The New Orleans Pelicans head into this offseason with similar type of questions they faced just one year ago. Following the 2016-17 campaign, re-signing Jrue Holiday and the job statuses of the head coach and general manager were the biggest topics of conversation.
- Should the franchise bring back a free agent point guard, who was demanding something near the max but had oft under-performed when on the court?
- Did Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps deserve extensions or be forced to win their jobs one year at a time?
- With little cap flexibility, how would the team acquire much-needed talent?
Fast forward to now and the Pelicans face the same style of questions — only this time they come following the results of a 48-win season and a first round sweep of the heavily favored Portland Trail Blazers. Also, New Orleans gave their faithful fans a lot of particular moments to cheer about this season after facing so many possible roadblocks.
Injuries — the Pelicans lost three of their starting five players to a combined 121 games, including Western Conference All-Star starting center Demarcus Cousins in a contract year for 32 games.
Media scrutiny — The national narrative refused to allow the Pelicans any reprieve, endlessly continuing the rumor mill and generating page clicks all centered around the impending exit of their top five superstar, Anthony Davis, as well as Boogie Cousins. In addition, even the local media found themselves exasperated with early season Pelicans’ performances.
Schedule — The Pelicans faced one of the most daunting season-ending schedules that the NBA has issued since the lockout shortened season of 1998. Remember that that six games in eight nights stretch due to the embarrassing “roof leak” at the Smoothie King Center?
As it has been well chronicled to this point, the Pelicans saved their season following the acquisitions of Nikola Mirotic and Emeka Okafor, reversing their fortunes in spectacular fashion. In yesterday’s season-ending press conference, both Gentry and Demps spoke at length about Niko’s production following the trade that brought him to Nola.
“Niko, I don’t want to call him a savior, but I don’t know if we’d be where we are if Dell doesn’t get him. I didn’t realize he was the type of rebounder, defensively, he really saved our season.” — Alvin Gentry
“We’ve been scouting Niko for a long time. We were trying to acquire Niko for awhile. He’s a competitor. He plays really hard he competes. He’s not afraid to make the big play.” — Dell Demps
Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps continued to talk about the uncertainty and tests of this regular season. Demps referred to the first 20 games as an ‘extended training camp’ and eyed those performances as an indicator as to where the team might be headed. Gentry pointed to January as the team playing its best basketball before tragedy struck. He referenced two confidence-building victories over both Boston and Houston during the Pels’ 9-3 run in the month before Boogie was lost for the year.
Next, Gentry lavished praise in how the team responded to every wall that stood in their path, and he’s confident that it will continue because of the team’s cornerstones. In the process, the franchise took a huge step this season, but in nearly the same breath, Gentry tempered expectations.
“They got greedy, said we won one (series), why not the second? It (Warriors) allowed us the opportunity to understand where we have to get to.” — Gentry
But, by far and away, the biggest question on everyone’s minds: What about Boogie? The elephant in the room heading into the offseason is of course tied to the future of DeMarcus Cousins and the rehabilitation of his ruptured Achilles.
“We want DeMarcus back on our team. There’s a lot in free agency we have no control over, but if you’re asking if we want him back on our team, than yes we do.” — Gentry
“In a perfect world we would like to have him back, we would love to have him back.” — Demps
As you can see, the Pelicans are hesitant to part with their All-Star, but intentionally left the door open to a possible franchise-altering exit. While Gentry referenced the uncertainty teams face in free agency, Demps pointed to a perfect world as to the place where Boogie could find himself returning to Nola. Interesting, New Orleans general manager sounded much more confident about bringing back Rajon Rondo.
Dell Demps says that he definitely wants Rajon Rondo back.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) May 10, 2018
Now the question becomes if the Pelicans do re-sign the big man, what would his camp demand? If the two parties choose to part ways, how can the Pelicans save a trade that cost them two top ten draft picks?
We address this and so much more on our season-ending episode of the Bird Calls Podcast with Oleh Kosel, Kevin Barrios and David Grubb.
As we head into the offseason, thank you so much to all of you for listening. If you like what you’re hearing and want more, please let us know by subscribing, sharing, retweeting and rating our podcast on iTunes!