Ranking the Best NBA Free-Agency Signings in New Orleans Pelicans History
There was an expansion draft, which saw the Hornets obtain Muggsy Bogues, who quickly became a fan favorite in Charlotte, and Dell Curry, who averaged double figures in points for nine straight seasons despite coming off the bench.
It took a few seasons to get the train rolling, but in 1992-93, the Hornets reached the playoffs for the first time after completing the season with a record above .500 (44-38).
Some of the franchise’s greatest players were obtained through the draft and various trades. Once Charlotte developed some star power, led by Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, the team became relevant and players wanted to sign there.
While there have only been a handful of free-agent signings in the short history of the franchise, there are notable players who have come in and made an impact for the club, even if it was only for one season.
This ranking goes back to the initial days in Charlotte, through the period as the Hornets in New Orleans, all the up to the present with the Pelicans. It is formulated due to how each player performed while in a Hornets uniform, not measured by their career production. There is one exception to the rule as Tyreke Evans has yet to play in New Orleans but made the list due to his previous successes.
Let’s get started.
*Stats obtained from Basketball-Reference.com
No. 7: Derrick Coleman
In 1998, Derrick Coleman signed a five-year, $40 million contract to replace Vlade Divac on the Charlotte Hornets. The former first overall pick out of Syracuse University, Coleman was a great basketball player, but he had a lazy attitude.
On the Hornets, the 6’10” power forward disrupted the team chemistry, but his numbers were solid overall.
Playing in 37 games in 1998-99, Coleman scored 13.1 points and grabbed 8.9 rebounds per game. In his first year in Charlotte, the Hornets failed to reach the playoffs.
Coleman’s second season, in 1999-00, was his most productive on the Hornets. He played 74 games, shot 45.6 percent from the field and scored 16.7 points per game.
He helped the Hornets get back to the playoffs—after a year hiatus—against his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers. Coleman shined on the biggest stage.
Though the series was won in four games by Philadelphia, Coleman scored 20.3 points per game and brought down 12.5 boards. In total, he scored 81 points with 50 rebounds in the four games.
Two-and-a-half years into his four-year contract, the Hornets were fed up with his antics. He was traded back to the 76ers in a three-team trade for four players.
He makes the list because of his production, not the cancer he caused during his tenure.
No. 6: Tyreke Evans
Yet to play a game with New Orleans, Tyreke Evans makes the list because of his age—23—and previous production in the NBA.
A career average of 17.5 points per game, Evans signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Pelicans.
His point averages have gone down each year since he was Rookie of the Year in 2009-10, when he scored 20.1 points per game. However, his efficiency increased last season as he shot a career-best 47.8 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from long range.
The 6’6” combo wing player has the versatility to play multiple positions. With a guard-heavy roster, we could see Evans playing the 3 or coming off the bench.
He’s taken a team approach in signing with the Pelicans, and it's clear he will have to make adjustments. His role is yet to be determined, but Evans is a dynamic player who is being given the opportunity to grow with New Orleans.
He is well liked by coach Monty Williams and general manager Dell Demps, becoming part of their future plans. Time will tell how he takes advantage of the opportunity.
For now, Evans is on the best free-agent signings list, purely out of respect for his talent. In two or three years, depending on his production, we could see him on the "worst" free-agent signings list. With the talent around him, I can't see that happening. He'll climb up this list.
No. 5: Bobby Phills
Bobby Phills signed a seven-year, $33 million contract before the 1997-98 season to be the Hornets' shooting guard.
He started 61 of the 62 games he played in his first season and started all 43 games he played in 1998-99, while coming off the bench for 19 of the 28 games in 1999-00.
In 1997-98, Phills scored 10.9 points in 30.4 minutes while shooting 44.6 percent. This marked the only season the team reached the postseason during his tenure in Charlotte. He scored 6.7 points with 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals in nine playoff games.
His second season was the most productive for the Hornets. He scored 14.3 points and grabbed four rebounds a game. Phills also tallied a career-high 2.1 turnovers per game.
On April 9, 1999, Phills hit a game-winning shot with .2 seconds on the clock against the Washington Wizards. He scored 17 points on 3-of-5 from three-point range in the game.
In the third year of his contract, Phills died in an automobile accident after a morning practice at the Charlotte Coliseum. He was reportedly traveling over 75 mph in a 45 mph zone.
More than his production on the court, Phills volunteered at children’s charities and was one of the NBA’s “good guys.” He started the Bobby Phills Educational Awareness Foundation and was one of four finalists for the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award in 1998.
Phills averaged 12.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 3.1 assists during his time in Charlotte.
His No. 13 became the first retired number in Hornets history.
No. 4: Kurt Rambis
In the inaugural season of the Charlotte Hornets, management needed a veteran to come in. As his role was diminishing with the Los Angeles Lakers, four-time NBA champion Kurt Rambis signed a four-year, $2.4 million deal with the NBA’s newest team.
