1) The Pelicans are in the thick of a post-season race but only 17 games remain. What kind of record do you think New Orleans has to post in order to earn a berth? How do you realistically see everything playing out for the Pels?
Brian Ball: Basketball Reference (http://www.basketball-reference.com/friv/playoff_prob.cgi) and John Hollinger (http://espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/playoffodds) expect the Thunder to rack up around 46-47 wins by the end of the season. So to have a pretty good chance of making it, the Pellies would want to have around 47 wins, which would require a record to end the season of 11-6. Not impossible, but not likely, especially given the likely injury disparity down the stretch between New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
Chris Cucchiara: I believe 13 more wins clinches it for sure, but 11-12 more wins may do it as long as Kevin Durant is out for the Thunder. Reports from this past Wednesday stated that Durant will miss another 1-2 weeks. That is another four games at a minimum and could grow to as many as eight. With the Pels upcoming schedule to end the season, they will need to have a 2-3 game lead over OKC heading into those final eight games.
I really think that the Pels are going to make the playoffs. So much so, that I have already started to get a little depressed at the thought of having to play the Warriors in the first round. Every crazy Steph Curry shot makes me a little more sad; thus, I have started looking at ways to avoid GSW. About a week ago, I tweeted the following possibility:
The Mavs have an incredibly tough schedule to finish the season, so it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Pels could catch them. If the Mavs fall out of the playoff race and the Pels finish tied with or ahead of the Thunder, the Pels will take the seventh seed, avoid the Warriors and probably play the Grizzlies, whom I am confident the Pels can compete with. I do not think there is a strong possibility that this will happen, but since a certain TP beat writer declared the Pels playoff chances at 0% a few months ago, I guess anything can happen, right?
David Fisher: At a minimum, it's going to take a record of 11-6. To be comfortable, 12 wins really should be enough and I can see that happening. The big thing is going to be defending home court. Can they go 7-1 at home? I like how they matchup up with a number of their tougher opponents (Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio) not named Golden State. Also, do the Warriors tank two games against the Pelicans to avoid OKC?
Dallas has an incredibly difficult schedule to end the season. In an ideal world, the Pelicans get to 48 wins, snag the 7th seed, and face the Grizzlies.
Jay Dunn: I think 11-6 gets it done. I've said this before but it's true, Pelicans fans are a paranoid bunch who often hope for the best but expect the worst. The team is growing in front of our eyes and becoming more confident everyday. The moves Dell has made during the season to being in mature vets with winning experience has paid off in spades. I think by the end of March it will be obvious that the Pels will be dancing into the postseason.
Kevin Barrios: I believe the Pelicans will win 12 of the next 17 games leaving us with a 48-34 record on the year. However, I see the Thunder going 14-5 to close out the season finishing with a 49-33 record just edging us out for the final spot. Those losses to the 76ers, Pacers, Celtics and Knicks will all come back to haunt us. If we are able to eek out a 13th win, we are in — but that's a tough task. It will hurt to miss the playoffs, but our play down the stretch will be very encouraging heading into the upcoming off-season.
Matthew Robinson: It's going to take a record of 13-4, as I think 49 wins will lock-in the playoffs. OKC are likely going to win 12+ of their remaining games, but that isn't a sure thing due to their unpredictability. The key will be how Russell Westbrook and the rest of his teammates coincide. If he continues to try and do everything without the efficiency, everything could fall off the rails for the Thunder. The Pelicans will finish anywhere from 46-49 wins. At this point in time, I really don't have a good idea which way I'm leaning.
Oleh Kosel: If the Pelicans finish 12-5 over the final 17 games, I like our chances to make the postseason. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, OKC has gone 19-9 this season; however, Durant isn't likely back for at least another 3 games. The Thunder's schedule has some road bumps too. They have to go to Utah and Indiana (two of the hottest teams in the NBA), play the revived Spurs twice, and visit Memphis, Dallas and Phoenix. I smell 5 more losses; thus, I think the Pelicans have around a 50/50 chance to make the postseason and it very well may come down to owning the tiebreaker. Thanks AD!
