Do the Pelicans Have a Secret Plan?

Published: January 10, 2016


They have a very public plan, I think. This plan is somewhat vague in some parts and is obfuscated by injury, spin, and the current roster. With the terrible way this season has turned out and with all the talk of “blowing it up,” whatever that is, I wanted to lay out some of my thoughts for public scrutiny and ridicule.

  • I think Dell thinks this team’s core is: Davis, Holiday. This doesn’t mean that I think the others are not useful or good, just that they can be replaced with the right pieces and those replacement are not the foundations of others teams looking to win now. When searching for deals, you need to have a framework of you concept and constraints. I think Davis and Holiday are the key pieces, with Holiday obviously the lesser, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere unless it is for moves that just are not on the table. I think this is one reason they have been so careful with Holiday and why his own lack of compliance with the protocols much earlier and the Sixers’ non-disclosure were massive disruptions to this teams’ timeline. The way they acquired him required going after a specific player not obviously on the market. Anderson and Evans were restricted free agents, receive non-standard contracts, and were initially slated for bench play, all indications that they are not part of the core. Gordon came in the Paul trade, of course, then was matched rather than letting him walk. This was all reactive, not proactive. I read no intentionality there.
  • I think Asik or someone like him is necessary to keep Davis happy, at least for now. The way Asik gets mugged should provide evidence. You can say that Davis would “get the call,” but that’s not the point. The point is avoiding the repeated contact from big guys taking a toll on him. Dreaming of a roster and salary total without such a player, and those guys cost a bit, is probably a waste of time.
  • I think “blowing it up” is getting too much talk for such a vague term. I think any trade that doesn’t move Davis or Holiday is not “blowing it up.” Others think moving any talented player or two is blowing it up as long you get better. Others think that same thing is blowing it up as long as you get worse. I just dislike the term, particularly when “it” and “blowing up” are both unclear from conversation to conversation. To me, moving players outside of Davis and Holiday is just converting assets that were acquired, in part, to convert and to play until that happened, if it ever did. Call it what you want, but some, not all, of the “blowing it up” talk is unnecessarily dramatic and an indication of a misunderstanding of what the brass thinks, or at least what I think the brass thinks.
  • I think no one on who is involved with putting this team together and running it thought the roster was in any way a title team. Say what they will as businessmen and spokesmen and motivators, there is no way a basketball mind thought this team was a very good team. They didn’t make many roster changes this summer because of their cap situation, and that cap situation is a valid critique, but the lack of real change does not indicate approval or support. Continuity was sold as a plus, while the coaching and system changed. If you want change, you got it; if you can’t continuity, you got it. They may have actually been genuinely optimistic, but, measuring surprise with wins, I think they are no more than 10 wins surprised, maybe no more than 5 given their injuries.
  • I think the Gentry hire, as noted, was done when it was not because of Monty’s work while here per se, but because Monty was certainly not the coach of the future. Bringing someone else in with more experience with more developed talent to ride through the ownership turmoil (which Sean Payton has used with great skill, and Drew Brees will, too) while leaving time for another change before the ticking Davis clock starts gonging. His history with uptempo offense and a promise to feature Davis, good idea or bad, likely helped him get selected among the other actual candidates.
  • I think the seduction of the draft holds no real appeal for Dell. Dell has not used first rounders to draft players since he drafted Davis and Rivers. Draft picks allow you to add talent while over the cap, and I think this is the main appeal now. The idea of getting “young players” is often assumed that these players are good, fast, and hearty. This is often not true. Older player hold up better over the long haul of the season in terms of conditioning. Not 40 year-olds, but with some years of service; be reasonable. This team has a timeline set by Davis’ progression, as I noted years ago in my piece about the Sword of Damocles. They were better off adding more immediate talent (though injuries derailed this to an extent) and getting their younger player after the fact, like Cole. You can pick on the choices, but the overall strategy and tactics are sound.
  • I think Evans needs to come off the bench, not be part of the final lineups as a general rule, and needs to run the second unit. While he’s running the second unit, Davis needs to be more in the role he was in under Monty, which includes being a “follower” in multiple senses but especially in the “to the basket” sense. This was the intent when he came in, and it played out on the court, so the results back up this particular claim. Making roster moves is hard, because you have to deal with a personality and how that personality affects everyone else and that player’s output, but Holiday and Pondexter both back and unhindered provides a good moment “politically” to get the change done. Gentry said look for a lineup to get more shooting, put Gee in for Cunningham, then benched Evans for . . . shooting. Really? It’s just a line to soften the blow for the eventual change, I think.
  • I think this team needs to go all in to bring in a “second banana.” This player should be a dynamic wing. He needs to be able to defend and a couple of the “little things,” but he needs to be offensively minded and skilled. He needs to have an aggressive mentality (in the scoring sense). If that is not attainable, because I don’t see a clearly available long-term option (though Joe Johnson might be a way to test that theory and free up cap room next season), might be Jonas Valanciunas. I’m not sure what the price is or if he is attainable, but he’d give the team a “better Memphis” kind of core to go forward with and they can plug in variously skilled wings situationally. The wing is the better solution, but you can’t go into a negotiation with no fall-back position.
  • I think Davis has leadership issues. He’s young, talented, and has seen a number of changes each year he’s been on the team. Until he hardens in that regard, I think we’ll keep having leadership issues. These include him coasting and not letting others coast, to use the parlance of our times. The new contract will help that (this matters), as will turning over the roster, but in the end he just has to be ready for it. He is not.
  • I think the defense is improving, and the better personnel getting more minutes have helped that, as has Asik return to his game (flawed as it may be offensively). Pondexter may help that even more should he return in working order. The offense, relative to it’s paper-potential, is a disaster. The root cause is, as I have said elsewhere, likely a lack of fundamentals, and the easiest fix is to keep the players with the poorest fundamentals out of critical situations without good reason regardless of their talent level. Here, I mean Evans. Gordon might be next on the list, but he has respect from outside to such a degree that he can positively influence plays without actually moving or touching the ball; this is not true of Evans.
  • I think any move to help this team, whether or not it helps the team in the present, will be made to help the team in the future, even just in terms of cap space. The current woes will not force moves. This is a not a “volume of talent” issue in New Orleans at the moment. They may not have a title-contending team, but this level of play comes from something that is not a lack of talent.
  • The team is not tanking, and the team likely will not tank until it is clear they can do so effectively and have no chance at the playoffs. None. You do not intentionally take steps back with Davis for the team to rely on metaphorical dice. You control your risk by targeting players in the market, not on a the gambling table.
  • I think communication from the team is a tool meant to persuade, not to inform. Said another way, the organization weaponizes their communication. For every statement that is made, I ask “Why tell me this?” Sometimes it’s just a statement, and it must be so in order for the persuasion to blend in. A healthy skepticism serves any follower of the team (or the Saints) well. Care must be taken when considering their comments, particularly when they have incentive to say what they are saying. When Gentry has been ranting lately, I believe that way more than this optimism from the offseason. This is key in gauging their true intentions and expectations.
  • I think the ownership situation is a big deal that, while discussed, is not often implicated in the “success” of either franchise this season. Make no mistake about it: It matters, and it matters to a great degree.

