By Zachary Junda
The 2013-14 season for the Pelicans never really got off the ground.
Despite an active offseason and an influx of talent around cornerstone Anthony Davis, New Orleans struggled last year, battling injuries and inconsistency to finish last in the division.
The 2014-15 seasaon looks to be more promising, and as the Pels tip off the season against Orlando, optimism is soaring. But will the Pelicans?
Last year, the Pelicans never really had a chance to show what they could be. They went a respectable 10-10 through their first 20 games of the season, but after injuries started piling up, went 6-14 the next 20 and it was all over from there. New Orleans was 22-29 going into the All-Star Break and then promptly lost their first eight games coming out of the break. New Orleans finished 34-48, dead last in the brutal Southwest division and 12th in the West.
Injuries absolutely murdered this team’s chances last year. Tyreke Evans missed 10 games, Anthony Davis missed 15, Eric Gordon missed 18, Jrue Holiday missed 48 and Ryan Anderson missed 60. So this team should get a mulligan for last year right? How many teams can survive their five best players missing a collective 151 games? None. Before the Pelicans started dropping like flies, this was one of the better offensive teams in the league. Sure they stunk defensively, but they were obscene offensively before everyone got hurt.
The best stretch the Pelicans had was an eight game run in mid-March when the team went 6-2 thanks in large part to Anthony Davis showing how great he can be. In those eight games, Davis averaged 32.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. He ended the year leading the team in points (20.0), rebounds (10.8) and the entire league in blocks (2.3) en route to his first All-Star appearance.
Over the offseason, the Pelicans made another one of those “spend money to make money” type of trades, sending a protected first round pick to the Rockets (New Orleans keeps the pick only if it falls in the top three of next year’s draft or after No. 20, otherwise the pick goes to Houston) for center Omer Asik. This is the second consecutive year Dell Demps has dealt a first round pick to address a need. Here’s hoping New Orleans gets a better return on the deal this time around.
There’s an optimistic mood surrounding this Pelicans team. They aren’t winning a title this year but there’s hope for the future. Right now could very well be a renaissance for the franchise: Tom Benson buying the team back from the NBA means that they’re not getting shipped off to Seattle; the television deal with Fox Sports New Orleans means that all but seven of the Pelicans’ 82 games will be broadcasted locally. The new name of the team and arena still feels refreshing. And if that’s not enough, the team has a legit star in Anthony Davis. You just feel like the golden era is coming.
Omer Asik is here to provide some stability to the Pelicans’ frontcourt for at least this season. The presence of a true center means Davis won’t have to play out of position much if ever. Asik can bang with opposing teams’ bigs down low and defensively a front court with Asik and Davis sounds promising. Resigning Asik is imperative. You’d hate to trade away a first round pick for a yearlong rental that may not even result in a playoff trip.
The Pelicans drafting Russ Smith and Patric Young.
Anthony Davis a second time.
After a historically awful rookie season, Austin Rivers showed signs of improvement. His shooting percentage from the field, three and at the line all improved. Maybe there’s hope after all.
And just for the heck of it, Anthony Davis one more time.
If the Western Conference is tough then the Southwest division is the Salty Spittoon. Playing the Spurs, Mavericks, Rockets and Grizzlies a combined 16 times isn’t enviable.
The Pelicans have a really good six-man rotation in Holiday, Gordon, Davis, Anderson, Asik and Evans, but have a shallow bench. Alexis Ajinca, Jimmer Fredette, Luke Babbit…there’s not a threat to be found here. Unless those top six guys can stay healthy, they’re doomed to repeat last season.
The only thing lacking more than the talent coming off the bench for New Orleans is the flexibility the front office has. That all went out the window with the Holiday and Asik trades. The Pelicans don’t really have any enticing expiring contracts that they can deal in a trade, they’re short on picks, and they’re about $7 million over the salary cap. Unless Dell Demps can blackmail someone into taking Eric Gordon the Pelicans are stuck right now.
Speaking of Gordon, he’s now missed 131 games in his three years in New Orleans. He’s on the books for slightly under $15 million this year and has a player option for $15.5 million in 2015.
What’s Going to Happen?
The Western Conference is brutal but New Orleans has improved. They didn’t improve drastically but they got a little bit better by adding Asik. What’s important for New Orleans is that they stay healthier than last season. Health alone should bump this team up to at least to 41 wins. But is this a playoff team? Honestly they probably miss out, but that may have more to do with not knowing how good this team can be because of all the injuries from last year. They won’t finish 12th in the West like last season, but they’ll probably be somewhere in that ninth or tenth range.