Quentin Haynes: I think the Pelicans will need to go about 10-7 to get in, possibly 12-5. There’s a small window for error for New Orleans, especially if Kevin Durant comes back for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They have a good chance to make the playoffs if they just continue to play the way they’re playing now. Ultimately, I have them just missing the playoffs. That end of the season stretch is tough - Golden State twice, Houston twice, Phoenix twice and a matchup against Memphis. I think they stick it out until the end before falling short.
Zachary Junda: I say finishing 14-3 (meaning a 50-32 record) would make the playoffs, but there's absolutely no chance of that happening. At least there should be no chance of that happening, yet that would imply I could actually predict this team. I'm confident enough to say this team won't win their away match-ups against the Warriors, Clippers or Blazers. You trying to tell me they'll win the remaining 14 games? Nah bruh, that ain't happening. At least they didn't lose games to the Knicks, Sixers, Hornets, Magic and twice to the Celtics...OH WAIT.
2) Do you there are any requisites for the team for either/both Monty Williams or Dell Demps to return next season? Ie. does the team have to make the postseason, win x amount of games, etc?
Brian: Tom Benson's sports empire is filled with palace intrigue at the moment, so prognosticating the fates of Dell and Monty seems even more haphazard than ever. I think it would be hard to fire both of them if the team finishes 7 games above .500, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happened.
Chris: I have no idea what the upper management of the Pelicans is thinking on this one. In my opinion, both have done enough to come back for another season. Whether you like it or not, Monty has grown and has done some good things. He is not perfect, but neither is Popovich. Not comparing the two, just saying that even the best coaches do things that make you scratch your head. The Pels has really taken off this year and it is not just because of Monty -- look at the roster, he has a real NBA bench now! It is amazing how much better an NBA coach can look when, ya know, he has real talent.
I have heard rumblings of Dell Demps being in trouble and this is just crazy to me as he's done some amazing things with this roster. The team has had some bad luck with injuries and its not like he could have foreseen the injuries to Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday. These guys just have not been injury prone throughout their careers. When the team has been healthy, they have been successful. Heck, the team has been successful when they haven't been healthy. If the Pels make the playoffs, and are able to keep their pick from Houston in the Asik trade, he stays because I believe he saw where the Mavericks finished last season and bet on the Pelicans to finish in a similar situation this season.
David: They have to finish strong for them to stick around. I don't think playoffs are a must for either to remain, but the team needs to continue to improve. If they win 44 or more games I believe Monty and Dell are safe. The injuries will be accounted for in the final assessment, Jrue Holiday's in particular.
Jay: In my opinion, both should be brought back whether the team is in the playoffs or not. I've been beating this drum for a while now, but Monty Williams can freaking coach and AD loves him, case closed. Williams has kept this team motivated despite what could have been crippling injuries, and if nothing else, proved he can be flexible and integrate new guys quickly, really quickly. The transitions for Norris Cole, Dante Cunningham, and Quincy Pondexter were seamless, and literally, overnight. Maybe some Pels fans still hate him but sign me up for another season of that.
As for Dell, I stated this earlier this season but even before this year I thought he was a top ten GM in the league. He took over what was essentially an expansion team after CP3's departure and turned it into a playof team in one of the toughest conferences in NBA history. Sure, he's made some mistakes but so does every good GM.
Kevin: If the Pelicans finish 12-5 down the stretch, I believe both will be retained. The rumor mill has always cast more of a dark cloud over Dell Demps' head, but I think it should be the other way around. We are currently in a very similar situation to what Golden State found themselves in last year. They had seen the greatest success they had in years but decided to move on from their coach. At the time it was very controversial and questioned by many, but Steve Kerr has proven that it was mainly talent that had carried that team into the playoffs. It was a mediocre coach that held them from reaching their full potential.
No matter how we finish this season — playoffs or not — it should be viewed as a success. We have seen Anthony Davis rise to a level of dominance that this city has never seen. We've seen a roster grow from a collection of question marks into a solid unit from top to bottom. New Orleans is starting to embrace basketball and the national media are starting to pay attention. All of these things are great stories and make our future seem really bright. That being said, I think it is time to move on from Monty Williams even with a playoff birth, which will be a bold move to make with everything I've just said. I just see a lot of Mark Jackson in Monty. At best they are slightly above average coaches (I personally believe they are a little below the equator), and their teams are/were talented enough to overcome their shortcomings. However, I only see Tom Benson making a coaching change if Tom Thibodeau becomes available or we crap the bed and finish out closer to 5-12.
