Pelicans notebook: No word on Luke Babbitt’s absence

Forward Luke Babbitt’s absence from the Pelicans summer league team practices has been conspicuous.

Babbitt is one of three players on the summer league team who played with the Pelicans last season, joining them at midseason. Babbitt, 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, is an undersized power forward known for his outside shooting. He was expected to use the Las Vegas Summer League experience to work on developing his skills as a small forward and enhancing his attractiveness as a player.

“He’s at home in Oregon,” summer league coach Brian Gates said when asked about Babbitt’s whereabouts.

Asked whether Babbitt would join the team, Gates said, “I don’t know.”

Babbitt’s absence fuels speculation that he will not be brought back to the Pelicans. The team has the option on his $981,084 contract, with General Manager Dell Demps possibly shaving it to clear salary-cap space. Babbitt, a former first-round pick of the Portland Trail Blazers, played in Russia last season before coming to the Pelicans.

The other players on the summer league roster who played last season for the Pelicans are guard James Southerland and center Jeff Withey.

Salary cap set

The NBA set its salary cap for the 2014-15 season at $63.065 million. It’s a 7.5 percent increase over last season’s $58.679 million but a little lower than projected.

The Pelicans are at approximately $54 million but still have to fit the contract of center Omer Asik, whom they obtained in a trade with the Houston Rockets. Asik will be paid $8.3 million next season.

The league also set its limit for exceeding the salary cap before the luxury tax comes into effect at $76.829 million. NBA teams can officially begin signing free agents Thursday.

A slight difference

Shooting guard Courtney Fells chose the Pelicans over invitations to join other teams’ summer league squads because of openings left by free agents.

Fells is hoping to get the chance to fill what may be a need for a 3-point shooter on the Pelicans roster.

“Me and my agent felt like I’m the same kind of player as (former Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow), maybe a little bit more athletic,” he said. “So we just felt like this was the best situation, and we’re going to take advantage of it and just have fun with it.”

Gates was asked whether the Pelicans agreed with Fells’ comparison.

“He said that, huh?” Gates said. “Well, obviously both of them have high confidence of themselves, which is good. This is what I do know: (Assistant coach) Dave Hanners rebounds (during shooting drills) for Anthony Morrow a lot, and Dave Hanners is never sweaty when he’s done. He just stands underneath the net and tosses the ball back to him. I would think that Coach Hanners would get a little bigger workout rebounding for Courtney Fells.”

That said, Gates agreed that Fells is more athletic than Morrow.

“Yes, he is,” Gates said. “And with all due respect to Anthony Morrow, Coach (Monty) Williams is more athletic than Anthony Morrow.

“(Fells’ and Morrow’s) games are not similar at all. We all know Anthony Morrow is not the most athletic guy in the world, but I think he finished (fourth) in the league in 3-point field goal percentage. You read that every team is after Anthony Morrow, and they should be.”