Do you remember LeBron James' "Rise" commercial? It's the "what should I do?" spot released a few months after The Decision. It aired the same night as James debuted with Miami, i.e. back in peak LeBron hate days. The whole ad is basically James asking his critics what should he do and it closes with "Should I be who you want me to be?"
In a weird way I feel like this ad is metaphoric of where the New Orleans Pelican franchise is at this moment in time. Record wise the Pelicans are bad, but they're playing better as of late. Granted it's fairly average at best but still better than where they were at the start of this 2015-16 season.
What should they do? Everyone invested in the team, including the staff here, has differing opinions. Keep the core. Blow up the roster. Trade this player. Keep that one. Let this guy walk in free agency but make sure to sign that one even if it means overpaying. The only consensus is that nobody actually has a consensus.
A cloud of ambiguity will be hanging over the team for the rest of the season and it'll be frustratingly palpable. They more than likely won't win the Ben Simmons lottery and it's looking less and less possible they'll be making consecutive trips to the postseason after having rising expectation before Opening Night. But the way the Warriors are playing, is it even worth it? Add in the fact that Tom Benson and his daughter Renee are still in an ownership struggle and the never ending frustration could extend well beyond season's end.
So who's to blame and what should be done about it?
The go-to person is general manager Dell Demps. His track record in New Orleans has been uneven to put it best. For as much as we laud his ability to find legitimate, contributing talent for cheap like Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter and Bryce Dejean-Jones, there's also the hideous overpayings of Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans and matching Phoenix's offer sheet for Eric Gordon. Nor are we all entirely sure we'd do the Jrue Holiday trade again if we had the chance. The truth about Demps' ability to run a team, I think, lies somewhere in between. Which is pretty much the reality for all general managers isn't it? It's impossible to hit on every move you make.
Look at Joe Dumars. The man hired Larry Brown, traded Jerry Stackhouse, Bob Sura and Grant Hill for Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace, drafted Tayshaun Prince and signed Chauncey Billups. The moves he made built Detroit into a team that won a Finals, went to a second one and made six straight Eastern Conference Finals. But Joe Dumars is also the same man who severely overpaid for Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Smith, fired Michael Curry after a year as head coach (which included a playoff appearance) and Maurice Cheeks after 50 games, and he passed on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in favor of Darko Milicic. Those moves got him fired and Dell Demps could suffer the same fate upon season's end.
But perhaps not everything is Demps' fault and New Orleans should stand by their crafty general manager. Is it Demps' fault Tyreke Evans' knee is made out of Jenga blocks or Quincy Pondexter needed a second surgery on his knee seven months after getting a previous procedure? What about after a career resurgence, Norris Cole's fallen off a cliff this year. Is that on Demps? And I'd bet if Omer Asik were playing in the league 15 years ago nobody would bat an eye over him signing a five year-$60 million deal. But the way the game's shifted in recent years, Asik's skill set feels archaic. Space and pace does not equate to Asik's hands of stone or him running about as well as Bruce Willis did after running over Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction.
Demps' moves have been borderline reckless. It's like he's making deals with the sole intention of keeping a job instead of building something for the future. We'll have a better idea about what his intentions are if he elects to pull the trigger on a trade for Ryan Anderson or Eric Gordon.
The good news for New Orleans is that they have Anthony Davis under contract for the next few seasons. Simply having Davis should give New Orleans one of the highest long-term ceilings in the league. But the present and immediate future don't appear to be as bright. I worry that unless New Orleans absolutely nails a draft pick or a signing this upcoming off season, the team will be like the Cavaliers during LeBron James' first tenure: they make effort after effort to get it right and surround him with appropriate supporting talent but the moves flopped. Fortunately New Orleans has time. There's time to get the best talent around Davis, the right people in the front office and, maybe, on the coaching staff and time for Davis to continue his growth. Time is a good thing; time means there's hope. And if there's anything that The Shawshank Redemption taught us it's that hope is a good thing.
What should New Orleans do? Frankly I'm still not sure, but I have a feeling it'll be something no one hasn't considered. Life tends to be unpredictable in that way. But whatever they do decide to act on, I hope they get it right.