Matthew: If Pelicans make the playoffs, Monty definitely returns and Demps has a 75% of coming back. Hard to get rid of guys who made the playoffs while dealing with poor injury luck, especially considering the progress over the last three seasons.
Oleh: Barring some unforeseen collapse the final 17 games, both Monty Williams and Dell Demps should theoretically hold onto their jobs. The continuous improvement from last season, despite a number of key injuries, will not be overlooked. In Monty's corner, he seems to have the blessing of the entire team, and his relationship with Anthony Davis is just gold for job security. For Dell, the limited time the core players have spent time on the floor together has produced good results. More importantly, his in-season moves (Cunningham, Pondexter, Cole) are the biggest reason why the post-season is still a very realistic scenario.
However, if a recent silly but pertinent rumor comes to fruition, ownership and upper management may end up spitting in the face of logic and letting someone go. The only solace I can offer is that normally there is more smoke than just the report of one beat writer who lives more than 1,000 miles away. Rumors were swirling around Mark Jackson well before he was sent packing.
Quentin: Two answers for the Monty/Dell situation. I think if the Pelicans make the playoffs, they will be back next season. On the surface, it will appear as natural progression from lottery dwellers to a playoff team, and selling people that the injuries suffered throughout the season actually hurt them from being a better seed will be taken into consideration.
However, I’d just let both of them go. I think we have better head coaching candidates out there to replace Monty and better general managers to replace Demps. Start the slate clean after you sign Anthony Davis to an extension and try to build the best team (and organization) around him. Monty isn't the worst coach in the league, but I think you can find someone who can properly get the most out of this team on both sides of the ball (Not Thibs). As for Demps, I think this roster is fine, it might even make the playoffs. However, the energy and resources he used to build a roster that I think will never crack the top five of the Western Conference was too much to me. I think this is a fine starting point for someone else to take over.
Zachary: If the Pelicans get anywhere from 45 to 50 wins, I say Monty and Dell stay. Monty has a luxury built-in excuse that his team was never consistently healthy, BUT despite that, they kept winning games. Which is a pretty convincing argument. Also, the fact that New Orleans has increased their wins three consecutive years works in his favor. I do wonder, though, at what point is "but the West is haaaaaard" not a good enough excuse to keep missing the postseason? Eventually ownership will say that's not good enough anymore right?
3) How worried are you about the long-term prognosis of Jrue Holiday? Are you good with him taking the rest of this season off in order to get ready for 2015-16? Should the Pelicans strongly consider making Tyreke Evans the permanent starting point guard?
Brian: I'm fine with Jrue taking the rest of the year off - the best case scenario for the Pellies is to be the first playoff victim of the Golden State blitzkrieg machine. Jrue absolutely should be the point guard when he returns - he spaces the floor with his three point shooting and provides a low turnover rate, which is why his PER and ORtg is higher than Tyreke's. I used to say he was a valuable defensive contributor, but after the Harvard group and Kirk Goldsberry fingered him as one of the worst perimeter defenders, I'm not sure what his value is defensively anymore.
Chris: I have heard different things about this current injury. It is the same injury from last season; it isn't the same injury from last season. It is a stress reaction; it is a stress fracture. It is a reaction to the pin that was placed in his leg from the injury last season. I guess if it were the last one, I would not be that worried because I would think that could be addressed. The Pels unfortunately do not keep the fans in the loop on the injury front, and therefore, I can only say that the thing that worries me the most about his injury is that it seems to be the same/similar to his injury last season -- two in a row is not good. If the Pels decide to hold him out, I am okay with it because of how well the team has played in his absence.
David: I am not overly concerned with his long term prognosis. I do think, barring a miracle, staying out the rest of the season is better for the franchise in the long term rather than rushing back for a final playoff push.
I am one of the most pro-Tyreke folks around, but I don't think he is the answer at point guard long term. I would love to see this roster fully healthy for 20 games or more so we can see how things work now with the additions of Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole. This team should be a strong nine men deep in that case: Holiday, Gordon, Pondexter, Davis, Asik, Tyreke, Anderson, Ajinca and Cole. Anderson's efficiency should immediately increase thanks to lessening his load propping up the second unit.
