The New Orleans Pelicans and Ryan Anderson have finally decided to go their separate ways. Anderson is officially a Rocket, after signing a lucrative $80 million dollar, 4-year contract.
There comes a point in a relationship when breaking up is better than working things out; when all the counseling and consoling and understanding can't help the simple fact that both of you are better for each other apart than together. Most of the time, breakups like that happen gradually, without that definitive turning point where each party realizes, "We have to break up." Usually, it just happens. It can take days, sometimes months, often years, before each decide to finally cut all ties. There will be attempts of breakup in between, but the comfort level that each party's developed for each other will lead them back together. They'll still realize after that they're better apart, but familiarity always claims first blood.
Breakups like that are often the best kind, the ones that teach us a lot about who we are and what we want with the least amount of that aching pain. It often teaches you what's non-negotiable for you in a relationship and what's not, the things you can live with and the things you can live without. Relationship are good evolution points for everyone, whether it ends in a happy ever after or a breakup. But one thing's true: Breakups (at least, not from toxic relationship) are never easy.
Ryan Anderson has packed his bags and walked out the door. There wasn't a single moment where the Pelicans/Anderson relationship turned sour, it just happened gradually.
When he first arrived, the Anderson signing was almost universally loved by everyone. From Ben Golliver in CBS Sports:
The Hornets do well here. The price on Anderson is exactly right and the addition doesn't prevent them from completing their first order of business: matching the Phoenix Suns' 4-year, maximum offer sheet to restricted free agent guard Eric Gordon. Indeed, with a core of Gordon, Anderson and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, plus no other major, long-term salary commitments, the future is looking very bright in New Orleans.
Worth noting: Eric Gordon also signed with the Rockets.
It was a fun time. Anthony Davis, fresh off being picked first in the 2012 Draft, was still a huge unknown. The current wave of small-ball was still in its infancy and everyone thought Davis would one day spend most of his time as a center, as he did in Kentucky. That made the Anderson signing all the more exciting.
Anderson was young (24), coming off a MIP and career year(16.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 58.9 TS%), and had played 2 straight seasons alongside the premier pick-and-roll big at the time, Dwight Howard. He appeared the perfect big to accelerate Davis' development.
Four years later and Anderson did help accelerate Davis' ascent into stardom. Here's a direct comparison of AD's stats with and without Anderson through the years.
|Per 100 Poss||PTS||%FGA (5 ft)||FG% (5 ft)||FG%||FTA||FT%||ORB||DRB||TRB||TOV|
|Per 100 Poss||PTS||%FGA (5 ft)||FG% (5ft)||FG%||FTA||FT%||ORB||DRB||TRB||TOV|
Davis consistently played better offensively with Anderson on the floor. That was true 4 years ago and it still held true last year, AD's worst year, relative to expectation.
Unburdened by the pressure to be a difference maker in his first few years, thanks in large part to Anderson's presence, Davis as able to do what his does best -- rebound the ball and finish inside. Anderson, for his part, was able to expand his game. He was used mostly in a supporting capacity in Orlando -- as the popper, the shooter or the guy who cleans up the board when one of his teammates' misses.
In New Orleans, Anderson was able to experiment with a post game. He eventually added two patented moves any Pelicans fan will recognize: his stepback (to the left) jumper and his spin (to the right) that transition into a hook shot with the right hand. He was still, by and large, a shooter but no longer just a shooter.
Defensively, he regressed quite a bit or maybe he didn't. Maybe he was always bad on defense, it just so happened that he played for a great defensive coach (in Stan Van Gundy) and with a great defensive player (Dwight Howard). Whatever the case may be, the biggest reason why he never played as many minutes to maximize his offensive talent was because he was a defensive liability. It didn't help that AD never progressed defensively as we hoped and that Asik somehow regressed defensively in NOLA.
But enough about Anderson, the basketball player. His contributions there will be missed but that can be replaced, to a degree. What's more important about Ryan Anderson's story occurred off the court.
Before he came to New Orleans, Anderson was always just a basketball player to me. You watched games where he played, you watched highlights and you re-watched some more. That's it.