The 6’8” power forward with goggles had his best season in 1988-89 with the Hornets. Starting all 75 games he played, Rambis scored 11.1 points per game—the only year he averaged double figures in points.
He shot 51.8 percent that season with career highs in rebounds (703) and assists (159). Additionally, his 4.8 win shares—number of wins contributed by a player—was the best of his career.
His 9.4 rebounds per game led the team in 1988-89.
In 16 games of the 1989-90 season, Rambis scored 9.1 points and grabbed 7.5 boards per contest before being shipped out of Charlotte.
Despite being traded to Phoenix, Rambis’ impact on the Hornets as a franchise should not go unnoticed. He left Pat Riley, Magic Johnson and the Lakers to join a first-year team so he could play everyday.
There’s something admirable about that. He had his four rings, and the Lakers were getting better each year. Rambis wanted to play and help a new franchise get on its feet. He just thought his career was going to end in Charlotte.
No. 3: Ryan Anderson
One season into a four-year, $36 million deal with New Orleans, the 6’10” Ryan Anderson scored the second-most three-pointers in the NBA, behind only Stephen Curry.
As a restricted free agent, the Orlando Magic agreed to a sign-and-trade with New Orleans.
After starting every game in 2011-12 for the Magic and scoring 16.1 points per game, Anderson was awarded the NBA’s Most Improved Player before joining the Hornets.
Then, because of Anthony Davis, Anderson shifted to a sixth-man role.
He showed he was plenty capable of producing off the bench, scoring a career-high 16.2 points in 30.9 minutes per game.
Anderson scored 20 or more points on 22 separate occasions, including a season-high 34 points on 8-of-13 from beyond the arc in a November loss to the Phoenix Suns. Recording 11 rebounds, this was one of his 11 double-doubles on the season.
With his size, Anderson grabbed a career-high 519 rebounds to go with 31 blocked shots.
He’s the perfect role player, a big body who can space the floor and drain the three-ball. He made a total of 213 three-pointers, just 18 shy of the Hornets record.
If he can continue to perform at a high level for the next three years, Anderson could become the No. 1 free-agent signing in this franchises history.
No. 2: Johnny Newman
After four seasons in the NBA, the Charlotte Hornets signed 6‘7” small forward Johnny Newman to a four-year, $5 million contract before the 1990-91 season.
He made an immediate impact, leading the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game during his first year in Charlotte. He started 81 games in 1990-91, shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.7 from beyond the arc in 30.6 minutes per game.
It was his best season as a pro, recording career highs in rebounds (254), assists (188) and steals (100).
Newman had the two most productive seasons of his career during his first two years as a Hornet. In 1991-92, he averaged 15.3 points in 55 games played. He was on the floor for 30 minutes a night.
Playing the 3, he wasn’t a strong rebounder, averaging 2.2 for his career. However, in those first two seasons of his contract, Newman averaged 3.1 and 3.3, respectively.
On January 25, 1992, Newman scored a then-franchise-high 41 points in a two-point win over the Indiana Pacers.
After two impressive seasons, Newman took a lesser role in 1992-93 and was sidelined for six weeks with a broken hand. His minutes decreased to just 23 per game, but his field-goal percentage jumped to 52.2, the highest mark of his 16-year career.
That season, Charlotte made the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s history. Newman played in all nine playoff games, scoring 7.6 points on 50.9 percent from the floor.
After 18 games in 1993-94, Newman was traded to the New Jersey Nets for Rumeal Robinson. He scored 12,740 points in his career and 14.9 per game while a member of the Hornets.
No. 1: David Wesley
Point guard David Wesley had his most successful seven-and-a-half years as a member of the Charlotte—and then New Orleans—Hornets.
Wesley averaged 14.7 points and 4.7 assists with the Hornets.
He stepped into the role of replacing Muggsy Bogues from game one, starting 81 games in his first season, averaging 13 points and 6.5 assists per game. That year, Wesley dished a career-high 15 assists against the Indiana Pacers on April 3, 1998.
He led the team to postseason action in each year except 1998-99, the season in which he played just 50 games.
The best year of Wesley’s career came in 2000-01 when he started all 82 regular-season games and all 10 postseason games. In the regular season, he scored 17.2 points per game on 42.2 percent shooting. He added 4.4 assists and 128 total steals.
Through the playoffs, Wesley remained an elite scorer on the Hornets, scoring 17 points on 47 percent from the floor. In those two series, he averaged three rebounds and 3.9 assists.
In his Hornets playoff career, Wesley scored 14.1 points with 3.3 assists in 36 games.
After three seasons, Wesley moved to shooting guard, where his scoring increased, but his assists decreased. Still, he was extremely efficient and durable enough to play 522 and start 517 games with the Hornets.
He averaged over 11 points in every season he played in Charlotte/New Orleans, but he was traded to the Houston Rockets after 26 games in 2004-05. That year, New Orleans had the worst record in franchise history, losing 64 games. The next season, the team selected Chris Paul with the No. 4 pick in the 2005 NBA draft.
No player in Hornets history had the kind of career in that uniform as Wesley had.