Tyreke's biggest issue has been decision making late in games. I don't think that is as much a matter of basketball intelligence as it is he's just exhausted. Right now, every possession he is on the floor it is up to him to create a scoring opportunity. It is no coincidence that Norris Cole taking some of the initiating duties away has helped the performances of the Pelicans in fourth quarters. Tyreke is fresher and the Pelicans have wrecked teams in the fourth since Cole arrived.
Jay: Ummm, yeah. Stress fractures are no joke. I never thought Jrue was coming back so I guess I'm fine with him sitting out if it gets him right going forward. The team needs to figure this thing out or Holiday will become an albatross. As for Tyreke, I'd prefer he come off the bench in a 6th man role. Forcing backup guards to defend the Marshawn Lynch of basketball is flat out unfair. Tyreke gets a lot of flack, but seriously, he is incredibly valuable to this team. His sheer flexibility allows the team to do so many things. How many guys in the entire league can competently play 1-3?
Kevin: Jrue Holiday is a valuable asset. I hope he recovers soon, but barring an injury to either Tyreke or Eric, I hope he spends the rest of the season rehabbing. This team is playing with a ton of chemistry right now, and with Eric Gordon playing like Clippers' era Gordon and Evans showing that he deserves the PG spot, we have one too many starting guards on our roster. I'm sure everyone is tired of me saying that Tyreke is the 2nd best player on this team and that he is best when he's running the point, but you need to put your players in their best positions for success. Tyreke has developed great chemistry with Anthony Davis in last year's and this current stint as the starting point. It may be time to move one of these guys for another piece. With Gordon returning to form and with his tough to move contract, Holiday is the most tradeable asset of the two. He's young, long, can penetrate, hit threes and defend. He's also on a great contract. We could still keep all three, but if all three are healthy and with the addition of Cole (I'm assuming they will figure out a way to keep him this off-season), it makes sense to flip an asset to boost a thinner area of the team.
Matthew: I think next year is Jrue's key year. If he can play 65+ games, he is the long term point guard for this team. I think Jrue provides so much for this team when healthy and can co-exist with both Gordon and Tyreke. The fact he can play-off ball means that Tyreke can still be the main ball handler with Jrue on the court. But if his injury returns, then the team has got to consider moving on.
Oleh: I'm not a doctor, but I'm worried. I have to assume Jrue Holiday did his due diligence in rehabbing his leg and building up the surrounding muscle. That he doesn't eat so poorly that it affects the bones in his body. After a lengthy period of rest, Jrue was ready to come back after the All-Star break, but he suffered that setback. There's no way he put that much pressure in the region for it to suddenly cause problems again. No, I believe it is more likely that he is either suffering from complications of last year's surgery, or more sadly, his bone structure may be predisposed to his current condition.
As such, he should be given the rest of this season off and go get in the neighborhood of 10 different opinions. Listen to the consensus, do everything necessary between now and next season and come back in 2015-16. Moving forward, Tyreke Evans shouldn't become the team's starting point guard yet, but he needs to stay close to his phone much like an emergency room surgeon.
Quentin: Very concerned. It appears that this injury is something that will randomly flare up for Holiday, which is not good. Wizards guard Bradley Beal suffered through the same thing so the Pelicans have to be very careful with Jrue moving forward.This is the second season in a row he’s been through a lower leg injury.
As for Evans, I like him in this role, but not as a starter. I continue to believe his best role for this team is that sixth man who plays close to 30 minutes on some nights but could curtail his PT in others. Some games, Evans looks like the second best Pelican player on the floor, other nights, he looks disinterested on the defensive side of the ball and selfish on the offensive side. You need him, but as a starter, I decline.
Zachary: I'm freaking out about Jrue's health. Is that too strong of a word? Good because he's scaring me. If Holiday wants or needs to sit out the rest of the year to guarantee health for 2015-16, you absolutely let him. Don't let him turn into some Derrick Rose-Bill Walton-Robert Griffin III mixture of sadness. As for Evans, I don't know if I'd let him be the permanent point guard over Holiday, but I have no problem having him run things in his absence. The Pelicans are 17-10 since Holiday went down and Tyreke is averaging 8 assists a game. So, a better question may be whether Jrue Holiday is a bonafide Ewing Theory candidate?