Pelicans’ next step is making tough decisions on current players

The NBA draft has come and gone with the Pelicans not getting the key piece — a small forward — they needed, even after trading into the draft Thursday night.

The team’s actions indicate the Pelicans will attempt to sign a seasoned veteran who can help now rather than groom a young player.

“There’s no secret that’s a position we look at,” General Manager Dell Demps said.

For the Pelicans, the real time for personnel upgrades begin now. The deadline for making qualifying offers to restricted free agents is Monday, and the free-agency signing period begins Tuesday.

“We’re setting some goals and setting some targets, and if those targets become available, we’re going to aggressively pursue them,” Demps said. “There are some things we want to accomplish before the start of next season.”

The Pelicans likely will keep their core players, but the next few days will determine whether the team will be vastly different. As many as seven spots could be available — or as few as four.

With the contract of recently obtained center Omer Asik figured in, the Pelicans, according to published salary cap charts, are at $56.9 million. When the new cap total is announced in early July, it is expected to be approximately $63.2 million.

“We like where we are with the cap,” Demps said. “In reality, it’s almost impossible for us to get to the luxury tax.”

Center Jason Smith and small forward Al-Farouq Aminu are gone, as is center Greg Steimsma. And the team has to make decisions on small forward Darius Miller and backup point guard Brian Roberts on whether to extend qualifying offers and retain them.

Then there’s Anthony Morrow, who performed well and was a leader. He made just $1.1 million last year and is opting out of the second year of a contract that would have paid him only slightly more.

Roberts played admirably in place of injured starter Jrue Holiday but, by starting 45 games, his qualifying offer jumped from $1.1 million to $2.8 million. That may price him out of New Orleans, particularly with Asik’s salary at $8.3 million for next season already factored into that cap figure and other moves being considered.

“(A decision on Roberts) has not been made yet, but we have some time,” Demps said. “We really like Brian and, no matter what happens — if there’s a qualifier or not — he was a very good contributor to us for the last two years.”

Keeping Morrow likely would be wise because he ranked among the league’s top 3-point shooters last season, showed a penchant for hitting big shots and improved on defense. With 3-point ace Ryan Anderson coming off neck surgery, Morrow provides insurance as a weapon the team has to have. But it’s up to him.

“Anthony had a really good season,” Demps said. “The way we structured his contract with him agreeing to come here last summer, the goal was for him to prove himself. I think he did that. Obviously, now he’s going to become a free agent. But he’s indicated to us that he really liked it here.”

Coach Monty Williams said Anderson, who had surgery to repair two bulging disks in his neck in April, is expected to participate in training camp. That will come six months after Anderson’s surgery, which is in the expected time frame. But with the nature of such a surgery, only time will tell.

It will take a $1.1 million qualifying offer to retain Miller’s rights and be able to match an offer. Last season, he showed improvement, maturity, a good shooting touch and unexpected playmaking ability. The small forward the Pelicans need might be on the roster already.

But another one will be brought in to replace Aminu. It also remains to be seen what the Pelicans will do with Luke Babbitt, if anything. Last season, he was brought in to help offset the 3-point production lost when Anderson was injured. Babbitt didn’t bring much in the way of that, but he brought a toughness and defense that Williams did not expect.

At 6-8, he is small for power forward, but he is not athletic nor skillful enough to play small forward. He is scheduled to make just $918,000 this season.

Last year, the Pelicans attempted to get bigger to improve their effectiveness in the lane and take away the need for young star Anthony Davis to endure much physical pounding. Steimsma and power forward Arinze Onuaku, 6-9 and 260, were brought in, but neither is still with the team.

On Friday, the Pelicans got a player who went undrafted, inviting Florida center/power forward Patric Young to participate on its Las Vegas summer league team. Play begins July 11.

Young would have to earn a contract. He is 6-9 and 240 pounds, and he played four years for the Gators under coach Billy Donovan, helping Florida win three SEC championships and reach the Final Four this past season.

Young, who averaged 11.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks last season, is considered a good defender on the low block who plays hard, is tough and runs well.