The Pels Have Not Gone Gently

Published: March 27, 2016

What’s left of the New Orleans Pelicans (26-46) lost to the Toronto Raptors (49-23) predictably. As empirical probability is inexorably overcome by mathematical certainty, the half-team from New Orleans can do little to resist. Playing literal D-League players and none of their high power, high pay, high offense guys, it’s a testament to something that they team stays competitive on a play-by-play basis as they sink far too slowly.

The 115-91 drubbing by the Raptors does not reflect the level of domination by the Canadian team. As noted in the pregame, the slow pace was a factor, and it mutes the significance of the 115 points and the 24 point differential. Alonzo Gee was the Pelicans’ leading scorer with 18 points. Though he did it on 12 shots, which is quite good, he is not known as an offensive player. After him was Babbitt at 14 points on 11 shots. While this is more of his lot in NBA life, the fact that these are the two scorers speaks more than the scores.

It’s no secret that the Pelicans are massively and critically injured, that the season has been a seemingly unmitigated disaster on just about all fronts, and the team continues to play on. Assuming that the team has simply had bad luck is naive. Assuming that they are incompetent is arrogant and factually incorrect. Luck is a factor and miscalculation, or at least prior miscalculation, certainly is a factor, but viewed through the lens of just trying to field a competitive team this season and giving players all the rope they can, as opposed to either trying to be bad or mismanaging injury for the sake of wins. Evans’ knee injuries were known and anticipated in the off-season. While he did play, it was not high level play, and he was shut down with no expectation of missing time this season. Perhaps having a different surgery before or rehabbing differently may have helped, and perhaps the team could have or should have counseled him in these regards differently, but the players have a say about their own bodies, a fact that is sometimes overlooked.

Holiday’s own recovery had setbacks in part because of his own misunderstanding of his injury and how important the level of stress over time would affect the recovery. (I really waiting for this sentence to be taken out of context). Now, all seems well, though the team still says they are monitoring his minutes. A review of his minutes shows no difference in his minutes than in another other key player. What we do not see off the court, of course, may be where monitoring takes place. Davis has been carrying injury, Pondexter’s return was derailed by a setback, Asik was playing hurt for a while before sitting out, and more.

The situation is not simple. Shutting a guy down for being nicked or having an injury that can wait to be repaired is not an option, just as risking a season of play to win a game is not an option. Just like injuries bridging seasons unnecessarily is not desirable, so is disrupting your salary plan. However good or bad it may be, that’s the plan, and franchises are not always keen to veer from it to rectify short term problems.

Ignoring the complexity at hand has driven the conversation off the rails, but these issues are touchy, and the season’s outcome compared to the expectations heightens this. Add in the pride some took at casually dismissing that injuries would affect the record, too strong a statement in support of Gentry, and the general zeal of converts as proponents of the management become opponents of them for a variety of reasons, and you get what amounts to very poor analysis . . . blaming a team for trying to win now and putting injuries in too casual a light while blaming them for not making moves to bring players in now who just happen to be available at a given moment seems a contradiction rooted in emotion. The emotion and desire for the team to get better are good things, but that doesn’t make the analysis better. And so on, and so forth. Balancing the cap, real expenditure, player health, player demands to play (minutes lead to money), fan and business expectations, ownership desires, and more is tough, and no single “rule” provides the correct guidance or verdict, depending on whether one looks forward or back.

The only real analysis is that while this sucks, it appears that next season can in fact be very different than this season.

This game, though a brutal defeat by a visiting team that simply outclassed the home team, shows just what can be done. The Raptors are not more talented than the Pelicans when healthy, though they were in this game. They have fit and philosophy and identity. They have worked and persevered and been underrated as they made their progress. The Pelicans have it in their power to make changes along those lines and be better than Toronto, a team on the verge of winning 50 games for the season and a shot at 55.

“You can observe a lot just by watching.”

The Pelicans next play in New Orleans, this time hosting the Knicks. The game is a 7 pm CT (UTC -5) and will be broadcast on Fox Sports New Orleans and on the Pelicans Radio Network, 99.5 FM locally.

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