The Pelicans’ 2021-22 season wasn’t expected to go smoothly after a rough 2021 offseason. After failing to qualify for last year’s play-in tournament and a report about Zion Williamson being unhappy in New Orleans, the pressure on the organization shot up dramatically. The combination of a young roster and Zion’s undisclosed foot injury led to a 3-16 start.
Fast forward and the Pelicans’ season turned out to be a great success. The front office struck gold with three rookies in Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III, and Jose Alvarado, who all played like first-round picks. The trade for CJ McCollum worked out considering the price they gave up for him as he’s been every bit the ball-dominant scorer they needed. There was always a competitive squad on this roster and head coach Willie Green unlocked it. The basketball world cannot wait for Williamson to rejoin this group with such an exciting upwards trajectory.
New Orleans’ upcoming offseason could be a quiet one considering they already have a full roster and mainly just need continuity and internal improvement. On the other hand, they still have a surplus of future first-round picks they could put together to pursue a big trade. Williamson’s future in New Orleans could also be resolved this offseason since he becomes extension-eligible.
Zion Williamson extension and future
Depending on who you ask, the Pelicans either have a no-brainer or extremely difficult decision to make on Zion Williamson. The former first-overall pick will become eligible to sign a rookie-scale extension this offseason but has only appeared in 85 of 226 regular-season games in his career. When he plays, he’s a borderline All-NBA player who cannot be stopped at the rim. The issue with him isn’t if he’s worth such a contract but rather if he will play in enough games to justify it.
Williamson could command a five-year maximum contract projected at $185.7 through 2026-27. The Pelicans can put provisions in his extension that would allow him to earn up to $222.9 million over five years if he earns All-NBA honors next season. They may be willing to give him a maximum contract but could require some compromises, such as injury protection should he not appear in enough games.
If Williamson isn’t interested in extending with the Pelicans, it will be interesting to see how they proceed. A player of his caliber declining a maximum contract offer following his rookie-scale contract would be unprecedented. Qualifying offers have risen significantly to the point that we could see a great player finally accept theirs to enter unrestricted free agency early. However, taking that path could be extremely costly. It’s possible Williamson’s name will be in trade rumors if he declines to sign an extension this offseason.
Luxury tax, roster crunch, and trade options
The Pelicans are headed into the 2022 offseason with a full 15-man roster and just $2.2 million below the luxury tax. They will have access to the $10.3 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE) but will need to reduce payroll and generate a roster spot to utilize it. They have several non-starters that they could look to salary dump, or trade for players on smaller salaries.
If they don’t prioritize using the MLE, they could attempt to make a consolidation trade. The Pelicans have one of the best draft picks-based trade packages set for the next available All-Star. They have all their own first-round picks to offer going forward, in addition to the Lakers 2022 first-round pick, an unprotected Lakers first-round pick in either 2024 or 2025, and an unprotected Bucks first-round picks in 2027.
It seems like a good possibility that the Pelicans will look to trade the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick this offseason. They may view it as expendable given how all three of their rookies are already working out. With a few exceptions, there shouldn’t be any players off-limits on New Orleans’ roster if they’re looking to make a major upgrade. A big trade could push them into the luxury tax in 2022-23, but that could be worthwhile depending on the player they get back.
A maximum extension for Williamson, along with the money dedicated to their other core players, could put them way over the luxury tax starting in 2023-24. CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Jaxson Hayes are also extension-eligible this offseason. They are likely looking at limited flexibility and potentially becoming significant taxpayers if they lock into their current core.
2022-23 SALARY SITUATION
Guaranteed salaries: $143,274,290
Non-guaranteed salaries: $3,346,139
Total salary: $146,620,429
Luxury tax space: $2,190,451
Non-taxpayer Mid-level: $10,349,000
Bi-Annual exception: $4,050,000
Steven Adams trade exception: $6,382,262 (expires July 7, 2022)
Didi Louzada trade exception: $1,782,878 (expires February 8, 2023)
2022-23 salary: $33,333,333
Remaining salary guaranteed: $69,135,802 through 2023-24
Additional notes: McCollum is extension eligible during the offseason for up to three years, $139.2 million.
2022-23 salary: $31,650,600
Remaining salary guaranteed: $101,500,200 through 2024-25
Additional notes: Ingram has a 15 percent trade bonus that would be voided if traded during 2022-23 since he is already earning a maximum contract.
2022-23 salary: $14,700,000
Remaining salary guaranteed: $30,135,000 through 2023-24
2022-23 salary: $13,534,817
Remaining salary guaranteed: $13,534,817
Additional notes: Williamson is eligible to sign a rookie-scale extension through the day before the regular season. A maximum contract for him is projected at five years, $185.7 million, based on a salary cap projection of $128.1 million in 2023-24.
2022-23 salary: $11,550,000
Remaining salary guaranteed: $36,300,000 through 2024-25
Additional notes: His $12.65 million salary for 2024-25 is partially guaranteed for $2.85 million.
Larry Nance Jr.
2022-23 salary: $9,672,727
Remaining salary guaranteed: $9,672,727
Additional notes: Nance is extension-eligible throughout 2022-23 for up to four years, projected at $59 million.
2022-23 salary: $6,803,012
Remaining salary guaranteed: $6,803,012
Additional notes: Hayes is eligible to sign a rookie-scale extension through the day before the regular season.
2022-23 salary: $5,155,500
Remaining salary guaranteed: $5,155,500
Additional notes: Temple’s $5.4 million in 2023-24 is non-guaranteed.
Kira Lewis Jr.
2022-23 salary: $4,004,280
Remaining salary guaranteed: $9,726,396 through 2023-24 (assuming team option for 2023-24 gets picked up)
Trey Murphy III
2022-23 salary: $3,206,520
Remaining salary guaranteed: $11,725,654 through 2024-25 (assuming team options on last two seasons are picked up)
2022-23 salary: $2,443,581
Remaining salary guaranteed: $2,443,581
Additional notes: Hernangomez has a $2.6 million team option for 2023-24.
2022-23 salary: $1,785,000
Remaining salary guaranteed: $1,785,000
Additional notes: Jones has a $1.8 million team option for 2023-24.
2022-23 salary: $1,782,621
Remaining salary guaranteed: $0
Additional notes: Marshall has a non-guaranteed $1.9 million team option for 2023-24.
2022-23 salary: $1,563,518
Remaining salary guaranteed: $1,100,000
Additional notes: Alvarado is under contract through 2024-25 for $6.9 million but is only guaranteed for $1.1 million next season.
Cap hold: $1,811,516
Type of free agent: Non Bird (unrestricted)
Cap hold: $1,616,044
Type of free agent: Non Bird (unrestricted)
Cap hold: $1,811,516
Type of free agent: Non Bird (restricted)
2022 Pick No. 8 (projected)
2022-23 salary: $5,434,920
Remaining salary guaranteed: $19,985,780 through 2025-26 (assuming team options on last two seasons are picked up)
Additional notes: HoopsHype and ForTheWin’s draft expert Bryan Kalbrosky has the Pelicans selecting Johnny Davis with the 8th overall selection in his most recent mock draft. Kalbrosky also has Shaedon Sharpe ranked as the 8th best prospect in his most recent big board.