New Orleans Pelicans End of Season and Offseason Priorities

Published: February 25, 2015

With Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Ryan Anderson all out for the New Orleans Pelicans and the hope of the playoffs fading away, it is hard for some fans to justify caring about the team right now. Attendance has been down at the SKC, traffic has been down on this site and others, and the general feeling amongst some appears to be, “Here we go again – another wasted season, along with the promise of next year. Ugh.”

Look, I get it. You spend hundreds of hours reading articles, watching games, and/or spend a ton of money attending and now you look for the payoff and it appears that it will just be another season where we don’t get to see our beloved team on the biggest stage in the playoffs. We all want the Pelicans to get that chance, and to use that experience as a springboard for next season. On top of that, if we aren’t going to make the playoffs, we at least want to watch fun basketball, and you get less of that when your top players seemingly go down every other game. But, all is not lost. There is still plenty to be gained from these last 26, even if the team does not make the postseason. And beyond that, there are some things to start thinking about with regard to this summer.

There are clear goals for this organization moving forward, and with that in mind, I take a look at what we should be looking for over these final games, along with this summer.

End of Season

4. Evaluate the ‘Around the Edge’ Guys

Alexis Ajinca, Luke Babbitt, Jeff Withey, and Dante Cunningham are all slated to be free agents this summer, and it isn’t totally clear right now whether they are pieces that this team should focus on being back. Cunningham has probably been the most productive Pelican, but he is a power forward forced to play small forward out of necessity. If the Pelicans add a small forward, does he have a role here? Same could be asked of Luke Babbitt, who has had big games when given opportunities, but can’t seem to find a spot in the rotation when Ryno is healthy.

Ajinca and Withey are two interesting cases as well, with Ajinca being an unrestricted FA and Withey being restricted if the Pelicans give him a small qualifying offer. Ajinca has been far more productive in these last two years, but he will also likely be more expensive to keep, and when healthy, the Pelicans rarely ever required his services. The Pelicans do have Early Bird rights, however, on Ajinca so they can probably keep him if they want. But if they pay Asik this summer and Ryan Anderson returns to 100%, there may not be a real need for him despite his improved play.

3. Find the Right Roles for Norris Cole and Q-Pon

Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole have much bigger roles right now than they will if and when the Pelicans become a contending team. Jrue Holiday will obviously get a bulk of the minutes that Cole is getting now, and Pondexter’s destiny is likely to be an energy guy giving you 18-22 minutes as a backup two and three. It would be nice to see those two play with Evans and Anderson (when he comes back) to see if they can develop some chemistry. If those four are the core of your second unit, you could have the best bench in the league, at least offensively. Both will need to work on their catch-and -shoot games if they want to thrive in that role, as well as their ability to guard the best perimeter players on the court.

2. Continue to Nurture Gordon’s Confidence

Eric Gordon is simply a different guy these last two months, and a large part of that stems from how much more confident he appears. He seemed to hesitate at the beginning of the year with Jrue and Tyreke, but now that he has been forced to take on a bigger role, he just lets the ball fly when he gets any daylight. So far, the results have been nothing short of spectacular. He has been a 60%+ catch-and-shoot guy since returning and is nearly 50% from three overall. The most likely scenario is that Gordon opts in this summer and he is back for one more year, and if that is the case, we need THIS Eric Gordon if the team is going to take that next step.

1. Finish the Season Healthy

If the Buzzer sounds on April 15th and all the guys are in jerseys and not suits, I will be a happy man. Last year, Jrue and Ryno were still recovering all the way through the summer, as was Tyreke after an offseason surgery. The results were Tyreke and Ryno starting off the season slow, while Jrue admitted he was not 100% when the season kicked off. Next season, the Pelicans need to get off to a red-hot start and that starts this April. Monty and his staff do a tremendous job with running offseason practices and camps, and the guys really seem to enjoy coming in and putting in the work during those times. A summer full of working on their games and conditioning would do wonders compared to a summer of surgery and rehab.


4. Get Ryno’s Conditioning Back

There was a guy wearing a #33 uniform with Anderson on the back for the first 50 or so games of the season, but that guy wasn’t Ryan Anderson. He had stretches where he was the guy we all remember, but on both ends of the court he lacked the conditioning and the athleticism needed to be the guy he was before. Ryan Anderson was never a good defender, but he wasn’t THIS bad either. And on the offensive end, he would have the occasional poor shooting game, but this year the percentage of games in which he shot less than 30 percent from the field nearly tripled.

