The New Orleans Pelicans started off the 2023 NBA free agency period by making some decisions with existing players.
The Pelicans opted on Thursday to decline the team options of small forward Herb Jones ($1.8 million) and center Willy Hernangomez ($2.6 million). The team did decide to pick up the option for forward Naji Marshall ($1.9 million). The team also opted not to extend a qualifying offer to forward-center Jaxson Hayes which made him an unrestricted free agent.
Jones was a second-round pick out of Alabama during the 2021 NBA Draft. He has become a key member of the Pelicans’ young core as he has played in 144 games, including 135 starts in two seasons.
The 2022 NBA All-Rookie Second Team honoree has averaged 9.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. Jones is now a restricted free agent which means the Pelicans can match any offer any other team offers him.
Hernangomez signed with the Pelicans at the start of the 2021-22 season and has appeared in 88 games but with only 10 starts. He averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds during his first season but those numbers dipped last season when he averaged 6.9 points and 4.7 rebounds last season.
Marshall went undrafted back in 2020 but was signed by the Pelicans on a two-way contract.
After playing in the G-League, Marshall has become a key contributor for the Pelicans appearing in 164 games in three seasons. This past season he posted career highs in points per game (9.1), field goal percentage (.433), minutes per game (23.3), games played (77), and games started (21).
Hayes was a Lottery Pick (8th overall) out of Texas during the 2019 NBA Draft.
Despite having massive athleticism, the 7-foot, 220-pound Hayes could never become a consistent player for the team. In four seasons, Hayes appeared in 241 games with 47 starts, averaging 16.8 minutes per game while averaging 7.5 points and 4 rebounds per game.
The Pelicans and Jones came to an agreement Friday evening. New Orleans and the 24-year-old declined the team option in order to settle on a long-term contract. The new deal is worth a total of $54 million over the next four years with year one being worth $12 million. The news was first broken by Adrian Wojnarowski via Twitter.
With this new contract, there was no sign of a player or team option. New Orleans is also now about $1 million away from going over the luxury tax line that has been set by the NBA at $165.294 million with the Pelicans at $164.387 million with the 12 players currently under contract. The news was reported by Christian Clark on Twitter as well.
On Sunday, the Pelicans added some much-needed depth to the frontcourt as they signed center Cody Zeller. It’s a one-year deal worth $3.1 million and was reported by Wojnarowski.
Zeller is a 30-year-old veteran who has spent 10 years in the league after being drafted fourth overall by the then-Charlotte Bobcats in the 2013 draft. He stands at 6’11” and weighs 240 lbs.
The first eight seasons were spent in Charlotte where Zeller started a majority of the games he played in. He helped contribute to playoff runs in the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 seasons. The 2016-2017, 2018-2019, and 2019-2020 seasons were his best statistically as he exceeded 10 points per game each of those seasons while shooting better than 52% from the floor and grabbing 6.8 rebounds a game.
In 2021, Zeller signed a one-year deal with the Portland Trailblazers where he only played in 27 games and didn’t start in any of them as he put career lows in points per game with 5.2 and blocks per game at .2.
Then, this past season he signed with the Miami Heat where he had even more career lows. This time in rebounds at 4.3, assists at .7, and steals at .2 while playing in only 15 games but starting in two of them. Zeller was a part of that Heat team that made it to the NBA Finals where they met up with Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. They’d end up losing 4-1 in the five-game series but this was the farthest he’d ever gone in the playoffs.
Right before the start of Summer League play, the Pelicans and E.J. Liddell agreed to a new three-year contract worth $6.2 million.
The forward out of Ohio State was drafted by New Orleans in the second round of the 2022 NBA draft where he would sign a two-way contract in his first season.
However, Liddell never saw the floor for the Pelicans in 2022 after he tore his ACL during a Summer League game. During his time with the Buckeyes, Liddell was a very efficient player averaging 19.4 points while shooting 49% from the floor and 37.4% from three-point range in the 2021-2022 season. The 6’6″ forward in that final year also grabbed 7.9 rebounds and recorded 2.6 blocks per game before being the 41st pick in the following draft.