With trade and coaching change rumors throughout the season, the New Orleans Pelicans are doing the improbable and proving everyone wrong along the way.
”After careful and thorough review of basketball operations, we have made the determination that the best course of action as we move forward into the 2017-18 season is to continue under the leadership of general manager Dell Demps and head coach Alvin Gentry,” executive vice president of basketball operations Mickey Loomis said in a statement on May 15th, 2017. “We will continue to evaluate important roles on both the administrative and coaching staffs which will be resolved at the appropriate time.”
Ten months ago, the writing was on the wall for the 34-48 Pelicans. Demps had just finished his seventh season as New Orleans primary decision maker with nothing to show for it beyond a .400 average win percentage and two playoff victories over Kobe and the 2010-11 Lakers. Gentry had failed to save the sinking ship following the acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins. A lack of chemistry was the issue, but whether AD and Boogie were to blame or their supporting cast failed them, the bottom line stood in the win loss column.
This past summer the doubt only intensified.
Articles often mentioned a wildly overpaid Jrue Holiday, a rapidly declining locker room malcontent in Rajon Rondo, a European question mark in Darius Miller or whatever else Demps attempted with his hands financially tied. The Pelicans were a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. How could Cousins and Davis pull this depleted roster together?
- ESPN ranking: 9th
One limitation of RPM projections is any adjustment for fit. That could hurt the Pelicans, who are playing several players away from their best positions. Jrue Holiday figures to play heavily at shooting guard with the addition of Rajon Rondo, while Solomon Hill will likely start at small forward instead of power forward because of the DeMarcus Cousins-Anthony Davis frontcourt duo.
- Bleacher Report ranking: 10th
10. New Orleans Pelicans (40-42), 45 percent playoff probability, 150/1 title odds
- Sports Illustrated: 11th
11. Pelicans: Giant red flag: New Orleans’s 2016-17 ended with a formal press release announcing that GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry wouldn’t be fired. Sweet, nothing to see there. The world is ready for everything the Anthony Davis/DeMarcus Cousins/Jrue Holiday triumvirate has to offer, but nothing could prepare even the most diehard basketball fan for the Pelicans’ atrocious bench.
It got worse.
Following injuries to Rondo, Solomon Hill, Alexis Ajinca, Omer Asik, Frank Jackson and then Tony Allen, the Pelicans came out of the gates at 1-3. Then sporting a 15-16 record in the midst of a December stretch, a report featuring Anthony Davis surfaced.
“Winning. That’s it. That’s how you’re judged.”
The Pelicans were doing anything but, and sitting outside of the playoff race looking in, the roar of the media only grew.
Ringer NBA Show: I joined this week’s Group Chat w/ @JustinVerrier @dannychau @PaoloUggetti to break down the 10 XMas Day teams + unveil my ‘seemingly hottest but it’s not really that hot’ take of 2017: why i don’t want Boston to trade for Anthony Davis.https://t.co/yR9ymVDFyB— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) December 21, 2017
Then the improbable happened. The Pelicans started winning! Led by Cousins posting MVP-lines, the Pelicans won seven of eight, cementing themselves as a full blown dark horse contender.
Until it all fell apart.
The Pelicans seemed damned to an eternity of mediocrity.
However, after losing four of the next five games, the Pelicans acquired Nikola Mirotic, shoveled Emeka Okafor off the scrap heap, rediscoverd Kansas’ project Cheick Diallo, and lit a fire under Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis, the likes of which we have never seen.
Credit Dell Demps. Credit Alvin Gentry. Credit a squad of guys who could have mailed it in following that spectacular victory on January 26th against the Houston Rockets. No one would’ve faulted them and everyone expected it.
Only they didn’t.
New Orleans is in the midst of eight straight wins, and while the schedule only promises to become more and more daunting going forward, how can anyone pretend to predict what will happen next?
So who are the 36-26 New Orleans Pelicans?
The best damn watch in the NBA.
Join David Grubb, Kevin Barrios and I as we break down the new look Pelicans, their ceiling, and answer your mailbag questions. To join in, send your questions to @PrestonEllis.