the Pelicans are in a good position to make a splash. They have a huge hole at small forward, which requires a new starter as well as some quality depth.
The team could also use help at point guard and a veteran shooting guard to replace the aging Roger Mason Jr. It also wouldn't hurt to grab another big man in case injuries continue to ravage the frontcourt.
Plenty of big names are available to fill any one of these holes, and with just $34 million committed for next season, New Orleans has the resources to be players for guys like Andre Iguodala of the Denver Nuggets or Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks.
However, here are some cheap names—who can be had for mid-level money—to shore up this Pelicans roster.
In a perfect world, the Pelicans will enter next season with their starting small forward spot manned by a high-profile rookie—Georgetown’s Otto Porter or Indiana’s Victor Oladipo—or a marquee free agent—Iguodala.
However, neither Porter nor Oladipo is guaranteed to slide to New Orleans, and the team may have trouble luring Iguodala to the Big Easy.
If the Pelicans swing and miss on those options, all is not lost. The team could give a long look at Iguodala’s teammate and fellow free agent, Corey Brewer. The former Florida Gator is a quality defender—ranking in the top 10 in steal percentage the past three seasons—and is coming along offensively.
He may not have the all-around game of Iguodala, but he’ll come much cheaper. Iguodala made nearly $15 million with the Nuggets last season, while Brewer earned $3.2 million. Even with a slight pay raise this season, Brewer is a bargain.
At the very least, Brewer would be a fine option off the bench as a defensive stopper. With 2.9 boards per game, he may not rebound as well as former starter Al-Farouq Aminu (7.7), but he’s a better scorer.
The team should also exercise the option on last season’s second-round pick, Darius Miller. The former Kentucky Wildcat is set to make $789,000 next season and has the potential to be a solid role player for the second unit.
The Pelicans already have one of the NBA’s best bargains in starting point guard Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez is coming off a career year, where he averaged 13.9 points and nine assists a game while making just over $1 million last season.
Still, the Maryland product’s slow feet make him ill-equipped to stop the league’s quicker point guards. The team needs someone who can contribute on the offensive end and is better defensively.
Even if Vasquez returns as the starter next season, the team craves depth. Last year’s backup, Brian Roberts, has a team option worth picking up at $788,000. He finished the season strong, scoring in double digits in his last three games.
Roberts also had an impressive performance filling in for Vasquez against Denver on March 25. He scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out 18 assists in a 110-86 win.
If the team lets Roberts walk, another affordable option is D.J. Augustin of the Indiana Pacers. The former Texas star hasn't lived up to his potential since Charlotte made him the No. 9 overall pick in 2008, but he’s had a couple of decent seasons in his five years in the league.
Augustin, who was born in New Orleans, averaged double digits in scoring in three of the last five seasons, including scoring 14.4 points per game for the Bobcats during the 2010-11 season.
He may not be an elite defender, but he has the quickness not to get abused by opposing point guards and would be an upgrade over Vasquez defensively. He’s also a career 37 percent shooter from behind the arc as well as an 87 percent shooter at the charity stripe.
Augustin is coming off a season where he averaged just 4.7 points a game for the Pacers. Still, he’s only 25, and his lack of production last season means he’ll come cheap this summer.
The Pelicans may have better options, but all of them are more expensive than this former Longhorn. Augustin still has a lot left in the tank, and he’s worth a cheap flier from a team in need of point guard depth.
The Pelicans don’t have a tremendous need at center or power forward. Robin Lopez and Jason Smith are decent options in the middle at reasonable salaries. Smith is slated to make $2.5 million, while Lopez has a $5.3 million team option.
At power forward, the team has last year’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis as well as sweet-shooting big man Ryan Anderson. The Pelicans could also add another big man in the draft, if someone like Maryland’s Alex Len were to fall to them.
Still, bringing in another big body is a good idea for a couple of reasons.
First, injuries took their toll on the big men last season. Davis missed time due to a concussion, a bum ankle and the knee injury that cut short his season. Smith battled an injured shoulder that put him on the shelf.
Inevitably, the team added Louis Amundson as insurance.
Second, with leading rebounder Al-Farouq Aminu possibly departing, the team could use someone who can be a force on the glass.
A guy like Chris Wilcox could be a cheap solution. Wilcox doesn't do a ton of things well, but he’s an athletic big man who can grab a few boards. He's not good enough to threaten the aforementioned foursome, but he’s capable of fitting into the rotation here and there.
Wilcox has played for five teams in his 11-year career. Most recently, he is coming off an unproductive stint with the Boston Celtics. He made $1.3 million last season and is unlikely to make much more than that on his next contract.
The team could go in a number of directions in the frontcourt. If New Orleans keeps the same four guys from last season, it would be a wise move to bring in some insurance. Wilcox would be a decent option, and bringing back Amundson also makes sense.
With a need for rebounding and depth, the team could do worse than those two players.
The Pelicans are in a good position to bring in some marquee names. However, history has shown that winning takes more than making a few headlines. An inexpensive role player can be every bit as pivotal as a great superstar.
The Heat are a perfect example of this concept. As great as LeBron James was in the NBA Finals, the biggest moment came via the relatively cheap sharpshooting of Ray Allen. Without him, the series would have had a different outcome.
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