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New Orleans Pelicans squadron gets in formation amid time of social turmoil

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An introduction to my 2016-17 player preview series.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans-Media Day Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This article was started over a week ago, at a time Charlotte was the latest city to be enveloped by the dark shroud of social injustice.

It feels a bit inappropriate writing this at the moment. I’ve spent my morning reading tweet after tweet about a protester in Charlotte being killed by police in a week of just mind-boggling police violence against unarmed black men. Basketball seems so insignificant at the moment — yet it is the main thing that takes my mind off of the political and cultural war that is unfolding around us. I’m not sure that it is good to be distracted because of the gravity of the situation America finds itself in, but sometimes I need something to diffuse my anger and disgust over how we have systematically failed our citizens on so many levels creating this current sense of hopelessness.

Sports were once seen as a unifier. We ignored race, religion and social status and rallied together around the team that resided in our hometowns and grew to love over the years. However, sports are now part of the divide — that is probably needed so that we can come back together — as athletes are taking stands against the very obvious injustice in this country. I remember when I was younger there being a very loud whisper that athletes should be role models for the younger generations, yet the media had trouble accepting players like Allen Iverson and the culture they represented. I never bought into the athlete as some role model statue as at the end of the day these are just people who are incredibly good at a game. Sure, some are amazing people with amazing inspirational stories, like Dikembe Mutombo, but there are some that do horrific things like Rae Carruth.

I was onboard with Charles Barkley when he made the ad announcing that he wasn’t a role model.

Like Barkley, I felt that teachers, activists, scientists, artists, philosophers and writers were the people we should look up to and honor. However, my paradigm has shifted and we are seeing some very noble men and women risk endorsement money, their careers and even their safety to follow in what Colin Kaepernick has started by forcing people to have the conversation before every game. Forcing us to face the huge divide we have created — especially, since it seems that a significant portion of white America has no clue about or ability to empathize with what people of color go through on a daily basis.

I’m a white man that grew up in New Orleans and I still reside here. I see the white couple quickly cross the street to avoid crossing paths with the black man. I see the store clerk watch the young black kid like my cat chasing butterflies in our yard — just waiting for a perceived misstep and a reason to pounce. I see the waiter frown as they are sat a black table and give lesser service. I see cops pull black men over for no reason and harass them — looking for any kind of probable cause to search the vehicle or give a citation. I’ve heard about the mild cases of brutality that my co-workers have faced. As a young skateboarder who was seen as a weird fringe of society back in the ‘90s, I experienced being thrown on the hood of cop cars, being elbowed in the ribs, being searched without cause and berated because the cops, who were just seemingly bored, knew no one would care if a kid in a punk band’s t-shirt and baggy shorts and dumb choke chain was attempted to be taught a lesson. My politically liberal but relatively reserved parents would warn me as a teen to be wary of NOPD. I know this is nothing compared to what the black kids my age were going through every day, but it helps me understand it a little. I was a lower middle-class white kid who went to Catholic school, and even I had developed a pretty healthy fear and distrust of the police that I still carry to this day.

So while you are dipping that chip into a pan of taco dip on Sundays or before our games tip-off this October, don’t moan about the conversation — we can’t until there are real non-superficial actions to correct the injustices being addressed. Also, don’t tell oppressed people how they should feel or act because of it. Actually, listen to what they have to say. These athletes are heroes. They are role-models. It is so important that this conversation has been thrust into sports because it is the main way to reach people, and the main way to reach the people who either had no idea these things were happening or refused to believe that they were. While times are agonizing, I am very much looking forward to how the various demonstrations that first appeared in the NFL spread to the NBA. Ever since Adam Silver has taken over the reigns, the NBA has been very progressive — a sentiment that has been echoed through media days across the league. I have very little respect for Roger Goodell, but commissioner Silver has made it clear that political and social discussion are very welcome in the NBA and that intolerance is not. It is refreshing from the fall in line, don’t rock the boat, jockishness of other professional leagues.

If you read my last two season previews, you were probably coming in expecting jokes and unusual analogies to paint the picture of how I see the Pelicans’ roster and how I feel the season will unfold. I assure you that those things are coming, but I find it irresponsible to not discuss the current intersection of sports and politics. These things affect this team, a majority of the men on this team and the future of our country.

We are now entering year two of Gentryficiation, and while I do have some optimism I still do not completely trust Alvin to run this team to its fullest capabilities. And of course, while we are all dealing with the issues I’ve addressed above, our starting point guard is now facing an extremely tough situation at home that is also much bigger than basketball. So, as usual, there is a saturation of heaviness like a shirt clinging to your sweaty body after a 14 mile bike ride through New Orleans in August.

A lot has happened this offseason. We’ve seen the biggest roster overhaul since the Hornets metamorphosed to the Pelicans in 2013. In addition, it’s interesting that the moves made this year have been mainly positively reviewed, or at least not so harshly criticized by the masses that love to pile on Dell Demps. It seems to be very much like the building plan that so many have condemned in the past. E’Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, Langston Galloway, Lance Stephenson and Terrence Jones all fit the young vet model that Demps employed in his first attempt at building a team around Anthony Davis. Even the rookie, Buddy Hield, is older than most rookies and was more of a win now move than investing in other possible selections, say Jamal Murray or Marquese Chriss.

The main difference is that originally Demps put offense first guys like Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon around Anthony Davis to relieve some of the scoring burden off of a young player that was thought to not be ready to carry the scoring load under a defensive minded coach. Now we have filled out the roster with flexible defenders to offset the perhaps over-estimation of Anthony Davis’ defensive abilities and under-estimation of his offensive skills while also balancing out a face-paced offense run by an offensive-minded coach. So while last year’s preview may have seemed like a rehash of the season prior, I have several new pieces to analyze this season, which is exciting as a writer and a fan.

Stay tuned as I’ll kick things off with my preview of the Pelicans superstar later this morning!