The New Orleans Pelicans are 7-17. Ten games under .500. My official demarcation line for fully initiating the tank for the remainder of the season. However, as they demonstrated last night, it is possible to lose and still make the product enjoyable while simultaneously injecting some much needed hope into the direction of the franchise. Tanking need not solely be seeking out losses for the sake of ping pong balls in the May NBA Lottery. The Pelicans can do even more.
Cheick Diallo looked good last night, especially in the first half. He was rotating properly on defense off the weak side, converting an array of nifty one handed floaters with impressive touch, and flying up and down the court. It is possible for an overly optimistic fan (like myself) to project Diallo as the ideal front court partner with Anthony Davis in October 2018 if Cheick can pack on the pounds necessary to stand up to the beating in the NBA.
Let me be clear on a couple things. Putting Cheick Diallo in the D-League to get minutes was a good decision by this front office. At the time New Orleans should have been hunting wins, and rookies, especially those as generally raw as Diallo, are highly unlikely to contribute to wins. Sending Diallo to Austin gave him valuable experience. Diallo has already logged 210 minutes in the D-League, he played just 202 at Kansas as a freshman.
Now, in my opinion, those calculations change. The Pelicans sit 10 games under .500. It is extremely unlikely they’re turning this thing around. Getting young guys minutes at the NBA level, like Cheick Diallo, should be the goal. It fills both short term (collecting losses and thus ping pong balls) and long term (“iron sharpens iron”) goals for the franchise. Yes, ping pong balls should be a goal for this team on December 11th because the alternative, playoffs, is hilariously remote.
The Pelicans need to legitimately consider tanking for the next 58 games. The 2017 draft class is that good. The Pelicans playoff chances are that minuscule. Tanking can take many forms. Playing young players like Cheick Diallo and Buddy Hield regular (20-24) minutes every game. Limiting Anthony Davis to a more reasonable 34-36 minutes a night to protect his health.
And yes, making some long term trades between now and the trade deadline. It is doubtful Tyreke Evans is fetching an asset, but if he can even collect a second round pick without salary commitments beyond this season, it should be explored. Moving Alexis Ajinca (to open up both cap space in the future and minutes now for Cheick Diallo) in even an asset neutral trade needs to be thoroughly discussed. Utilize the 15th roster spot on someone other than a 30 year old Reggie Williams to try to catch lightning in a bottle on a cheap contract.
The most difficult decision, and one that requires its own post, is seriously considering trading away Jrue Holiday now for future assets. Mason Ginsberg mentioned trading Holiday on Friday morning and it deserves a complete discussion. Does re-signing Jrue Holiday strap the Pelicans too much on the salary cap considering their current future commitments?
Holiday is the Pelicans ticket to real assets on the trade market. Trading him for an asset (future first round pick?) gives New Orleans another asset in the future and more losses in the present. Again, both valuable and in line with what I would recommend the franchise do at this point.
Winning is valuable if the Pelicans make the playoffs and find a way to use that relevance to sign free agent talent. The playoffs are nearly off the table and difference making free agents coming to the Crescent City is extremely unlikely.
It’s time to take a new approach. It’s time to tank. Not just lose for the sake of losing. Lose and accomplish some goals along the way. Get Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo consistent NBA minutes. Cycle through the 15th roster spot until the Pelicans get a hit. Keep Anthony Davis healthy by keeping his minutes down. Trade away rotation players now to gather assets for the future and losses in the present for ping pong balls.
Tank with a purpose. #LoseTonight so you might win next season and in the future, Pelicans.