Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans could easily justify a slow offseason if they wanted to. They ranked sixth in the NBA in net rating and had the NBA's best road record. Were it not for a poorly timed Zion Williamson injury in the Play-In round and a historically deep Western Conference, they easily could have gone on the sort of unexpected, deep playoff run that has taken the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals. Plenty of teams would look at that outcome and the set of circumstances that led up to it, shrug, and decide just to run it back and hope for better luck next year.

But according to Christian Clark of NOLA.com, the Pelicans are expected to aggressively pursue upgrades this offseason. This echoes the sentiment that top basketball executive David Griffin gave at his end of season media availability. "I think in the past we've always erred on the side of continuity," Griffin said, "and our takeaway has always been 'Let's see this group healthy.' (Now) I think we've seen this group enough. We had a really good opportunity to see Zion play a career high in games (with 70). We saw it for segments of time well enough to understand that we've got a lot of work to do."

Before the Pelicans start thinking about external additions, they have four major internal decisions to make.

  • Starting center Jonas Valanciunas is set to be a free agent. Are the Pelicans planning to bring him back, or replace him through a trade? With stellar backup Larry Nance Jr. in place, New Orleans doesn't necessarily need to add a pricey starter, but Nance has had too many injuries to be relied upon for starter minutes. It needs someone at center.
  • The Pelicans have a team option on Jose Alvarado worth practically nothing. If they decline it, he becomes a restricted free agent and they have to pay him more right away. Accept it and he's cheap this offseason, but an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Last summer, the Pelicans took advantage of this CBA quirk by allowing Herb Jones to become a restricted free agent and then underpaying him by using the threat of matching any offer sheet to scare off other suitors. This path is available with Alvarado, but it's unclear if the Pelicans will take it.
  • Reserve forward Trey Murphy III is eligible for a rookie extension, but more importantly, he has vastly outplayed his bench role. He has to start moving forward, and his next contract is going to need to reflect that.
  • Brandon Ingram is eligible for a max contract extension. He is reportedly unlikely to get one, and has been on the trade market since the offseason began. With Murphy set to become a starter, there may no longer be room in New Orleans for Ingram is he expects to continue to draw a max salary.

So what would an aggressive offseason in New Orleans look like? Ideally, it would mean using Ingram to trade for either a long-term point guard or a center to replace Valanciunas. Murphy, Jones and Williamson seem entrenched as the starters at three other positions. C.J. McCollum has been a starter since arriving in New Orleans, but if the Pelicans look to add a point guard, he would either be a part of that deal or presumably move to the bench and serve as one of the most valuable sixth men in the NBA.

At this point, it is unclear who exactly will be available at point guard and center. If the Cavaliers extend Donovan Mitchell, then Darius Garland will seemingly become available and have a number of suitors. Both Trae Young and Dejounte Murray appear gettable out of Atlanta. Centers, at least non-stars, tend to be fairly gettable, though the demands of playing next to Williamson are steep. In a perfect world, a starter next to Williamson would be a strong shooter, rim-protector and defensive rebounder. There are only a handful of such players in the NBA, and few of them are likely to be available.

But the Pelicans have plenty to work with. In addition to Ingram, they control all of their own draft picks moving forward. They also have unprotected picks from the Lakers (2025) and Bucks (2027) to work with as well, so they will be in a position to win bidding wars if necessary. But salary will be an important consideration here as well. Re-signing Valanciunas alone would likely take the Pelicans close to the luxury tax, and paying Alvarado as well would certainly cross that line. Murphy's new deal will be expensive, and any player they trade Ingram for will be costly too.

The Pelicans are trying to get better this offseason, but they are also trying to set up a balance sheet that is sustainable for the long haul. This team is not going to be cheap, but if they really are going to be this aggressive this summer, they likely know that and are prepared to pay what it takes to win.