Dante Cunningham is the kind of solid reserve big man who normally would have been picked up by a team in early-to-mid August as they rounded out their roster, but last summer nobody went near him. The reason was a some ugly domestic violence charges — ones that led to him getting booed by home fans in Minnesota at the end of last season — and in today’s climate no team was going near that.
However by mid-August all charges were dismissed. A source who saw the evidence against him told me this was a case where there was no foundation to the charges, police had found the accusations contained “falsehoods.” It is unlikely the league would suspend him in this case.
Still teams have stayed away. However that may be about to change, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
The Pelicans are looking for a little depth. They have an impressive starting front court with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik, and Ryan Anderson has been good as a stretch on the offensive end but he’s not providing much defense.
Cunningham, 26, is a quality defender, especially against the pick-and-roll, and he can defend the three or the four. Offensively he’s a pick-and-pop big man who makes his living on the long two on offense — he took 58 percent of his shots from 16 feet out to the arc last season in Minnesota (where he averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds a game in about 20 minutes a night off the bench). He hit a respectable 39.2 percent of those long twos but that’s still an inefficient shot.
The Pelicans have the roster space after waiving Darius Miller and Patric Young.
If the Pelicans don’t snap him up, some team will.
New Orleans coach Monty Williams liked the idea of Tyreke Evans as the sixth man again this season — a guy who could come in off the bench and just change the dynamic of the game with his scoring. Like Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford does for the Clippers.
Evans is going to start at the three spot when the Pelicans tip off the season.
It’s not official yet, but it will be soon according to Nakia Hogan of the Times-Picayune.
After three preseason games with less than stellar production from the three players – Darius Miller, Luke Babbitt and John Salmons – originally competing for the starting small forward spot, the Pelicans are closing in on moving Tyreke Evans, who practiced for the first time on Saturday after recovering from a strained hamstring suffered this offseason, into the starting lineup.
“Tyreke right now in my head, that’s where he is going to play (at small forward),” Williams said.
That’s great… if Evans can stay healthy. Williams talks about playing him 30 minutes a night, but Evans will not play on Tuesday as he continues to get over a hamstring strain. (To be fair, Evans played 72 games last season.)
Evans at the three always seemed the logical end of the road for the Pelicans this season, even if they are left looking for more off the bench (watch Ryan Anderson to step up). Evans is just the best fit there, next to Eric Gordon at the two.
Evans is undersized for the three spot in the NBA and that is going to lead to teams trying to exploit him in the post — that’s where having the long arms of Anthony Davis as the help defender. Plus, as Williams notes, those bigger guys then have to deal with Evans in transition and out on the wing on the pick-and-roll.
Babbitt, Salmons and Miller will come off the bench, likely one of them a lot more than the other two.
Three of the five starting spots for the New Orleans Pelicans are set in stone: Jrue Holiday at the point, Anthony Davis at the four and Omer Asik at center.
Out on the wings there is some talent but there are questions, too. At the two guard spot I expect Eric Gordon to win out and start but Tyreke Evans is in that mix. Either way coach Monty Williams has some solid options.
Then over the three… how about John Salmons? That’s not a good option anymore, but it may be the best one. He turns 35 this season and didn’t impress last season in Sacramento or Toronto (he had a PER of 7.8), although he did shoot 38 percent from three. Bottom line is Salmons is going to get a shot reports John Reid at the Times Picayune.
It’s likely that Salmons, a 12-year veteran, will be in a competitive battle with third-year forward Darius Miller and Luke Babbitt for the starting job. Also, it has not been ruled out that swingman Tyreke Evans could move into the spot as a starter if Pelicans coach Monty Williams decides to stick with Eric Gordon as the starting shooting guard.
That last option (starting Gordon and Evans) seems the most logical, but I get why Williams would want to bring the scoring firepower of Evans off the bench as a sixth man. However, Williams only has that option if he can trust Salmons to find his old form (or for Babbitt or Morris to really step up their games). If you start Evans then frankly none of those backup options are very thrilling.
Salmons used to be a solid wing, but his game has dropped off with age dramatically in recent seasons. He has ball handling skills but used to drive and shoot or create, plus he got to the line, now he really doesn’t draw fouls anymore. If he can give the Pelicans any kind of consistent play starting or off the bench it would be a huge boost for a team that should be dramatically better and maybe even threaten for a playoff spot. But I expect Monty Williams and the Pelicans management will spend a lot of time looking for better options at the three.
Unless there are some unknown promises in place, Pelicans training camp should be a lot of fun for Monty Williams.
Coaches are always looking for ways to foster competitiveness, and nothing does that like jobs up for grabs. Players will go to the wall to get an NBA contract, and that attitude can spread throughout the team.
New Orleans has 12 players with guaranteed contracts plus Luke Babbitt, Darius Miller, Patric Young, Kevin Jones and Vernon Macklin competing for one to three open roster spots. And if that wasn’t enough of a pool to choose from, the Pelicans will add another player who surely didn’t receive a full guarantee – Dionte Christmas.
Shams Charania of RealGM:
Christmas, who had played overseas since going undrafted out of Temple in 2009, made his NBA debut with the Suns last season. He played extremely limited minutes in Phoenix, but the 6-foot-5 guard has some scoring skills, though perhaps not the athleticism necessary to convert them to the NBA level.
The beauty is, he’ll have a chance to prove himself.
The Pelicans have an extremely strong top six:
- Jrue Holiday
- Eric Gordon
- Tyreke Evans
- Anthony Davis
- Omer Asik
- Ryan Anderson
But beyond that, it’s pretty dicey. So, New Orleans continues to search for reinforcements.
Caleb Wygal of The Register-Herald.com:
Kevin Jones tells us that he is going to training camp with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Shams Charania of RealGM:
The Pelicans have 12 players with guaranteed contracts. Jones and Macklin will be competing with Luke Babbitt, Darius Miller and Patric Young – each of whom has a partially guaranteed salary – for the final three roster spots.
Jones went undrafted in 2012, signed with the Cavaliers and spent much of the season in the D-League. He again played in the D-League, this time without an NBA contract, last season. The West Virginia product is a bit small for a power forward, but he plays hard and has good scoring skills inside.
Macklin also signed as an undrafted free agent, going from Florida to the Pistons in 2011. In his lone year in Detroit, he scored and rebounded extremely efficiently in very limited minutes, so it’s tough to evaluate Macklin based on that. You’d think a 25-41 team could have found more than 135 minutes to see what it had in Macklin, but the Pistons didn’t. He’s since played overseas and in the D-League.
Jones and Macklin are unlikely to make the team, but there are openings for each if they impress in the preseason.