Winning an NBA championship is hard work. It requires the proper confluence of talent, health, and opportunity. Every NBA Champion encounters just the right mix of all these things. The Golden State Warriors were "lucky" last year in the same ways every NBA champion is lucky.
The road to a championship is rarely a straight line. Risks will be taken and, for a champion, nearly all will appear to be the right call. The New Orleans Pelicans path is exceptionally unique up to this point. There is, rightly, a lot of debate surrounding the arrival to this point in time. However, that is largely on past events that cannot be changed. Instead the organization would be better served thinking of the future. That future should include the real pursuit of an NBA championship.
To get from an 11-23 start to a championship this season is far-fetched. I will have an impossible time finding any reasonable human predicting a championship this year for this team. Instead the Pelicans should focus on the process and the desired end result, championship contention.
Unfortunately that means this season is far more about growth and asset management than a set number of victories, a playoff berth, or any kind of banner to be hung in the Smoothie King Center. In addition any trade of significance made should be heavily scrutinized. The idea that a trade will save the season is foolish. This franchise must look beyond the results of just one year.
Four years is a long time in the NBA
Anthony Davis signed a maximum rookie contract extension this summer, locking him in through at least 2020. As I mentioned then, four years is a very long time in the NBA.
This contract will keep Anthony Davis in the Crescent City through the 2020-21 NBA season. A lifetime of basketball lies between now and then. The Pelicans roster will be hardly recognizable after five off seasons. The NBA CBA itself will be rewritten in 2017; those unpredictable negotiations will have a lasting effect on the landscape of the league.
Don't think four years is enough time to build a contender? Take a look at the Golden State Warriors in January 2012. Stephen Curry was again battling ankle issues (he would miss 40 games during the season) prompting this post over on Golden State of Mind on January 9, 2012.
When Stephen Curry went down with his 7th ankle sprain in the last 15 months the other night, Brian sent me a tweet with a link to an article by Daniel Kamenetzky which was posted in June and discussed some of the issues that might be a cause for concern with Curry's movement biomechanics.
Those thinking Jrue Holiday will never recover from his stress fracture issues should take note.
The box score from the team that took the floor the next day, improbably beating the Miami Heat in double overtime, hardly recognizable. Just two months later three players who logged at least 20 minutes that night would be traded; Monta Ellis, Kwame Brown, and Epke Udoh. Down the stretch the team shamelessly tanked to keep their lottery pick, which was protected if it fell within the top seven.
Just look at what was written over at Grantland on their ownership.
It’s simple risk analysis, right? Running a basketball team isn’t just figuring out which combination of efficiency stats will lead to the best possible Pythagorean win expectation. Sometimes it’s not worth angering a great fan base, even if it makes "basketball sense." Joe Lacob and his ownership group came into the Bay Area riding a crest of goodwill. At the time, it seemed impossible that anyone could be worse than former owner Chris Cohan. Lacob’s not there yet, but can you think of another NBA owner who completely alienated an entire city in the course of a year?
In addition to trading away three players the Warriors also let four others walk in free agency in the summer of 2012; Dorell Wright, Nate Robinson, Dominic McGuire, and Chris Wright. Jarrett Jack was received in a sign-and-trade (for New Orleans) to facilitate Wright's relocation to Philadelphia. Charles Jenkins would be traded away at the 2013 trade deadline. Just three players who played against Miami four years ago were on the roster 13 months later.
The roster in October 2014 for the Warriors hardly resembled the one that took the floor in January 2012. Just two players, Curry and Klay Thompson, were on the roster in 2012 and in the rotation by opening night 2014. Andrew Bogut arrived in that trade deadline deal in 2012. Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes were drafted in 2012. Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights arrived during free agency in 2013. Clearing the space necessary to acquire Iguodala, by trading away Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson, cost the Warriors two unprotected first round picks. Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa came in free agency in 2014. Even the head coach and entire coaching staff had changed.
When the Warriors won the championship every single decision looks like a winner too.
Clock is ticking
Is the clock ticking for Anthony Davis? Yes. Is there time to make it right here in New Orleans? Absolutely. Like the Warriors in 2012, the time to strike might be at the trade deadline. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are on expiring contracts. Anderson has a significant potential market around the league. Just four Pelicans have contracts which extend beyond next season; Davis, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, and Quincy Pondexter.
What will the 2017-18 New Orleans Pelicans roster look like? We have no idea. Instead of trying to make the playoffs this year, just to be a sacrificial lamb to the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs, the front office should have the 2017-18 team in mind in the next month. This does not necessitate tanking, or losing on purpose. The goal has not changed, as owner Tom Benson clearly stated weeks ago.
What is important to me is getting both our teams back to winning and challenging for championships. That is what our fans want most, and no one is more keenly aware of the urgency of that objective than me.
Challenging for championships is not going to happen this season, that much is clear after an 11-23 start. 40 days remain until the trade deadline on February 18th. Between now and then the Pelicans have an opportunity to chart a course to contention. That might not involve winning a lot of games this season.
If the Pelicans are in serious championship contention in 2018 or 2019 do you think Anthony Davis is going to hold a course correction in 2016 against the team? Of course not. Is Curry lamenting the franchise tanking in 2012 or firing Mark Jackson in 2014?
The path to contention is not a straight line. Dell Demps, consider a momentary detour this season. Or this franchise might not ever arrive at the destination.