The New Orleans Pelicans will head into next season with a roster that is ready to compete for a top seed in the Western Conference.
The additions of Zion Williamson, Dyson Daniels and a full season of CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. to a team that made the playoffs last season has fans excited for what could come.
The Pels have the right combination of young and veteran talent, team chemistry and defensive versatility to have a special season.
But that roster depth means players are going to be scrapping for minutes, which Willie Green rightfully identified as a “good problem to have.”
You can never have too much depth, but it has also put some doubt on the future of a couple of players who will have to prove they should be part of the future core of the New Orleans Pelicans.
New Orleans Pelicans: It’s a make-or-break season
Jaxson Hayes is entering the final year of his contract and the Pelicans will have to make a decision about his future. He showed improvement last season as a starter at the power forward position, but Zion coming back, the addition of Nance Jr. and the improvement of guys like Trey Murphy III and Herbert Jones will force Hayes to compete for minutes.
Hayes has had some much-publicized off-the-court issues as well, so the Pels may hold off giving him that big extension until he shows more consistency.
If they can’t work out an extension, Hayes will be playing for a future contract whether it is will the New Orleans Pelicans or not, so this is likely to be a huge year for him one way or another. Continue to improve and he’ll get that big deal, but if he can’t find steady minutes or role, this season could be his last in New Orleans.
Devonte’ Graham has recently had some off-the-court issues of his own that I am sure the Pelicans are monitoring closely.
Graham was being used more sparingly down-the-stretch last season, which was one of his worst in offensive efficiency. He had some big games, but didn’t really have a meaningful role in the rotation later in the season.
Like Hayes, he’s going to have plenty of competition for minutes, especially considering the Pels’ glut of small guards coming off the bench.
Unlike Hayes, Graham has two more guaranteed years left on his contract and a partially guaranteed third year. It’s hard to see a big trade market for Graham, but if the Pelicans don’t think he’s going to contribute, they may be out looking for a taker.
Graham needs to prove he can knock down open shots and be the 3-point threat the Pelicans need off the bench, otherwise he’s another guy who could end up on another team.
Competition for minutes is going to be stiff next season and these two guys are going to have to earn them to prove they should be part of the future plans.