When we started this season, we were all optimistic about this Pelicans team. I pity the foolishness of those younger days. The Pelicans are not who we thought they were. Regardless of whether it is injuries, lack of continuity, or lack of desire, this team has underachieved relative to its talent.
Through a quarter of the 2015-16 NBA season, it is apparent that most of the Pelicans players don't fit well into Alvin Gentry's system. The question that looms ahead is what should the Pelicans organization do about this?
One approach would be to ship out the coach and the GM; after all, coaches are easier to replace than players. However, both Dell Demps (reportedly) and Alvin Gentry have signed new contracts. Shipping them out would mean Tom Benson would have to pay more people not to do their job for an extended period of time. Moreover, Tom Benson and the rest of the Pelicans would still be left wondering if the players on the roster are good enough to build a championship caliber team around.
Another option would be to try and rebuild it on the fly. Similar to how Miami/Detroit have reorganized their rosters, it's possible to make some trades and free agent signings to reshape your roster into a contender. This option would be slightly harder for the Pelicans because they have less valuable talent on their roster, and most of that talent has two or more years left on their contracts.
The last, and most drastic option, would be to hit the refresh button. This process would look something like what Golden State did back in the 2010-11 season after Curry went down with an ankle injury. This scenario basically involves getting rid of all the long term financial obligations on this roster and trying to rebuild the roster around a still young star.
Clear Out the Front of House
Lots of arguments could be made that this is the best option. For one, it is easily the least risk option. The Pelicans have been awful under Gentry, sporting the third worst record in the league. We saw in Golden State that a change of coach can work. It hasn't worked for the Pelicans so far, or a lot of other NBA teams for that matter, but that doesn't mean it can't work. In fact, because the Pelicans have been so bad, it's probably likely that any coach can do better.
A coaching change could work, but it still probably won't make a significant difference. Many teams in the NBA who have changed coaches this year are struggling (see Chicago) or only doing slightly better (see Denver, OKC) . All that being said, if Tom Thibodeau called Dell Demps and said I'm all in, you have to make the move right?
Rebuild It on the Fly
Of the three options, I'll admit this one is my favorite. This seems to be the year that a lot of NBA teams have realized that they are, at best, mediocre. I think, in part due to a lot of good teams from last year playing worse, we could see a lot of trades this season.
The list of teams that are open to trading players is growing longer day by day. Houston, Memphis, Atlanta, Brooklyn, Chicago, Portland, Washington D.C., Milwaukee, Los Angeles (Clippers), and New Orleans are all playoff teams from last season who are off to a sluggish starts this season. Combined, there are eight playoff teams and a couple of other teams (Phoenix, Utah, and Sacramento) who are all likely buyers on the market right now.
Luckily, the Pelicans have been sooooooooooooo badddddddddd that their draft pick actually holds a decent amount of value right now. Beyond that, Ryan Anderson is another hot commodity. No one else on the roster is likely to yield a fair return or a net positive. Anthony Davis is of course off limits.
If I were Dell, my priority would be to get a legitimate starting point guard to run Gentry's system and an athletic wing capable of stuffing the stat sheet night in and night out. If those two components were tweaked on this roster, along with the banishment of Tyreke Evans, I would feel much better about the Pelicans going forward. Right now, I think all of our guards are shite and I'm not sure what is up with Quincy Pondexter.
The best trade I could come up with actually doesn't involve any of the teams listed above, and is the least likely to occur. However, if I were Dell, my first phone call would be placed to Minnesota to inquire about Zach LaVine. The deal I would offer up would be Ryan Anderson and the Pelicans unprotected first round pick for Zach LaVine and Kevin Martin.
(Before I go any further, I feel it is important to note that Kriss Dunn, the #1 rated guard in the draft right now, is 21 years old. One year older than Zach LaVine).
Why Minnesota makes the trade: They fill a position of need with the best power forward on the market, get another lottery pick to replace Zach LaVine, and get out of Kevin Martin's contract.
Why New Orleans makes the trade: They get a young, fast point guard who has the star potential they crave, and have their replacement for Eric Gordon's departure next year already lined up.
My next phone call would be to Atlanta. I would offer Tyreke Evans, Luke Babbitt, Ish Smith's trade exception, and the option for the Hawks to swap picks with the Pelicans for Thabo Seflosha, Dennis Schroeder, Tim Hardaway Jr., and filler.
Why Atlanta makes the trade: To compete for a championship Atlanta needs a star wing player who won't break the bank, the only place you find those is in the lottery of the NBA Draft. They also gain a ton of lineup flexibility by having Tyreke Evans.
Why New Orleans makes the trade: Dennis Schroeder is a Rajon Rondo-esque player. The Pelicans desperately need an athletic point guard who can get Anthony Davis the ball in motion or score reliably off the pick and roll. (Schroeder is also only six-months older than Kriss Dunn) They also get another guard to help on defense and replace Eric Gordon, and a young SG in Tim Hardaway Jr. that has shown some promise in an open court system previously.
