New Orleans Pelicans Nearing the Point of No Return

Published: December 10, 2015

In Back to the Future III, Doc Brown sets up a demonstration for young Marty showcasing his two options for his potential trip back to the year 1985. The plan is risky, with the worst case scenario being a gruesome death that would see Marty and the DeLorean plunge off a steep cliff after failing to reach the 88 mph required to send him to the future. But Marty has the option of pulling the brakes prior to the point of no return, and living to try another day, if he doesn’t think he can make it.

The New Orleans Pelicans are coming close to their point of no return. Sitting at 5-16, with a roster that doesn’t seem to quite fit the system, a coach that is becoming increasingly frustrated, and a primary ballhandler who doesn’t seem to be buying in, they are going to either have to just close their eyes and go for it or pull the brakes. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are set to be free agents this year, and with their increasingly good play and health over the past year or so, they could have some value on the trade market. Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday likely couldn’t fetch what Dell gave up for them, but if you learned anything from my ‘Sunk Cost’ piece last week, you know that shouldn’t matter.

The option that it sounds like Dell and the front office are interested in is going forward with this core, while just making a tweak or two. Yahoo reported potential discussions surrounding Markieff Morris for Ryan Anderson, with likely some other, smaller parts included. The logic would be that Morris is a better fit next to Davis and that his deal will be extremely cap friendly in future seasons, while Anderson might get twice what Morris makes on the open market. This type of move would be Marty just throwing more wood into the train’s furnace, hoping to get a few extra miles per hour out of it. Might work, might lead to your ultimate demise.

The alternative would be to move the same pieces for packages that net the team future assets, while also making the Pelicans bad enough this year to land a draft pick in the top 5 or 7. Imagine trading Anderson to a team like Washington for a mid-1st round pick and a player like Martell Webster, who will not help in any way this season. Then, do the same for Gordon, and maybe even Tyreke. Yes, it would be a total blowup of this roster that most of us were excited about just a few short months ago, and admittance of several mistakes over the past three years. But it might be what is best for the future of this franchise.

Here’s the question, though – Can the current regime take this route? Is it even on their list of options right now? Or, have they already passed the point of no return in their mind, and their only hope is to hope for a miracle that pulls them out of the mess that this team is currently in? Here’s a thought exercise – Imagine Philadelphia calls today, with Colangelo getting a direct edict from the NBA that he has to make them respectable. He knows Dario Saric has no interest in coming to Philadelphia and that his big men need a point guard that can get them the ball. So, he offers up Saric for Tyreke Evans. Would Dell and the current regime even entertain that? How would they weigh the pros and cons?

Here’s my theory – They would calculate not only the two players moving forward, but the baggage left behind. The deal wouldn’t be Evans for Saric. It would be Saric, a guy Philly got in the Holiday trade, for Robin Lopez, Vasquez, and the pick that they had to move to get Omer – because, you know, if they had Lopez, they wouldn’t need Asik. So, in essence, they would have traded Nerlens Noel, Robin Lopez, Vasquez, and a 1st for Holiday and the right to give Asik a terrible contract. There is just too much baggage in the past for this regime to admit their mistakes, in all likelihood. Meanwhile, a pair of fresh eyes wouldn’t see things that way. A new GM wouldn’t have given up anything for the guys currently on the roster. He would have no attachment to them whatsoever and would not have to worry about swallowing sunk cost.

But maybe I am getting too far ahead of myself. Perhaps this team has not yet reached the point of no return. The Western Conference isn’t exactly a murderer’s row anymore. As we sit here today, the Pelicans are only five games out of a playoff spot despite a horrific start. A hot month and they could vault into the top 8. And before people dismiss sneaking into the playoffs, and just being “one and done” – making the playoffs after the start this team has had would be a huge boost to team morale and how this franchise is viewed around the league. Missing the playoffs would be seen as a step back, regardless of circumstance, and could create uncertainty amongst the current players and staff.

But there has to be a point where gunning for the playoffs just becomes foolish, and the realization that this team does not have the pieces for a contending core sets in. You can’t do it now, less than 5 games after you finally got healthy, and with a key player still on restriction. But, you can’t wait until March when the trade deadline has already passed and you miss out on the opportunity to pull the rip cord early enough to get some quality assets. You also can’t wait right up until the deadline, because you want to sell while all the buyers are at the market, not just the last few who haven’t made their big move are still hanging around. Right now, it’s a sellers market. Once there are more sellers, and believe me there will be, it becomes a buyers market.

So, when is the point of no return? Saturday, January 9th. Seems like an arbitrary date, but it is not for several reasons. First of all, people always talk about December 15th as a big day since that is when guys signed in the summer can start being moved. But January 10th is when non-guaranteed contracts can become guaranteed and it is also the week you can start signing guys to 10-day contracts. A GM can trade or receive guys on NG deals and then those guys can be released with no repercussions. Following that, you can give players tryouts with 10 day deals and hope to find a diamond in the rough or two.  Also, the Pelicans will be 35 games into the season at this point, they will have had a month plus to evaluate their current core, and Jrue will be off restrictions. Any less than 13 wins, and the playoffs are hopeless. A 12-23 team would likely have to go 30-17 or better to even have a small chance, and if the Pelicans have only won 12 by then, they would have shown nothing to make anyone believe they can play .640 ball.

So, that is the date; the point of no return. Circle January 9th on your calendar if you are in the Pelicans front office, and if this team hasn’t shown serious signs of turning it around by then, SELL, SELL, SELL. Or, just keep adding logs to that furnace, when you and I both know that train can’t possibly get to 88 miles per hour.


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