Dig Baton Rouge

A Basketball Renaissance

By Casey Gisclair
@Casey_Gisclair

I spent some time this past week in the Smoothie King Center watching the New Orleans Pelicans beat the snot out of my beloved Houston Rockets.

I’m the biggest Rockets fan this planet has ever seen, so the night wasn’t exactly a joyous occasion to me, but I had fun nonetheless.

Pelicans games are the best. I have absolutely no clue how the team ranks near the bottom of the NBA in attendance every year. The games are affordable (if you know how to work StubHub), accessible, family-friendly and exciting.

The old excuse was that the team stunk, but that is no longer the case. With Anthony Davis firmly established as one of the top two or three players in the NBA, the Pelicans play an exciting brand of basketball and are capable of beating any team in the NBA on a given night. That’s actually a great segue into what I’d love to talk about in this column, because of the irony that comes with this statement.

The Pelicans can – and have – beat some of the best teams in the NBA this season.

Heck, I’d go so far as to say they are one of the Top 11 teams in the entire 30-team NBA.

But because they are in the Western Conference, the team will again need a near-miracle to make the playoffs.

So instead of being enslaved to rings and championship trophies, I think it’s time Louisiana basketball fans appreciate what’s going on right now and get off their butts and head to the arena to support this team. There were way too many jerks like me wearing red on Friday night in the Smoothie King Center. It’s time those days end and we embrace our home team as our own.

Basketball has never been better in the state of Louisiana than it is right now at this very second.

At LSU, the Tigers are 11-2, and are about to rake in an absolute treasure chest of a recruiting class – a group that can possibly elevate LSU to one of the upper-echelon programs in the country. I had the pleasure of watching Ben Simmons play in person once at a high school tournament. The kid is the real deal. He’s the best player LSU will have on its campus since Glen Davis – if not Shaquille O’Neal. He will be one and done, but special players like that can impact a program’s foundation in just 12 months.

Simply put – the Tigers are about to be a basketball elite.

For New Orleans, things aren’t yet boiling, but the heat is accelerating to a very, very warm simmer. Davis is the best NBA prospect since LeBron James. He can do absolutely anything on a basketball floor. Because of the NBA’s free agency rules, he is basically married to our state for at least the next half-decade. In that time, there’s no telling how good he might be. It’s scary to think about.

I concede that around Davis, there isn’t as much to be excited about. Guys like Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Omer Asik are nice, but they have sapped all of the team’s cap room, while still not making the team a contender – a no-no in a league defined by flexibility.

Eric Gordon is still overpaid and he’s still overrated. Guess what? He’s still hurt, too.

But he’s also nearing the end of his contract – a day when prayers will be answered for many fans in the state.

Looking in my crystal ball, I see New Orleans winning about 40-45 games, assuming they stay healthy. If they don’t, it obviously sags to 30-37 wins.

But all I ask is that fans keep in mind the big picture when judging this team and deciding whether or not to hop aboard the bandwagon.

New Orleans is young, growing and will be better. With Anthony Davis, you always have a chance, and the Pelicans have him for a while.

Enjoy it.

Go to the games.

The excuse of the team not being good no longer flies.

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