The reasoning is clear. Anderson didn’t all of a sudden lose his stroke overnight or stop caring about defense. His shot was flat and his ability to move laterally was non-existent due to the fact that he still wasn’t in game shape after being sidelined for nearly 9 months after his neck injury and subsequent surgery. This summer, Ryan Anderson has a full summer to get back into peak shape, and when he does, we should recognize that #33 more often.

3. Add a Wing with a Winning Background

The first part is always talked about. The second part, not so much, but it is equally important in my mind. The team added a ton of perimeter talent by bringing in Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Gordon over three off seasons. But in addition to being talented, they all had another thing in common – They came from losing organizations. Combined, they had a win percentage of under 40% before joining the Pelicans, and you could clearly see some of the low IQ decisions that came from the losing habits they developed prior to being here.

Meanwhile, we all have been blown away by the impact that guys like Norris Cole and Quincy Pondexter have had despite having one-tenth the raw talent of our other perimeter players. As Pondexter put it a few days ago when talking about Norris Cole, “Norris is similar to myself. We’ve won so much, especially early in our careers. That’s all we know is winning basketball. He plays with a tenacity about him that is great to see and is a breath of fresh air. He’s a winner.”

The Pelicans need to find a guy with this mentality AND some talent, not just one or the other. Bring in a guy who knows how to win, not another guy you have to teach how to win. Gerald Green has far more raw talent than Jared Dudley, but Dudley has been a key part of playoff teams that have gone deep and is a leader in the locker room. That might be worth sacrificing a couple points per 36 minutes for in the stats column. This team has plenty of talent already. It’s needs to keep adding to its growing intangibles pool.

2. Solidify the Center Position Long Term

This will be the biggest debate amongst Pelicans fans, as we head into a summer where Omer Asik and numerous other centers around the league are free agents. But no matter what we all think, Dell Demps is the one calling the shots (at least as of this moment) and he went after Asik aggressively just 8 months ago. In addition to giving up a first round pick for Asik, Demps convinced his owner to pay $15 million for the big man. Hard to imagine that Dell doesn’t have re-signing him as a priority less than one year later.

But there are some other intriguing free agents out there. Greg Monroe, a local guy, is an unrestricted free agent and would likely be open to coming to New Orleans to play next to Anthony Davis. Now, Monroe would likely cost $4-5 million more per year than Asik and he also isn’t a traditional center that is built to defend the 280 pound beasts down low. DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol are pipe dreams for some, while Al Jefferson and Tyson Chandler are veteran centers who have some appeal as well. Or some people advocate for going the cheap route and giving Asik’s 25 minute role to a guy like Alexis Ajinca or Kosta Koufos at half the cost.

The fact is that this will be the summer that the Pelicans lock up the center position for the next few seasons. Any idea of Davis playing the five should be forgotten, as Davis has let people know that he doesn’t want to defend that position for 30+ minutes per game, and nobody can blame him. With Ryan Anderson in the fold, the Pelicans don’t need a stud 35 mpg center who does it all, but they do need somebody serviceable. And hopefully, they don’t have to overpay for that role either. $10-11 million per year should be enough to lock up Asik, and while some might cringe at that price tag given his offense, that will be equivalent to about $7 million now when the cap goes up in 2016-17.

But there is always the possibility that Dell is gone this summer and the new guy accepts losing the draft pick as a sunk cost and moves on from Asik. Or that Monty is gone and the next coach wants a center with a different skill set. There are so many possibilities for the team this summer, but one way or another, they have to lock this position down and put the right guy next to AD as he enters his prime.

1. Get Jrue Holiday Right… Permanently

I could write 3000 words on stress fractures, stress reactions, and the like, but the truth is that they are all different and so is everyone’s body. But what I do know is that the Pelicans are highly incentivized to get past this problem with Jrue. This franchise has invested so much in him, and he is the #2 building block behind only Anthony Davis. The trajectory of this franchise with him returning to his previous health (where he missed about 2 games a year) and his current health (playing 40 or so games per year) is night and day. This team could be a contender as soon as next year with Holiday healthy and could stay that way for the next decade. If he can’t get right, then they have basically set themselves back 3 or 4 years and won’t be able to be elite until his contract is off the books in the summer of 2017 at the very earliest.

They need to do anything and everything to get Holiday past this issue so that it doesn’t reoccur again in the future. Sleep, diet, changing your bone mass or hormones, in addition to rehab routines, orthopedics, and dozens of other small things can help provide long term solutions to this problem. The Pelicans need to spare no expense to get this right, and Holiday needs to be open to anything and everything in order to solve this problem once and for all. There likely is nothing more important to the Pelicans long term outlook that truly can go either way. And the Pelicans, along with Holiday, should treat it that way.


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