The first official day of NBA Free Agency 2018 almost passed without rumblings of a signing for the New Orleans Pelicans until ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news of Gretna native Elfrid Payton coming home to New Orleans.
Elfrid Payton has agreed to a deal with the Pelicans, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 2, 2018
Before breaking him down as a player, a little background first. Payton attended John Ehret High School on the Westbank of New Orleans before becoming a highly respected player in his three years at the University of Louisiana. With the Ragin’ Cajuns, he led his team to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title in 2014, the year he was drafted No. 10 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers (originally a New Orleans pick, acquired in the Jrue-Nerlens trade the year prior), who then traded him to the Orlando Magic. He spent nearly four seasons with the Magic before being dealt during this year’s trade deadline to the Phoenix Suns.
Now Payton returns to his home state of Louisiana on a one-year deal, as reported by Woj. Since it’s only the first day of free agency, the status of the other Pelicans free agents (DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Ian Clark) are still unknown. However, with Marc Stein reporting that the Pelicans “remain hopeful of re-signing” Rondo to resume his role as the team’s floor general, Payton looks to be a cheap option at the backup point guard spot.
How Payton will fit in that role will have to wait to be seen in the season, but he’s certainly built for it. He started at point guard in nearly all of his games with the Magic and Suns, averaging over 11 points and six assists in his four years in the league. His shooting is definitely not a strong point, and it seemed to drop off further in Phoenix, but that could be due to the lack of easy shots that could come with the team that picked No. 1 in the Draft this year. Up until the trade deadline with the Magic, he had improved his three-point shooting to a little over 37%.
At 6’4”, he’s tall for his position (although his recent haircut may make him seem somewhat shorter), and he possesses the potential for stout defense from an athleticism standpoint. His defensive numbers have been less than stellar, but being on two teams in the bottom third of the league in defensive rating could have heavily affected those numbers.
It’s important to note in conclusion what might happen with Rondo. The free agent is still on the market, but the Pelicans have shown strong interest in bringing him back. Rondo’s presence would mean a clear hierarchy being established at the guard spot with Payton as a backup, where the organization thinks he can thrive. Rondo played a large part in helping Jrue Holiday to succeed during last season, and he also could help Payton begin to reach his potential.
If the homecoming for Payton and New Orleans doesn’t work out, it’s only a one-year deal that won’t be too much of a burden on the books, but it’s a gamble that could turn out well for the Pelicans.