By Casey Gisclair
Get’cha popcorn ready and fasten your seat belts, basketball fans!
Because the next six weeks of basketball will be loads of fun – a very critical point in the future of the New Orleans Pelicans franchise.
The first half of the NBA season officially wrapped this past week as the league hosted its All-Star Game festivities in New York City.
When play resumes this week, the league’s teams will return to arguably the most important portion of the NBA season – that all-out mad dash to the finish line that are otherwise known as the final 30 or so games of the 82-game season. And for the first time in many seasons, the Pelicans will be right in the thick of things when play resumes, sitting just 1.5 games out of the Western Conference’s 8-seed with a 27-26 record.
Will New Orleans reach the playoffs? It’s going to be tough when one considers that the Pels are chasing teams like Oklahoma City, Phoenix and San Antonio in the quest for those final few playoff spots.
Regardless, it’ll be fun to see it all play out, and it’s fun to be in the middle of a playoff chase with this team again – something that hasn’t happened since Chris Paul packed his bags and took his talents to Hollywood.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the second half of the season – a couple of storylines that will likely affect the landscape of this organization, both now and in the seasons to come.
WILL ‘THE BROW’ GIVE IT A GO? – The final games before the All-Star break were a total nightmare for New Orleans, as the team lost three-straight games – the last two against opponents well below .500. Of course, the losses aren’t overly indicative of the current pulse of New Orleans, as they were without Anthony Davis, who injured his shoulder on Feb. 7 against Chicago. Keeping Davis healthy is an absolute must if the Pelicans want to have any chance at all at the No. 8 seed. The team simply can’t afford to have him out of action for much longer.
HOW MUCH DOES MONTY NEED TO DO? – It’s not a secret that Monty Williams is on the hot-seat. Hot probably isn’t even the right word – perhaps boiling is more appropriate. With Williams’ job probably hanging in the balance over the final 30 games of the season, now is the time to begin asking the question of how much the five-year coach must do down the stretch to earn another year. Is it playoffs or bust? Is it finish above .500 or bust? Does he have to get to 45 wins? Maybe 50? Whatever metric Pelicans’ General Manager Dell Demps has in mind, there’s no question that Williams’ future will be a hot-button topic in the weeks to come. If the team finishes poorly, we fully expect Williams’ days to be done.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO NOW? – The final months of the NBA season will also go a long way in determining the future of New Orleans’ roster. We all know Davis will be here for the long haul – there is absolutely, positively no way that he will be traded or cut anytime in the next five-to-seven years – if ever. But the core group of players around AD is completely debatable and will likely be shaped by how this season ends. The center of that discussion revolves around New Orleans post Omer Asik, who is a free agent after the season. The team owns Asik’s Bird Rights and can go past the league’s salary cap to ink him to a long-term deal. But doing so would severely limit the team’s financial flexibility for the future. Is it worth it, or would it be wiser to let him walk? Also, if Demps decides to loosen the team’s glut at the guard position, what player will get the boot? Eric Gordon? Tyreke Evans? Jrue Holiday? Until now, the team has been attempting to trade Gordon, but his fat contract is tough to move. Could that change this summer? Time will tell.
How it all shakes out – that remains to be seen. But it’ll surely be fun to watch it all shake out. For the first time in several seasons, Louisiana basketball fans have a both a possible NCAA Tournament team and an NBA Playoff hopeful right here in our back yards.
I surely can’t wait to be a witness to it all.