It wasn't supposed to be this way. The New Orleans Pelicans were widely expected to take another step forward this season; building off an improbable run into the playoffs highlighted by an incredible victory over the San Antonio Spurs just to make the second season. Alvin Gentry was going to "be worth five or six wins in close games alone" as an upgrade over Monty Williams. A new offensive system was primed to unleash budding superstar Anthony Davis.
Yeah, about that.
Now Ryan Anderson is reportedly on the trade block. Dell Demps might be on the hot seat. The Pelicans are fielding the worst defense in franchise history with few signs of real improvement. Anthony Davis is under contract for six more years and the Pelicans currently hold the rights to all of their future first round picks. That is the extent of good news I can provide at this point in the season. There is so much more bad news to discuss.
The Pelicans have some financial flexibility this summer, but that will require Demps to allow players to walk. As Michael McNamara demonstrated earlier this month, Demps has yet to demonstrate an understanding of sunk cost. While the best move long term appears to be allowing both Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to walk in free agency it is easy to see how a strong finish to the season could lead to Demps overpaying to bring the band back together again.
Changes at the top fail to inspire
There is, of course, a chance that owner Tom Benson and President of Basketball Operations Mickey Loomis decide Demps is no longer capable of running the franchise. In that case the sky only grows darker.
Yes, under Loomis and head coach Sean Payton the New Orleans Saints won a Super Bowl nearly six years ago. I am fully aware of the success the Saints had in the 2009-2010 season.
Since then the Saints have been a disaster. One playoff win and coming up on three seasons missing the playoffs entirely (50% of the time!) with an elite (or really good, depending on your perspective) quarterback is bad. Woefully under-performing. No NFL team has a higher collection of dead money on its cap than the Saints, who are perpetually kicking the can down the road in hopes for contention in the twilight of Drew Brees' career.
Simply put, dead money in the NFL realm is cap space devoted to players who have moved on. All 32 teams have some of it on their books, and only occasionally does it materially impact the process of team building. At worst, it is a symbol of mismanagement and/or failed roster overhauls that can avalanche over any attempt to use cap space efficiently.
The Saints find themselves in that category thanks to an unsuccessful effort to enhance their championship window with quarterback Drew Brees in his prime...
In this case, the Saints' dead money represents the culmination of a credit card approach that will come due this offseason. Brees' contract will balloon into a $30 million cap hit for 2016. The Saints already have $14.8 million in dead money on the books for next season, thanks in large part to a $12.1 million charge for the remainder of Galette's deal, and are projected to be $4.6 million over the NFL's estimated $150 million per-team cap limit.
Look at that bold statement. The Saints have already committed nearly 10% of the salary cap NEXT season to players who will not play for the franchise. So Mickey Loomis has not done a great job managing the thoroughly Byzantine NFL salary cap. What about the other big part of being an NFL GM, hiring coaches?
Sean Payton is surely a hit. The other side of the ball has not been so lucky. Since bounty gate forced Gregg Williams out of the Crescent City the Saints have gone through three defensive coordinators in four seasons; Steve Spagnuolo, Rob Ryan, and Dennis Allen. New Orleans has fielded one of the two worst defenses in the league in three of those seasons.
Yes, the Saints won a Super Bowl. Current evidence clearly shows five years of piss poor management held together by two home runs; Sean Payton and Drew Brees. There is a mountain of bad decisions in the last five years. Now, should the Pelicans go in a new direction, Loomis will lead the charge. That should concern fans of any sport in this city.
Geography again working against New Orleans
Last season I ranted and raved that the NBA system of playoffs, rewarding geography, was a negative for the Pelicans. This season is no different. If the playoffs correctly seeded the best 16 teams New Orleans would trail Memphis by six full games for the 16th and final playoff spot. Ten different franchises would stand in their way rising up the standings.
Instead, the Pellies are in the suddenly terrible West and sit just 4.5 games back of the Utah Jazz for 8th in the West. The schedule is about to get much easier. Not just in quality of opponents, but location and relative rest. Record and net rating both place the Pelicans in the bottom of the NBA. Their record is tied for third worst with the Brooklyn Nets. By net rating only the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers are worse this season.
It is time to pull the plug, but the standings provide a meaningless glimmer of hope. Hey, the Pelicans could magically turn it around and sacrifice themselves to the Golden State Warriors for a second straight season! I'm not interested. Let's tank. Trade away players who are not fitting in or can net reasonable assets for team building. The clock is ticking and the sooner the reset button is pushed the sooner this franchise can begin to rebuild.