The New Orleans Pelicans have elected to move on from general manager Dell Demps after eight plus seasons of running the front office and boasting a disappointing 311-388 record.
Demps has been on borrowed time dating back to the 2016-17 offseason. After pulling off the stunning trade deadline acquisition for DeMarcus Cousins, he won himself and the Pelicans the promise of a bright future. Positioned next to Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans were attempting to build a core unlike any other in the NBA.
The timing couldn’t have come at a better time. Demps had moved on from every pick since 2012 — with the exception of Davis — in a series of win-now maneuvers. With a lack of low-cost talent or the flexibility to acquire any, it was up to Demps to create clever trade and free agent acquisitions to ensure the future of the franchise around superstar Anthony Davis.
New Orleans has parted ways with GM Dell Demps, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 15, 2019
Disaster then struck in the form of an Achilles rupture to Cousins on January 26th and the Demps’ tenure faced yet another uphill battle. The unheralded move for Nikola Mirotic gave the Pelicans the ammunition to stun the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2017-18 playoffs, before then losing both Boogie and signal-caller Rajon Rondo in the opening days of the last free agency period.
Demps quickly pivoted by acquiring former top-ten pick Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle at bargain bin pricing, but injuries, little continuity, and a lack of overall depth torpedoed any chances to repeating the 2018-19 campaign.
Dell Demps may most be remembered for the unfortunate contracts levied to Solomon Hill and Omer Asik, and for his penchant for trading future draft picks in exchange for ‘young veterans,’ but he can certainly be praised for a great number of crafty moves as well. Deals for Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, DeMarcus Cousins, Quincy Pondexter, and Ryan Anderson can be pointed to as many of the positive moves during his tenure.
Demps may have failed to build a young core around Anthony Davis in close to seven years worth of opportunities, but he faced an extensive level of misfortune in them. Just this season alone, the Pelicans lost their core of Davis, Mirotic, Payton, Moore and Randle for a staggering 97 games. Head coach Alvin Gentry was forced to start 24 different lineups in just 59 games, an NBA league-leading rate.
Since 2014, the Pelicans lost more games due to injury than any team not named the Philadelphia 76ers, a squad infamous for resting players in hopes of tanking and building up an army of top flight rookies — “The Process.”
It seems a bit unfair then, that a very public trade demand of the Pelicans’ superstar coupled with bad luck kept Demps from the opportunity to capitalize off of his success in 2018.
One could point to Anthony Davis’ effort and temperament as evidence that he never really gave the Pelicans a chance in a season that saw the Pelicans play as a bottom-five defensive unit after a top-ten performance in 2018.
How could the Pelicans carry two of the NBA’s five best defensive players from 2018 and continue to plummet to the bottom in defensive rating? Was it all the depth? Had Davis checked out already?
Whatever the cause, a move had to be made. It became clear as the season wore on that Demps would not be given the freedom to mortgage the future and acquire additional talent to reinforce the depleted squad. His low-cost acquisitions of Tim Frazier and Wesley Johnson didn’t give the Pelicans enough of a boost in that regard, either.
It doesn’t matter who’s to blame. The Pelicans’ front office gave this regime a full eight-year experimental run. In order to ensure the best possible futures for each of Demps and the organization, a move had to be made and the idea was New Orleans would do it at the conclusion of the regular season. However, that timeline was moved up after last night. Anthony Davis left the game against the OKC Thunder at halftime with a bruised left shoulder and then decided to leave the arena all together with his agent, Rich Paul, in the second half.
No one was happy about that decision. Not Gayle Benson, not upper management and not Alvin Gentry.
Alvin Gentry has had enough on questions about Anthony Davis. pic.twitter.com/o1QfoJjyQv— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 15, 2019
Today’s firing may not be all bad news for Demps. If anything, Davis’ inexplicable behavior has cast sympathy towards both Demps and Gentry. This team of would-be try hards played their hearts out in the past two weeks, earning victories over the Rockets, Bulls and Thunder, while losing to the Pacers, Nuggets and Spurs by a combined 13 points. Those young players, all acquired and fought for by Demps, promise a brighter future ahead for this squad.
Expect for the Pelicans to now begin surveying the landscape and interviewing potential candidates for the position, and possibly for the position of President of Basketball Operations, should Mickey Loomis deem it prudent to move back to a secondary role with this particular franchise.
The Pelicans’ job should be an appetizing opportunity. With Jrue Holiday, the assets the Pelicans are likely to acquire in the deal for Anthony Davis, as well as a deep assortment of picks (own future picks as well as the four second rounders acquired from Milwaukee), the Pelicans can offer a general manager the opportunity to immediately build the franchise in his or her image.
The countdown to the end of the Davis/Demps’ era has reached zero, but brighter days lie head for the New Orleans Pelicans under owner, Mrs. Gayle Benson.
Let’s geaux, Pels!