The New Orleans Pelicans entered the 2015-16 season with high expectations. Anthony Davis ascended to the top of the league, ranking among the league's best players and looked like an MVP candidate for years to come. The Pelicans made an upgrade in their coaching staff, hiring for Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, who was coming off a stint as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors. Natural progression meant the Pelicans would move up the Western Conference ladder and Davis would further solidify himself as the next franchise-altering big man.
But injuries and poor defense have doomed what looked to be a promising season. The Pelicans have a 7-19 record, the offense has looked out of sync and the defense has been non-existent for much of the year.The Pelicans are currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating, according to Nylon Calculus, at 112.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, only topping the lowly Los Angeles Lakers as of December 16th. They've slowly trailed off in Moreyball shots - shots from three and at the rim - after being one of the better teams last season, they're 29th in offensive rebound percentage and 27th in opponent's turnover rate. It's been a rough start for New Orleans.
The record to start the season is one dilemma the Pelicans brass will have to deal with, but another is the team's long-term future. On the court, it doesn't look much better.
Anthony Davis is one of the five best players in the league and he just started expanding his game to three-point range. After that, the roster is questionable at best. Alexis Ajinca and Quincy Pondexter are fine role players, locked up under bargains for the next handful of seasons. Eric Gordon is strictly an offensive player at this point, Tyreke Evans provides the slashing ability needed, but he can't shoot the ball - career 28.2% three-point shooter - and Jrue Holiday has been on a minutes restriction for most of the first quarter of the season.
Davis has the potential to be the best or second best player on a championship team once he enters his peak. Everyone else? I'm dubious if anyone else on the roster could be the third-best player on a championship team.
With losses piling up, the dreams of making back-to-back postseason appearances seems to be fleeting, the Pelicans will have to consider everything with the goal of bouncing back in 2017. Outside of moving Anthony Davis and - in my mind - moving on from Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans will have all the trades, free agency moves and personnel moves to consider in order to improve the roster.
Before discussing Ferry's entire situation, we should talk about what led Demps into this position. He started off his tenure well, building around Chris Paul as his time in New Orleans was reaching its end. He shined with some of the trades he made, highlighted by a massive four-team deal that saw New Orleans land Trevor Ariza. Since the Paul trade, however, the Pelicans have struggled in creating a competitive team and dealt with numerous injuries to core players.
Lottery luck gave New Orleans a face of the franchise, but the expected face of the franchise acquired in the Paul trade, Eric Gordon, has battled injuries through his New Orleans career. Ryan Anderson, acquired in the midst of the Dwight Howard melodrama, dealt with his own handful of injuries and hardships off the floor while in New Orleans. Jrue Holiday, acquired for two lottery picks, suffered multiple stress fractures which limited his time on the floor and Omer Asik, acquired for just one first-round pick, isn't terrible, but as the league moves towards four out and even five out basketball finds his usefulness rapidly diminishing.
Because of New Orleans' "young veterans" strategy, the same that cost them three first round picks, there has been a lack of development in the organization outside of Davis. Second round picks have been either traded or strapped on the bench, waiting until free agency. ESPN's Amin Elhassan discussed with Dell Demps during the offseason the idea of an NBDL team, but we've heard nothing about it since.
And most importantly, they haven't won much in his tenure, as Demps' record as the general manager is just 173-221 heading into this season.
To give him credit, there were some nice moves in the Demps tenure, usually on the trade side. He acquired Trevor Ariza, Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez for little to nothing and as he saw the Pelicans on the cusp of the playoffs last year, he sprung a trade for Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole. However, there are several other angles to being a general manager and after a roster construction and two head coaches, perhaps it's time to make a move at the top of basketball operations.
Which is why I'm interested in Danny Ferry as a possible candidate for the Pelicans in the event they decide to move on from Demps. Ferry was the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers as LeBron James rose to prominence in Cleveland. After that, he was an assistant general manager for the Spurs, but most recently, Ferry served a stint with the Atlanta Hawks that saw them make the Eastern Conference Finals last season with a team he built.
And we have to discuss the reason why Ferry is out in Atlanta. Ferry took a leave of absence after making inflammatory comments about Heat forward Luol Deng during a conference call. In this ESPN report, Ferry said that Deng had "a little African in him" and according to Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson, Ferry said that Deng was African "not in a bad way, but he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sells you counterfeit stuff out of the back."
