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The Bird Calls Podcast Ep. 63: Justin Verrier talks Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and all things New Orleans Pelicans

The former Pels beat writer for ESPN and now senior editor at The Ringer gives us his perspective on New Orleans.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Verrier of The Ringer spent some time with us to discuss the dynamic changes the NBA media has faced as well as the most poignant questions facing Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and the New Orleans Pelicans organization.

Some snippets from this podcast:

Preston:

“The Pelicans lost a disappointing game in overtime to the Sacramento Kings, and the loss had Alvin Gentry fuming and DeMarcus Cousins exhaling, ‘They kicked our ass.’ However, it’s one game in an 82 game season, and the Kings recently knocked off the Warriors and put scares into the Bucks and Cavaliers. How important are these individual games, and do you think Pels’ fans are overreacting to this one?”

Justin:

“I think we’re at the point in the season where you start to worry. I saw the Zach Lowe tweet, ‘If you are a team with playoff aspirations, these are the games that come back to haunt you.’”

“Because it’s a game you should win. I was encouraged because they usually come out on top of games like this recently, and especially the way they played without AD against the Blazers.”

“The way Boogie bullied Meyers Leonard for seemingly the 20th time.”

“I thought that was a sign that things had changed, but when I saw Alvin’s press conference it reminded me a lot of last year. I thought it was completely ironic that he was complaining about his team not having composure all the while not having composure.”

“It’s the cruel joke of their season.”

“There’s so much pressure on everyone to get it done... I think it has an effect on guys. I like the Pels team this year, but I don’t know, there’s a very good chance it could go the other way.”

Preston:

“Did you notice the effort, discipline, and intanglibles as an ongoing problem both last year and this year, and if it is a chronic problem, can some of the new Pelicans’ veterans help turn things around?”

Justin:

“Yeah, there does seem to be a great deal of ‘Groundhog Day’ feel to a great deal of my time covering the team. I came two seasons ago when AD went down. Ever since then, things didn’t change until Boogie got there... Seems like things are looping. But that could be my projecting onto the team.”

“But I think if you’re AD, a super competitive guy, a guy who seems to be erasing most of the doubt about him. People have criticized his defense, his effort level, but he’s erased those and went back to All-NBA status. I think for him to keep having individual successes, eventually it’ll all run its course.”

“I don’t think he would ever say it publicly, but I do wonder how much this affects his long term psyche. That’s the big question everyone has to ask and constantly ask themselves going forward.”

“I don’t know how much the constant nature of “Okay-ness” affects a team. But for me personally, it definitely did.“

Preston:

“Players don’t seem content with finishing in the back half of the playoffs. Do players jump ship too often, and does Boogie stay in NOLA?”

Justin:

“It depends on the guys. The league has tried to course correct that with incentives, but on the other hand, that didn’t really work out this offseason with Paul George and Boogie. It comes down to what that guy wants. They’re all hyper competitive. If you do want a chance at the upper echelon, even if you’re the Houston Rockets with just two guys, it’s going to take a lot.”

“The Pels got DeMarcus with luck, the Kings had to get so frustrated with him that they made a rash decision though they had been telling him otherwise. Now New Orleans is finding out why, because at times Boogie can allow his frustrations to get the better of him.”

“It comes down to what Boogie’s value is. I think there’s a possibility he leaves, I haven’t gotten a sense of where he is, but there’s always that worry.”

“I just think it would help a lot if they win, that’s what it all comes down to.”

Preston:

“You were skeptical of Rajon Rondo coming into the season. How encouraging have the Pels been with Rajon Rondo at the helm?”

Justin:

“I’m torn on Rondo. It could be a part of my initial evaluation that I’m reluctant to let go of, I do think he has an affect on the alchemy of the team. We forget how young AD/Boogie are, and you need someone with Boogie, to be his guiding light and to get in his ear.”

“I noticed Rondo went over to Alvin and suggested they remove Boogie because he was getting into it with one of the Blazers, and David Wesley pointed out that’s what makes Rondo important.”

“On the other hand, some of the advanced numbers haven’t been too kind. The jury is still out there, I like his effect on this team, and some of these role players have been playing better. It shows how much this team just needs steady hands, league average players to play in Alvin’s system.”

Preston:

“The Pelicans have had some of their biggest victories in the last 50 games with only one of their two superstars. I’m referencing last season blowouts of the Rockets and Nuggets, and this year’s victories over the Blazers and Nuggets.”

“Is it possible that having two Alpha dogs is just going to be too much for the team to figure out in just one season?”

Justin:

“It brings out the best and worst of Boogie, but it frees him to do his thing. It worked out great in Portland and Denver. But I’m not sure that’s what you want. He can get distracted in individual battles with M. Leonard, Durant and Randolph. I’ve seen those scenes so many times.”

“I wonder that, but when I watched that Denver game (last season), they blew them off the floor with just AD, it gave into Alvin’s strength. It’s not proof whole sale, because we’ve also seen how slow the offense can be without Boogie, but I do wonder about this alternative reality where AD plays five most of the time and you double down on some of the wing guys, and feature Solo at the 4, bring in Will Barton to play the 3.”

“I don’t know if it’ll be better, but it would’ve been an interesting experiment.”

Preston:

“Your new featured article on The Ringer, “The Absence of Anthony Davis” chronicles the struggles AD has had remaining on the court. You finished your article by saying: ‘These days, being a fan of Anthony Davis feel more like a chore.’”

“He’s obviously a top 10 talent, but do you still consider him to be one of the league’s 10 most valuable players?”

Justin:

“It’s a good question. It’s something I wrestle with and I think you can tell within the piece that I was wrestling with it myself.”

“We’re at the point where we need to talk about his injuries, but it feels gross to do so. To question his manhood the way some people do, is stupid. I hate that conversation. I remember Gentry being quick to cut off questions about his health, because he wanted to protect his guy, but I think he felt the same way.”

“What do you want from this guy?”

“You look at his body, even since I joined the beat to now, he’s a completely different looking player. Maybe just increased facial fair, but he’s a large human now. It’s amazing to see what they’ve done and what he’s done. When he popped in that playoff game it was amazing, so thrilling. The league pass alert went out and everyone wanted to see what this guy was doing. The first unicorn. Since then, it’s kind been disappointing from a fan aesthetic point of view.”

“It seems his story is so wrapped up by when he’s not playing, not getting back to the playoffs. I’m not even sure it’s fair to critique him based on what’s around him. There’s just this push and pull with him. I don’t know what to think because there’s so much to think about.”

Don't miss this one, and thanks for listening/reading!!!