New Orleans Pelicans outcasts making most of late season opportunities

New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans are using the post All-Star Break schedule to test the mettle of the team’s middle class. So far, they’re rising to the challenge and making the most of their opportunites.

A ragtag gang of New Orleans Pelicans is starting to make their presence known. Frank Jackson and Cheick Diallo have stepped up from developmental prospects to useful rotation players returning the investment on their potential. Elfrid Payton, Jahlil Okafor, Julius Randle, and Kenrich Williams have circled their wagons around Jrue Holiday. Based on their effort and energy showing they care about giving it all every night, most New Orleans Pelicans fans would gladly take a transition year to give these loyal players more time to shine.

Julius Randle will be tough to bring back, as he is most assuredly going to decline his approximately $9 million player option this summer. Randle will likely seek a few years of security and a larger payday. In the last ten games, Randle has posted over 26 points, 7 rebounds, and four assists per game. Randle deserves a raise. If the New Orleans Pelicans can be competitive with a offer, Randle has seemed to enjoy his time here and might be interested in coming back.

Convincing a young veteran capable of All-Star performances to stay in New Orleans for a few years will probably require parting with about $50 million over three years. The Pelicans have space, and Randle has continued to play while others look towards an early vacation. The Pelicans gave Randle the best chance to earn a contract last offseason. The former Lakers outcast might be the best option to fill any space created by a Davis trade.

Randle is on record saying he wants to stay in New Orleans. It is doubtful the Pelicans could find a better talent on the free agent market, draft, or even by trading Davis. Keeping Randle would be a clear sign the new Pelicans front office aims to keep the team respectable regardless of who asks to be traded.

Another four year veteran, Elfrid Payton has taken the lead in games Holiday has had to sit out. Payton has four straight triple doubles, and for the most part, the numbers come organically. Chasing a late rebound or two is acceptable to earn the accomplishment, so we’ll let a couple of those instances slide. Typically, Payton lets the game come to him instead of chasing numbers. He was tentative to start his Pelicans tenure but has grown into a leadership role while on the court.

The Pelicans need players with strong leadership in the locker room. Too much credit was given to Rajon Rondo last season for being the smart old-head in the locker room. Going forward, the Pelicans need a group effort to keep morale high. Holiday and Payton are always interacting with teammates and helping to keep the team together. There are a lot of options going forward, but most fall short of the potential of this starting back court.

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The guard situation looks even more settled as Frank Jackson continues to develop. Jackson has stepped into Holiday’s starting role in recent games, showing an ability to get buckets in spurts. Jackson is capable of putting up 20 points on consecutive days without letting his defensive numbers suffer. Jackson has spent years trying to recover full fitness after several injuries. Still only 20 years old, Jackson has a team friendly salary for another year. Next season, Jackson could be a lethal sixth man.

Kenrich Williams has been a serviceable asset off the bench. If Jackson or Payton depart, Williams would be in line for an increase in minutes. His development this year warrants a small promotion in the rotation. Already 24 years old, Williams is close to a finished product. The Pelicans could use Williams as a fourth guard with little worries.

Cheick Diallo is another project player using the reduction in Davis’ minutes to prove his case. However, Diallo could use some more consistency in his performances. Monster stat lines in one game are following by 2 point, 4 foul outings. Against Orlando, Diallo posted zero points, one rebound, and two fouls. He never had his head in the game, and Alvin Gentry removed him for the night after only thirteen minutes. However, Diallo has a very team friendly contract and has shown leaps of growth worth further investment. Diallo has the potential of a Hassan Whiteside while only demanding a meager salary.

Finding role players that will not break the bank and are willing to settle in small market New Orleans is critical for sustained playoff contention. New Orleans has several guys that fit this bill on the roster currently, with plenty of draft and trade capital to add high end supplementary players. Toronto, Oklahoma City, and Utah have shown that growing bench players into solid starters is just as important as luckily drafting a star.

New Orleans tried to draft a star, then punted all future drafts for reasons unknown. New Orleans fans want to see effort and players who care, not stars with trade demands and a soft injury history. These New Orleans Pelicans will be the old-heads coming into next season. Any Davis trade will bring in more players deemed as a surplus to requirements.

These are the players the New Orleans Pelicans should value, not the Klutch clients with eyes for the coasts. As NBA teams build fanbases and allow in-arena tifo banners, the Pelicans fans should find ways to show appreciation to the players others passed on. Through these Olde Orleans Outcasts, the Pelicans can build a foundation to challenge for playoff spots once more.

Add a disgruntled or value-depressed star into the max cap space situation (say, Jimmy Butler), and the Pelicans would again be a formidable playoff contender with room to grow. Right now, we have a disgruntled star holding back the future of the team. If Davis has a change of heart, fine. Deal with it then.

However, New Orleans as a city has been forgotten before and had the fortitude to fight for its betterment. Holiday, Jackson, Payton, Randle, Diallo, and Williams have exemplified the traits of the city through tough times. In New Orleans, that is appreciated far more than any new Davis dunking highlight. Show appreciation to the players, and other players will take notice.

Shiny new things are too often fool’s gold. Instead of a group of strangers, the Pelicans front office should try to keep these welcome and familiar faces in the Crescent City. Last time the New Orleans Pelicans traded a star (Chris Paul), half of the trade haul was in open mutiny against playing in the greater New Orleans area.

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As the New Orleans Pelicans gear up for a summer full of uncertainty, there are several great options already on the roster that could carry the banner for the city into the new era of Big Easy hoops.