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New Orleans nightmare: Pelicans wrap up disappointing season, head toward important offseason

The best part of the New Orleans Pelicans’ 2015-16 season is the fact that it’s over.

A combination of injuries, poor defense and an overall lack of depth resulted in the Pelicans being out of the playoff race long before the end of the season. Head coach Alvin Gentry even admitted such after a March 3 loss against the Houston Rockets.

After lofty expectations in the offseason, the Pelicans crashed and burned. Now the team heads into an offseason full of questions, beginning in the front office.

General manager Dell Demps will be safe, but his seat is getting hotter. He’s built a reputation as a trade-happy GM and has earned the nickname “Dealer Dell” amongst Pelicans fans.

Demps has dealt out a couple of questionable contracts that have clearly hurt the Pelicans depth, i.e. Eric Gordon and Omer Asik. However, he’s also proven himself a savvy GM by stealthily acquiring already seasoned players and not having to develop them.

The trades to acquire Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole while only giving up Austin Rivers, John Salmons and Russ Smith pushed them into the playoffs last season. The trades were well timed and made up for the team’s injuries, and that’s why the organization put more stock in Demps than it did former head coach Monty Williams.

As far as the current head coach, I think it’s hard to evaluate Gentry’s first year given the myriad of injuries the Pelicans sustained. Some fans argue that Williams could’ve gotten the team to the playoffs because the team went through the same thing last season.

That notion just isn’t true, and this year’s team wasn’t as deep. If the injury bug bit the Pelicans during Monty’s tenure, it swallowed them whole in Gentry’s first season.

The Pelicans started Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson on opening night this season to kick off a 1-11 start and never recovered. The team was never able to establish any type of continuity, and Gentry said if the Pelicans were a college student they would get an “incomplete” grade for the season.

That being said, Gentry wasn’t perfect, and he has work to do if this team plans on making a playoff run next year.

Gentry was hired to maximize the Pelicans’ strength and make them a run-and-gun, open court type of team. That’s all fine and good, but the teams that thrive in that type of system, the Warriors, the Thunder, and the Clippers, have one thing in common, and that’s complimentary defense.

New Orleans ranked 26th in the league in opponents points per game, and their opponents shot 52 percent from the field, also ranked 26th. Even in the very few games that they were healthy, the Pelicans struggled to defend all year.

For Gentry’s system to be effective, the Pels need to string together more stops next season. It’s easier to play in transition when the ball’s coming off of the rim instead of having to take it from under the net.

Assistant coach Darren Erman was brought in to help the Pels on the defensive end, but the Pels could never get consistent defense. Improving the team’s defensive personnel should be a point of emphasis for the Pelicans this offseason.

The Pelicans haven’t fielded a first round pick since taking Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers in 2012, and it will be interesting to see what they do in the upcoming NBA draft.

The Pelicans finished with the sixth worst record in the league and they have a 21 percent chance to pick in the top three. Their position will depend on what happens in the draft lottery, but there figures to be good talent on the board whenever the Pels do pick.

Demps could trade the pick as his been his M.O. during his tenure, or he could take a chance on Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray or another promising young talent. No matter what happens, expect the Pelicans to pick up players who will be expected to contribute immediately.

Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon will both become unrestricted free agents and both of their futures in New Orleans are questionable.

Both players were supposed to be part of this past season’s team core, but couldn’t stay on the court as they struggled with injuries. They both serve similar purposes as floor-spreading three point shooters, but their games are also very different in other aspects.

The Pelicans could try to make it work with one or both of them or they could add another free agent to try something different. Only time will tell, but the draft should play a big role in their futures with the team.

The Pelicans have some good building blocks on both sides of the ball, and this offseason will be a matter of filling the roles around them.

Anthony Davis is still a top five player in the league, and he’s only going to get better. Jrue Holiday was healthier this past season and is capable of being a franchise point guard if he can stay healthy.

That’s why the pressure is on Demps and Gentry to win and win soon. Otherwise, the franchise can see even more turnaround in the years to come, and instability is never good when you have a budding superstar like Davis.

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