After giving the Suns all they could handle, the season is now over for the Pelicans who can look back upon 2021-22 as one of immense growth despite early frustrations.
You may know the story by now, but New Orleans started off the season 2-14 before turning things around to finish the season with a 36-46 record and the West’s ninth seed.
They won twice in the Play-In Tournament, knocking out the Spurs and Clippers before pushing the Suns to a Game 6.
What led to the turnaround? Well, Brandon Ingram got healthier, New Orleans’ young players began to develop, the team’s pieces began to jell and, in February, the franchise made a commitment to winning as soon as this season by acquiring veterans CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell ahead of the trade deadline.
And all of the Pelicans’ successes came without Zion Williamson logging a single minute.
Willie Green, who has just wrapped his first year as head coach, has proven to be the man to lead the charge for a New Orleans franchise that undoubtedly has a bright future.
Here’s a snapshot of where the Pelicans stand heading into the offseason.
All salary figures are from Spotrac.
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Pelicans upcoming free agents
Entering the 2022 offseason, veteran Tony Snell is the only unrestricted free agent on the Pelicans roster.
Jose Alvarado, who became a fan favorite during his rookie season, was going to become a restricted free agent until the Pelicans inked him to a team-friendly four-year, $6.5 million dollar deal in March.
|Unrestricted free agents||Restricted free agents||Player option||Team option|
|Tony Snell||Jared Harper||None||None|
Pelicans future salaries, roster
With very few free agents, the Pelicans will largely run things back next season, only they’ll hope to have the full complement of players available in 2022-23.
In addition to Williamson, who did not play at all during the season, 2020 lottery pick Kira Lewis Jr. played in just 24 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 8.
McCollum, who will be entering his 10th NBA season, will be New Orleans’ highest-paid player, while Nance will be the biggest name to enter unrestricted free agency in 2023.
|CJ McCollum||$33.3 million||$35.8 million||UFA||–|
|Brandon Ingram||$31.7 million||$33.8 million||$36.0 million||UFA|
|Jonas Valanciunas||$14.7 million||$15.4 million||UFA||–|
|Devonte’ Graham||$11.6 million||$12.1 million||$12.7 million||UFA|
|Zion Williamson||$13.5 million||RFA||–||–|
|Larry Nance Jr.||$9.7 million||UFA||–||–|
|Jaxson Hayes||$6.8 million||RFA||–||–|
|Garrett Temple||$5.2 million||$5.4 million (NG)||UFA||–|
|Kira Lewis Jr.||$4.0 million||$5.7 million (TO)||RFA||–|
|Trey Murphy III||$3.2 million||$3.4 million (TO)||$5.2 million (TO)||RFA|
|Willy Hernangomez||$2.4 million||$2.6 million||UFA||–|
|Herbert Jones||$1.8 million||$1.8 million (TO)||RFA||–|
|Naji Marshall||$1.8 million||$1.9 million (TO)||–||–|
|Jose Alvarado||$1.6 million||$1.8 million (NG)||$2.0 million (TO)||UFA|
|Gary Clark||$1.6 million||–||–||–|
TO = Team option
NG = Non-guaranteed
RFA = Restricted free agency
UFA = Unrestricted free agency
Pelicans 2022 NBA Draft picks
Provided it falls outside of the top four, the Pelicans’ first-round pick will be sent to the Trail Blazers as part of the McCollum trade. There is a 90.6 percent chance New Orleans’ pick will be sent to Portland.
The Pelicans own the rights to the Lakers’ first-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft because of the 2019 trade that sent Anthony Davis to LA. Because the Lakers finished with a 33-49 record, their pick comes with the eighth-best lottery odds. New Orleans has a 26.3 percent chance of selecting in the top four and a 6.0 percent chance of picking first overall.
In his latest mock draft, TSN’s Kyle Irving has New Orleans selecting Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis with the eighth overall pick.
New Orleans also owns the rights to Utah’s second-round pick (52) from a trade in 2020.
The Pelicans’ second-round pick (41) will be sent to the Hornets as part of the Devonte’ Graham sign-and-trade.
One burning question
How will Zion Williamson’s extension get handled?
While he didn’t play at all this past season, Williamson will be entering his fourth season with the Pelicans next year, making him eligible to sign an extension that would keep him with the franchise through the 2027-28 season.
Of course, the short answer to the burning question is that New Orleans will likely offer it and Williamson will likely sign, but there are layers here.
First off are the financials.
Williamson, who has proven to be a generational talent during his time with the Pelicans, is eligible to sign a maximum extension worth $184 million over five years, with the first year of the deal beginning in the 2023-24 season. Given Williamson’s injury troubles over the last three years, such a financial commitment could be a cause of trepidation — either within the organization or among fans.
But this isn’t unprecedented territory.
In 2017, Joel Embiid signed a rookie-scale max extension with the 76ers after appearing in a total of 31 games since he was drafted three years prior.
In 2020, Michael Porter Jr. agreed to a rookie-scale max extension with the Nuggets despite missing the entirety of his rookie season due to injury.
While both Embiid and Porter’s contracts include language related to availability, most stipulations are related to very specific injuries in order to protect the player and the franchise.
That said, Williamson’s standing as an All-Star and dominant player before his 22nd birthday means the Pelicans will be all-in on their franchise player.
New Orleans has constructed a team built to win around Williamson and after turning things around in 2021-22, getting the former No. 1 overall pick back will just accelerate the growth moving forward.