Damning comments from Ferry. I implore you to read this piece from ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst on the matter, as it gives a ton of perspective on the Hawks ownership and the Hawks before, during and after Ferry's tenure. It breaks down some of Ferry's biggest moves on the floor, as well as the behind the scenes moves that helped improved the franchise, but also hurt him among the major players within the organization.
That appears to be the biggest hurdle. Would New Orleans even consider giving Ferry a chance after his comments, comments that came out from a scout after the fact? Would Danny Ferry's resume and potential plus in the front office be enough for the pending scrutiny and backlash for his hiring from the media? Would New Orleans even consider him? Does Ferry deserve another chance? All questions Tom Benson, Mickey Loomis and the New Orleans brass would have to ask before slotting Ferry in as the next general manager.
As soon as Ferry joined the Hawks, he scrubbed the old regime away. Moving Joe Johnson and his massive contract to Brooklyn for nothing notable - Anthony Morrow being the biggest name of the players returning - and draft picks. That move was the start of Ferry taking over as he acquired Kyle Korver for a trade exception the same summer.
The following summer was Ferry's masterpiece, as he pegged former Spurs assistant head coach Mike Budenholzer to assume the role of head coach, he acquired DeMarre Carroll for $5 million over two seasons, Paul Millsap for $19 million and drafted Dennis Schroder, all essential members of last season's Eastern Conference Finals team.
Ferry thrived in free agency but was so-so in the draft.
John Jenkins - his first pick in Atlanta, 23rd overall pick in 2012 - didn't get off the bench much in Atlanta and battled injuries in the final year of his tenure. Ferry's second round pick from that year, Mike Scott, had some moments in the NBA and is a back-of-the-rotation player. Dennis Schroeder is a backup guard and the selection and subsequent flip of Shane Larkin for Lucas Nogueira and Mike Muscala has mixed results, as Nogueira was shipped out with Lou Williams to Toronto in a salary dump. Last year's first round pick, Adreian Payne has already been traded to Minnesota, while the team's 2015 second round pick, seven-foot-three Walter Tavares, is slowly developing on their bench.
Ferry did a good job of bringing in talent around Atlanta's core of Al Horford and Jeff Teague. Unlike Atlanta, there is no Joe Johnson-sized roadblock in his way either on this Pelicans roster, unless you count Omer Asik in that category. The Pelicans will have cap space in 2016 and max-level space in 2017 if they so choose. New Orleans also has their first round picks in the foreseeable future, including this season's potential lottery selection. This franchise is in trouble right now, but with one of the best players in the league, it can get better really quick.
The way Ferry constructed those teams allowed the Hawks to be good on both ends of the floor. The Pelicans, have something similar in Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, both capable of doing just that. Similar to the combination of Al Horford and Jeff Teague, the Pelicans are in a similar starting point. As Davis continue to develop as a defender, he's going to be the crown jewel in the middle of a top 10 defense. However, in order to do that, the Pelicans need better defensive personnel on both units.
Ferry or no Ferry, finding the next Millsap - an unheralded player who can create an impact on both sides of the floor - will also be key for New Orleans. It might take moves of Tyreke Evans or Omer Asik to do that, but finding someone who accepts the role as Davis' sidekick is also high on this team's list. That player could be found in free agency with the right acquisition, or in the lottery if the ping-pong balls bounce the right away.
With New Orleans in the midst of a lost season, the next moves for the Pelicans should be selling off guys like Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans and maybe even Jrue Holiday if the right offer appears. While I'm dubious on the Pelicans getting a fantastic asset in a trade for any of these three, I do think a first round pick or two is in play and maybe you can acquire a young player who showed small flashes - think Will Barton in the Arron Afflalo trade.
The second area to reevaluate is the front office. With Davis' contract extension kicking in next season, the Pelicans will have to start looking to maximize their seasons with him on the roster. While he started strong, Dell Demps has enough errors on his resume to at least consider the general manager position as an area for an upgrade. If that is the case, the Pelicans should take their time and choose someone who can build a roster with a bit of history doing so. My ideal candidate? Danny Ferry.