I’m moving on...and you should too if you haven’t already.
DeMarcus Cousins is gone, so there’s no need for anymore “snake” comments from fans — just like Cousins shouldn’t feel the need to tell anybody else how “big mad” they are going to be down the road.
People move on and some are lucky to get it done without a stench. But let’s face it, most divorces are messy. From DeMarcus Cousins to Kawhi Leonard, there’s never a right way to say goodbye or “I don’t want to be with you anymore.” After the initial feelings pass though, there’s always an available route to rebuild a new foundation.
For the New Orleans Pelicans, their new direction comes at a crucial time in the franchise’s trajectory as it can’t miss a beat. Anthony Davis is knocking on the door to his prime, yet the superstar has long understood that greatness is measured in championships. With Cousins and Rajon Rondo gone, New Orleans faces an unknown battle in regaining the success they enjoyed one year ago.
If you’re a team like the Pelicans, you were unlikely to be one of prettiest girls at the dance. Consequently, you jumped at the chance to tango whenever asked; even if first impressions were not all that and a bag of chips.
The Cousins returning path would have been riddled with questions about the star big man’s health and fit on a team that flourished in many ways during his absence. And as for Rondo? The question marks about his regular season inconsistencies, liabilities as a shooter and defensive indifferences for stretches, will always be present. Despite this, and how you feel about Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton’s potential in Alvin Gentry’s system, the pre-training camp evaluations or free agency grades have yet to offer much solace.
For every positive Nikola Mirotic compliment uttered, it has been followed by a random trade machine presentation of a washing machine and two five-dollar bills for Anthony Davis. For a franchise that lost Baron Davis and Chris Paul, what hope do the Pelicans have, they will ask. With Anthony Davis’ five-year contract in the middle of it’s run — the last season is a player option, the outside world will continue to lob tons of pessimism.
But here at The Bird Writes, we preach realistic positivity. There are a few examples that should enthuse fans not just about the future of Anthony Davis but the health of the entire city’s basketball franchise for years to come.
Most small markets teams in sports find success when they are built from within. That means notable or historic successful drafts. The San Antonio Spurs should of course come immediately to mind. After the Spurs, however, is the team the Pelicans’ faithful should admire from top to bottom: The Oklahoma City Thunder.
Years ago, most believed the drafted core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka would dominate the league for years to come. And they were right — just not in the form that was originally constructed.
Due to fear of an excessive luxury tax and “Ms. Cleo” not being around to forecast the future growth of salary caps far and wide, the Thunder traded Harden in the offseason after reaching the NBA Finals. Most simplified the trade as choosing the cheaper talented alternative between Ibaka and Harden.
While it’s not that simple in general (position values also come into play), that’s the narrative that ran forward, especially as Harden blossomed into a future MVP. Ibaka, however, never developed enough offensively to be the player most within the Thunder organization had hoped he would become.
If trolls could have their way, this would be the legacy of Thunder GM Sam Presti. Not a guy who constructed one of the most unique and exciting trio’s the league could have ever imagined, but simply a guy who chose Serge Ibaka over James Harden. That’s the way this world works unfortunately — mistakes are remembered more often than successes.
But, the true definition of success comes from the lessons learned and adversity overcome. Presti could have folded once his historic decision crumbled before his very own eyes. This was especially true after Kevin Durant — the superstar who brought the GM to prominence in Oklahoma City — left in controversial fashion. The odds of redemption were incredibly stacked against Presti.
Sam Presti never stopped fighting, believing and creating.
After Durant’s departure, the proverbial time clock soon started ticking on his former co-star Russell Westbrook. How could a player of Westbrook’s makeup and abilities want to stay with a team that watched two Hall of Fame talents walk right out the front door?
His General Manager is a big reason why.
Sure, Oklahoma City had wrapped it’s arms around The Brodie — and fans can relate to this personally from the time when the New Orleans Hornets stayed in OKC for several seasons after the city recovered from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, but without Presti’s resilience and commitment to not letting failure define him, Westbrook may have easily joined the long list of superstars who had left small market franchises.
