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New Orleans Pelicans 2024 NBA offseason preview: Can they ever get healthy?

New Orleans Pelicans 2024 NBA offseason preview: Can they ever get healthy?

2023-24 season: 49-33

Highlight of the season: Saying, “Zion Williamson played 70 games,” may not sound like much of a highlight. But given that he played just 114 games over four seasons before that, it’s a highlight. It’s more than a highlight — it’s hope. Hope that was temporarily flushed down the drain when he missed the entire first round of the playoffs, but hope nonetheless.

With too many mid-range shots. The current version of the Pelicans is likely coming to an end, given that former All-Star Brandon Ingram seemingly refuses to take 3-pointers, attempting just eight in the first-round series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s not eight per game, mind you. That’s total. Over the course of 145 minutes.

With defensive ace Herb Jones becoming a much-improved shooter this season, canning 41.8% of his shots from downtown, now seems like the right time for the Pelicans to make substantial changes to their lineup. Long-range gunner Trey Murphy is also worthy of more minutes and more responsibility, particularly to aid Williamson, who can use as much space as humanly possible.

This raises a question about the future of Jonas Valančiūnas. The Lithuanian center would probably have been an All-Star had he played in the '90s, but his huge frame and advanced post skills aren't necessarily a needed commodity in today’s NBA, especially when paired with Williamson, who isn’t a strong shooter. You can survive with one subpar shooter in a starting unit, but not two.

Valančiūnas will be a free agent this summer and could leave the Pelicans outright. However, the Pelicans could be smart about it and re-sign him, only to flip him near the 2025 NBA trade deadline. Or, alternatively, they could seek out sign-and-trade deals during the offseason.

The biggest piece, however, is Ingram. The 26-year-old proved himself completely unreliable with his shot selection after finishing strong last season.

With players such as Jones, Murphy and rookie guard Jordan Hawkins being far more willing participants to space the floor for Williamson, it’s time to make a drastic pivot and streamline the roster.

Zion Williamson’s season once again ended with him in street clothes. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

A realignment. The Pelicans are running their actions mostly through Williamson and C.J. McCollum, meaning they have to get a roster in place that can help flank and optimize their playmaking capabilities. Whatever executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin and general manager Trajan Langdon decide to do this summer, symmetry and roster alignment has to be top of mind.

No. 21

The Pelicans deferred the No. 17 from the Los Angeles Lakers — part of the Anthony Davis trade — to 2025. Given the lack of quality in this year’s draft class, and the possibility the Lakers could be much worse next season, it's likely the right call by the Pelicans to defer the selection to next year.

In a draft that's completely wide open, the middle of the first round is a great place to be. There's flexibility to draft a backup point guard with perimeter shooting like Jared McCain of Duke or add some size with versatile 6-11 forward Tyler Smith from the G League Ignite, Kel'el Ware from Indiana or Purdue star Zach Edey. — Krysten Peek

The team is thoroughly over the cap if they hang onto most of the roster and re-sign Valančiūnas. However, they can shave some of their salary if they find a taker for Ingram and that team is willing to absorb a significant portion of his salary into their cap space.

That doesn’t necessarily help them achieve a great amount of cap space, though. Instead, it provides them enough financial leeway, under the tax, to spend the next 18 months making larger changes. Expect them to operate as an over-the-cap team so they can use their non-tax mid-level exception.

Key free agents

Jonas Valančiūnas (UFA)

Naji Marshall (UFA)

Be healthy for the playoffs. Williamson will be 24 by the start of next season and is slowly but surely entering some key prime years. The Pelicans must maximize those seasons to the best of their abilities, and that means building a product that allows their star to not get overburdened right before the postseason.

The Pels have a ton of fantasy upside, with four players ranked inside the top 100 in nine-category leagues this season. Williamson just missed the cut at No. 103. While the current roster won 49 games and nabbed the eighth seed in the West, a first-round sweep guaranteed that change is coming. Given the ascension of Murphy and Jones becoming one of the best defenders in the league, we could be looking at a scenario of Ingram getting traded. His salary plus McCollum's take up a significant portion of New Orleans' cap space, so moving one of them would give the Pelicans more flexibility in addressing some needs in the frontcourt and the second unit. Of course, if a big-salary player is moved, it will make waves in fantasy, so let's see how this plays out. — Dan Titus

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