I’m sure there is more, and I’m sure I’m wrong about some things there, but this is what I’ve built in my head over time to try to make sense of this team. I am unhappy with the results, but I think not really thinking that they believe they have, or had, a title-contending team makes the situation a little more tolerable.

Analysts have at least two jobs. One is to give their own thoughts. The other is to understand the organization, team, franchise, etc. These often seem confused by writers and readers alike. Some of what I have written here is what I think while other stuff is what I think about what the brass thinks. Those are not the same thing. This confusion in general can make these discussions quite difficult. It’s all what I think, but my “ideal state of affairs” is immaterial, and I’m not addressing that. Everything here is constrained by what I think is in play for this team given my understanding of their beliefs and expectations. My information always lags theirs, which is how I know I am wrong about a few things but how I do not know what they are specifically. I’m fine with that.

Some are going to read this as a defense because it is not filled with vitriol or sarcasm or whatever else passes for analysis these days. This is not a defense. This is me positing explanations, offering suggestions, and making observations. Something has to change, and it’s on Dell, Gentry, and Davis to clean this mess up, blame aside.

Injuries happen, but even considering them, make no mistake about it: The Pelicans’ season so far is UNACCEPTABLE. I say this as a an analyst, a season ticket holder (both franchises), a proud citizen of the great state of Louisiana, and a proud defender of the idea and most of the reality of New Orleans.

Let the good times roll, then dunk that shit.


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