This unwavering confidence eventually led to OKC taking a chance on Paul George, a star who seemed destined to go back home and play for the Los Angeles Lakers after seven long seasons with the Indiana Pacers. It was quite the gamble for Presti to take with so much up in the air for the Thunder.
Against all odds, it paid off handsomely.
The Thunder added a co-star for Westbrook, and soon afterwards, a third wheel (at the time) in Carmelo Anthony, to put Oklahoma City right back in contention for a deep playoff run. To the surprise of many, George re-signed once the 2017-18 season ended. The Thunder were rewarded, overcoming incredible odds in a plethora of ways.
It all started with a gamble. A gamble that may now set the precedent for future GM’s to take similar risks on star players with expiring contracts. The hope being that a full or half year campaign can offer the leverage that one summer meeting in July simply cannot.
There’s a strong argument to be made that we’ve already seen the first domino of the Presti effect fall with the recent Toronto Raptors trade in which they acquired Kawhi Leonard. The reason this is important and why I’ve written this article is because it’s a move the Pelicans may have eventually make too.
Small market franchises lack the luster of an L.A or New York. And unlike the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans doesn’t have a long history of winning and success to seduce a player looking to win long-term. They do, however, have Anthony Davis, and that’s much more than most of the league can offer.
We know Dell Demps has the ability to find and snatch a Darius Miller from Europe, or pluck a Norris Cole or Quincy Pondexter. We’ve seen him produce a Jordan Crawford or Jameer Nelson to survive for a stretch. And most notably, we’ve seen him steal DeMarcus Cousins when so few valued the assets the Pelicans had to offer at the time.
Demps is a hell of a barterer and more of a visionary than he gets credit for. His confidence isn’t faked or media driven. So even without Sam Presti’s journey coming first, Demps may still have been able to create a path not expected to lead to a successful rebound on the fly, but the parallels are there.
Both general managers have had to lead new era’s respectively twice. They’ve both seen multiple all-stars and superstar talents depart. They also both come from the long and extensive Spurs family coaching/executive tree. They’ve been joke magnets but have also had loyal support systems in their darkest of days. Their only differences, really, are the details of their mistakes during their tenures.
Demps’ failures in New Orleans have revolved around expensive ill-fits, bad luck and enough draft picks traded away to make Mike Ditka smile somewhere after another puff off his cigar. Similar to Presti, though, Demps has rebounded several times. He’ll just need one last push.
The athlete of today can probably be as easily convinced to stay with the team that originally drafted them as they’ve ever been. With the advance of technology and marketing schemes, players can thrive financially without living in places with huge populations. The key more so today appears to be towards building trust, developing lines of communication, and avoiding incompetence.
Without Dan Gilbert, does LeBron James ever leave Cleveland? Especially for a second time? Without trust issues, doesn’t Kawhi Leonard stay in San Antonio awhile longer? With more consistent talks between Damian Lillard and the front office in Portland — or any star-organization combination, maybe fewer questionable moves are made and thus the names in the Association are linked less frequently to leaving a smaller market behind.
It’s unclear if there’s a fair answer to any of these questions. In this modern era of the “super team,” a franchise’s challenges go past the roster built. It’s about culture. Sam Presti once told the Oklahoman in 2008: “We want to develop a culture that there’s an Oklahoma City way of doing things.”
Last season, the New Orleans Pelicans displayed a vivacity and promise that the city hasn’t witnessed in a long time from their basketball squad. Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and a solid group of complimentary players combined efforts to produce a proud achievement. And this year there are talented new pieces in the fold that have replaced key cogs which could elevate the team even higher — despite all the drama involving the departures of Cousins and Rondo.
No city arguably exudes culture quite as strongly as New Orleans. In making a passed down through several generations gumbo, there’s a bunch of important ingredients that need to be incorporated delicately into one simmering pot. But you should always be ready to add another in a pinch. If the Pelicans must re-visit the pantry or refrigerator, there’s a chef in the kitchen who carries around a recipe that has produced tasty results in the past.
Don’t write off the latest work of Dell Demps and his newly compiled version of the New Orleans Pelicans too early. The roux is currently browning nicely over the stove top fire and it could lead to his best serving yet.