Then he came to New Orleans.
Like all other players that suddenly became a Hornet/Pelican, I suddenly had an interest in following his non-basketball life. Not because I knew it affected his play on the court or because I feel obligated as a fan to follow, rather I followed his off-court life because it was easier to root for someone who you knew somehow on a personal level.
The thing that always came up with Anderson was his off putting, awkward but still funny humor.
Here he is, discussing Snoggle, a game he supposedly invented, back in his days as a Magic.
It's like he doesn't want to be funny but he finds himself funny anyway.
He hosted, alongside AD (probably one of his closest pals since the duo was often seen together in practice or outside of it), episodes on the Pelicans' official Youtube channel.
(Of course, birds have feather DUH)
And who can forget the Special Man?
Who wouldn't be influenced to buy tickets after listening to that sales pitch? C'mon.
And then the unthinkable happened -- Ryan Anderson's long time girlfriend, Gia Allemand, took her life.
The worst part? It was Anderson who had found her body. He had found her alive. She was rushed her to a hospital, where she died 2 days later.
No one ever completely recovers from that. Anderson was depressed. It took him weeks and a lot of quality time with close friends and family, including (then) head coach Monty Williams, to finally climb out of that hole. He had clung to the two things most important to him: his faith (Ryno is a devote Christian) and basketball.
It took a while, but with his faith to carry him through and basketball (specifically, the Pelicans) to distract him, he was able to move on with his life. In 2013-14, he was on pace for a career year, averaging 19.8 points (57.2 TS%), 6.5 rebounds and 0.9 turnovers. But just when you thought Anderson had cleared his largest hurdle, tragedy struck again.
Anderson had suffered a herniated cervical disc following a collision with Gerald Wallace. That incident cost him the rest of the season, but more importantly, it was deemed a career-threatening, possibly life-altering injury. Monty said it best:
"Usually, people have one whammy in life," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "He had two in a matter of months. And they were close to home. He lost the person he loves more than anybody in the world and he almost lost the thing that he loves to do more than anything else in the world."
"I'm sure there's a deeper appreciation for the game. It's unfortunate he had to go through all that stuff. And we may not see it now, but 10, 15, 20 years from now, he's going to be so solid because he's been through some things that most people can't even fathom."
Somehow, Anderson found his way back a second time. After his personal tragedy... after the injury.
I've been trying to find the one word that explains Anderson's strongest quality and I think it has to be fortitude -- courage through pain and adversity. He had been dealt an incredibly poor hand in life, the cross to bear a heavy one, but it has only gone on to fortify his belief system.
As a devout Christian, that must hit so close to home for him, ringing as true as any cliche did. It's a stout reminder of his resilience. But resiliency is often defined by the pain and the suffering one must endure. For Anderson, that pain perhaps became too much to continue to bare in New Orleans.
It didn't help of course that because of the injury, Anderson himself, the ever-changing nature of the league or just the sheer inability of this current Pelicans team to defend, made him a really hard peg to continue justifying. That compelled the Pelicans to constantly send out feelers for Anderson's services, something which reportedly didn't sit well with Anderson.
It sucks because Anderson, despite all that, remains one of the funniest (in an awkward way), professional and likeable guys in the league. It helps that he's a good basketball player too! In fact, Anderson finished 4th (FOURTH) in the Twyman-Stokes Award for the 2014-15 NBA season, given annually to the player who is the "best teammate based on selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to team."
A lot of Pelicans fans had soured on Anderson in his final years, mostly for his on-court play. It's hard to deny he has often been a somewhat limited but effective offensive talent and a huge liability on defense. I suppose the breakup was inevitable, yet I still feel really sad and bad that Anderson is no longer a member of the Pelicans.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that, even though the Pelicans and Anderson were doomed at some point in their relationship, anybody who gets Anderson will be a lucky
woman organization. They're getting a smart, caring, dedicated, good and professional basketball player. We'll miss you buddy. I hope you go on to put an exclamation point on a great career and, more importantly, life in Houston.
Just don't drain too many threes on us, deal?