The New Orleans Pelican biggest bet after the trade deadline is banking on Trey Murphy, who hopes to see a Brinks truck worth of money soon, to turn things around before the NBA Playoffs. Murphy was mired in a career-worst shooting slump going into the All-Star break, but he still has a few months to turn things around.
The hard work, patience, and persistence shown by the team and Murphy are impressive and should pay off handsomely soon enough.
Murphy's shooting is invaluable to a team needing space for Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram to operate. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for all rookie-scale extensions to cover the next five years. Previously, only players offered max-level extensions could extend for up to five years.
No team has given out a five-year rookie-scale non-max extension, yet, but that could be an option for New Orleans. Locking up Murphy through an age-29 season ensures the prime of his career comes on a Crescent City court.
The agents have a very convincing counter-argument to throw at the Pelicans. A 6'10” wing putting up 15 points per game on 48%/40%/90% shooting splits at 22 years old is a max player. Players trusted to attempt seven three-pointers a night are pretty rare, especially at a 40% clip. Only six players pulled off that feat last season: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Buddy Hield, Michael Porter Jr., Desmond Bane, and Tyrese Haliburton.
The organization's reply? Those were last year's stats, and they've been paid for already. Max-players do more on-ball initiating and help make teammates better going forward. Murphy's floor is raised by playing with Williamson and Ingram, but he might already be close to his individual ceiling talent-wise. A five-year deal is a good starting point, even if Murphy's agents will insist on a four-year deal so he can hit free agency sooner.
Going north of $200 million on the deal when even the team's actual All-Stars are making around $40 million a year will lead to some tough negotiating, regardless of any options on the fifth season. Projections on the estimated salary cap for the 2025-26 season, when Murphy's deal begins, are expected to be approximately $165 million.
A max would start somewhere near $40 million a year. Anthony Edwards, Ja Morant, Tyrese Haliburton, Darius Garland, Desmond Bane, and LaMelo Ball all signed extensions for around $40 million per year. Murphy is not on their levels, not yet, and will not have a big enough role carved out to match stats with those All-Stars. There are some starting point comparisons around the league though.
Comps lead Pelicans, Trey Murphy to middle ground
Kyle Kuzma now makes $25.5 million per year on a rookie-scale extension. Jordan Poole ($32MM), Tyler Herro ($30MM), Devin Vassel ($27MM), Cam Johnson ($27MM), Jaden McDaniels ($26.2MM), and RJ Barrett ($26.7MM) are all young up-and-comers in their early 20s. Without an undeniable breakout performance over the next four months, Murphy is looking at $28-$34 million a year.
Forget the actual dollar amounts though. If the front office believes Murphy will be the second or third-best player on the team by the end of the deal, it's a bargain. Giving Murphy 18%-20% of the cap to be a third or fourth option is reasonable enough.
Percentages of the salary cap are more of an issue than rising price tags. The inflation is factored in. Matching the scouting report to the salary cap hit is where the front office will look to win the day.
Murphy finishes possessions on offense but does little to open up the game for teammates. He needs shots created for him or an open runway to the rim to be a threat. Murphy provides spacing but has to give up the ball when pressed. A max-level deal might not make sense for many teams but there is usually one desperate team with cap space.
The Pelicans are hopeful Murphy sees a brighter future in the Big Easy. The front office's sale pitch is built around chasing rings being more fun than long years with lottery teams. An NBA Finals appearance with this organically grown championship-caliber core is worth far more in memories than a couple extra million from a team under pressure to spend. At least that's the stance of the front office. Murphy's values will not be known until it's time to put pen to paper on a new contract.