After countless hours on NBA trade machine, those two trades were the only semi realistic trades I could think of in which the Pelicans could trade their 1st round pick for a potential needle moving asset.
Hitting the Restart Button
The Pelicans hitting the reset button may not be the worst thing. Back in 2010-11, Steph Curry was injured and the Golden State Warriors blew up the team around their 22 year old star (and future super duper star). That year, Golden State would go on to have one of, if not the best ever, drafts. In the 2011 draft, the Warriors drafted Klay Thompson 11th, Festus Ezeli 30th, and Draymond Green 35th.
It wouldn't be hard for the Pelicans to at least try and attempt to simulate their own version of this draft. However before they went into the draft, the Warriors had to offload their long term contracts. The Warriors would trade their selfish ball hogging guard (sound familiar) and Stephen Jackson to the Milwaukee Bucks for oft injured Andrew Bogut. They then took a huge roll of the dice by trading trading five draft picks, including their 2014 and 2017 first round draft picks, and cash considerations to Utah to take on Biedrins, Jefferson and Rush. By the time they won the 2014-15 NBA Championship team, the only players from their 2010-11 roster that remained were Steph Curry and David Lee.
The first player that the Pelicans need to shed is Tyreke Evans. Tyreke is talented, and I believe he could be the third best player on a championship level team, however, he plays too much hero ball to be a viable piece in a pace and space system. There are two teams who I think would consider taking a ball centric guard: The Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets.
The first trade I would propose is my version of the Warriors Ellis-Bogut trade. If I were Dell, I would offer Tyreke and Quincy Pondexter to Dallas for oft injured Chandler Parsons. I'm not sure that Mark Cuban is willing to trade his buddy, but if he was, then this trade is a good deal for Dallas.
Why Dallas makes the Trade: No coach is more adept at taking selfish guards and turning them into good NBA players than Rick Carlisle. With Tyreke on the team, the Mavericks have a legitimate second scoring option and possibly one of the best NBA backcourts with Williams, Matthews, and Evans. If everything goes right for Dallas, this trade is one of few that could give them hope at another title run before Dirk retires.
Why New Orleans makes the Trade: New Orleans has to take a gamble, and Parsons is worth the risk. Worst case scenario, Pelicans pay out his contract while you build through the draft. Best case scenario, you get one of the best young shooters in the game to provide spacing on the floor.
The next call would be to Brooklyn. The Nets don't have any draft picks, so why not take a gamble on a scoring point guard? I would offer Tyreke and Omer Asik for Joe Johnson.
Why Brooklyn makes the trade: They need a volume scorer and a backup center.
Why New Orleans makes the trade: They don't need a volume scorer and an expensive backup center. Trading Tyreke Evans is an addition by subtraction move.
Another interesting trade was one hashed out by David Thorpe would be to move Omer Asik and Ryan Anderson for Dwight Howard. I don't love this trade idea because it's hard to see how Davis and Howard would play well together offensively. I would rather Davis continue to work on his low post game and the team avoid the drama D12 would undoubtedly bring.
The last part of this scenario is picking up draft picks and acquiring lasting players. To say Golden State had an ample amount of luck in the draft is probably the understatement of the century. Nonetheless, it does show that it is possible for a team to rebuild from the draft in as little as one draft.
The four prospects you should have on your mind for the Pelicans are Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn, Jaylen Brown and Buddy Hield.
Ben Simmons Yes, the Pelicans have been so bad this season that Simmons is an actual possibility at this point. If you are Dell Demps, you have to start scouting for the draft, and there is no reason you shouldn't be scouting Simmons. People say he is the next best thing since LeBron James.
Kriss Dunn, who I mentioned earlier in this post, is a mid major point guard who can light it up. A good scorer and effective passer, he could be another Damian Lillard-esque player (Though, he reminds me more of a young Devin Harris). Still, he is unproven in the NBA and he has the most "bust" potential out of the three names listed.
Jaylen Brown is my personal favorite prospect in the draft for the Pelicans, excluding Simmons. If Brown was in the NBA right now, he would be Al-Farouq Aminu with better handles. He has shot terribly so far but is a good rebounder and defender, plus he has an NBA ready body. Brown is a bit of a project offensively but is ready right now on defense and on the boards. He has Dennis Rodman written all over him to me.
Buddy Hield: I am officially the Totalitarian Ruler of Buddy Hield Island. He has one definable NBA skill, scoring. He isn't projected to go until the mid to late round, though his stock is swiftly on the rise. He is as good of a "fit" on the Pelicans as any player outside of Simmons.
Shake It Off
It's going to take some time to digest everything that has happened this season. The Pelicans are a long, long, long, long, long, way away from where most pundits, including myself, thought they would be this season. Hopefully, and with a little luck, it will all work out for the best.