New Orleans Pelicans small forward Brandon Ingram is reportedly expected to receive "max money in offer sheets" as a restricted free agent during the offseason thanks to his breakout 2019-20 campaign.
Zach Harper of The Athletic reported the update Wednesday and noted the situation clouds the Pelicans' outlook ahead of the 2020 NBA trade deadline Feb. 6 because planning for future re-signings doesn't leave the front office "a ton of cap flexibility."
Ingram has started to look like the high-end player the Los Angeles Lakers expected when they selected him with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Pelicans acquired him in July as part of the blockbuster deal sending Anthony Davis to L.A.
The 22-year-old Duke product was NOLA's go-to player while top pick Zion Williamson, who made his NBA debut Wednesday night, recovered from knee surgery. He responded by ranking 10th in the league with 25.5 points per game to go along with averages of 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.5 threes.
"It's all in progression," Ingram said in early January. "That's all I seek every practice and every game, to progress in some way, be coachable and try to be the best I can be for my teammates."
His uptick in production has made him one of the league's best values, as he's making $7.3 million in the final guaranteed year of his rookie deal, per Spotrac. The Pelicans can make him a qualifying offer of $9.5 million for next season, but he'll surely receive more lucrative offer sheets if no extension is reached.
Matching any offer sheet should be a no-brainer for New Orleans. A core of Williamson, Ingram, Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball gives the franchise the foundation for long-term success. It will need another high-end player to compete for titles, but the future is bright.
That said, the future financial commitment does hamstring the Pelicans short term.
It's unfortunate because the return of Williamson, who tallied 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists in just 18 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs, makes the team a playoff threat despite its current 17-28 record.
Leapfrogging four teams to make up the four-game deficit the Pelicans currently face to reach the eighth seed will be difficult without some reinforcements, though. The front office's task before the deadline is trying to find some low-cost additions, preferably including a proven wing defender, without impacting their offseason plans.