What Is This Process?

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Published: October 29, 2016

I decided to talk to Jason about the team building the Pelicans have done in the AD era. This was started just before the season and went through today, which makes the academic rambling perhaps a little more interesting.

Nick: Jason, a new season is upon us, and excitement is in the air. Let’s put the brakes on that and do some academic navel gazing about rebuilding and building a team. Last off-season, the Pelicans did a mini rebuild, in my opinion. In other words, I see this as Team II in the AD era.

AD Team I was, primarily, coached by Monty and led by AD with Jrue, Ryno, Tryeke and Gordon filling out the ‘core’. Now, three of those key pieces are gone, including the coach. I always expected those pieces to be gone for something else, but I think we all hoped those pieces would be replaced with clear upgrades. That is not what happened. So, instead of AD Team II being the upgrade of Team I, it is really a new concept. Follow?

Here’s the thing. AD’s contract won’t last forever. We’ve talked timelines in the past. The clock is ticking. Here’s my question: first, is this how you see and understand things? If so, how many more mini-rebuilds can we realistically do under AD?

42: If I understand you right, I agree. Last season, as discussed, was the Team I roster, basically, with the Team II coach . . . plus disaster. Now, we get to more properly judge what Dell and Gentry are cooking up, even if there are some . . . lingering issues.

The timeline was something I was on from the start, and I likened the Pelicans situation to the Sword of Damocles. For those that don’t want to read the article, the gist is: With power comes peril. I think you are right to count the rebuilds, and I think this is basically the last fair chance the Pelicans have, modulo some changes “down the roster.” They have to be able to cash in and get the other proverbial banana in here or hope for some CBA magic, and the former seems more likely at this point, however unlikely. There is time for another rebuild, but it’ll be a deck-clearing kind of desperation that will likely be hindered by ownership.

Have I mentioned the ownership turmoil that has been dismissed by many as a factor that, somehow, lingers on? Have I?

That’s a story for another day. For today, what do you think about Team II? Relative to Team I? Do you see meaningful strategic changes?

Nick: Team II, relative to Team I, is the same but different. Specifically, I think Dell is generally targeting the players the same way. He’s always been a fan of looking for marginal value from marginal players. In the past, it was guys like Ish Smith, Belli, Gustavo Ayon, etc. I think Lance, Jones and maybe even Moore can fall into that category. We’re also still on the young-ish veteran train from what I can tell. So the methodology of team building, for better or worse, is the same.

What is different is the type of players being targeted. Team I was more conventional in its construction. They had Davis as a do-it-all 4. So the basic roster construction was traditional bigs and Davis surrounded by solid shooting with a few attackers. Team II so far seems to be a more modern model. There are a lot of guys that can play and, more importantly, guard multiple positions. Most of the new additions are these athletic defenders that can switch to cover most anyone on the pick and roll. That’s their “type”.

In fact, that’s the oddest thing about last off-season to me. Team II coach, Alvin Gentry, was supposed to bring in a run and gun style of offensive basketball, right? I think the thought was to specialize in offense, because Davis would be able to keep the defense respectable. But now we have Team II coach coaching Team II guys, but they don’t seem to be guys we thought they were looking for in terms of skill set. Many of these guys are primarily defensive players, while Gentry, according to most, is an offensive coach.

Tell me, am I right about this dissonance between Gentry’s system and the Pelicans’ new additions? If so, have the Pelicans set themselves up for failure with Team II, or is Team II more a transition to something bigger and better?

42: I agree with you on Dell’s pattern of routinely exploiting market inefficiencies. I also agree with the young vet plan and the change of type.

Where I disagree is not with the idea that Gentry would bring in offensive guys, but with the idea that he would bring in only offensive guys. I think part of what the team is doing is emphasizing versatility. At least, I am emphasizing that I think that is what they are emphasizing.

Versatility can be an empty or mushy term, so let me try to solidify the content. I think these players are, for the most part, around NBA-average-ish on offense or defense, and good at one, more often defense. On offense, they have more than one skill worth mentioning, and on defense they can guard more than one position.

With those guys playing with some offensive guys, the offense can be tailored by Gentry in finer detail. Loading up more on defense, now that they have an off-season where they can meaningfully change the roster, makes more sense than loading up on offense in the short term. The team was far worse on defense, so in terms of return on investment as measured in wins, fixing the defense may the place to put your improvement.

Moreover, Erman may be an untapped resource. If he’s what he’s cracked up to be, see prior comments and add hot sauce.

Does this hold water? Am I giving them “too much credit?”

Nick: I think it does hold water, and I generally agree. Though, I think you’re cleaning it up a bit. Here’s what I mean.

I interpret “versatility”, your mushy term, as also being a response to the injury issues of the last few seasons. So let’s focus on the last part of your definition: being able to guard and, presumably, play multiple positions. Bringing in those types of guys should, in theory, lessen the effect of an injury, right? E’Twaun Moore, for example, can play either guard position. So when we have a PG or SG go down, Moore can fill in that role. He’s never out of position. I think they are baking in certain guys missing 15 – 20 games. (Ahem, and they probably deserve some praise for building a contingency plan, by the way).

I also have a less charitable interpretation of their skill sets. I think the Pelicans suffered through years of having a supporting cast and bench around Davis filled with one dimensional players. That is, guys that are above average on one side of the ball, most often offense, and awful on the other side. Anderson and Gordon both fall perfectly into this role. This makes substitutions difficult. There was no way the last few seasons to field a team that was competent on defense and offense. Too many players came with overwhelming deficiencies. If given a truth potion, I think Dell would readily admit that most of the guys he got this off season are as you described, average on one side of the ball and slightly above on the other. But I think this was his intent.

I think the idea is to use your other four players to lock into an average performance. Then, add Davis to destroy worlds, perhaps some Erman magic to raise the level of the defense, and you’ve got an above average team. Factoring in injuries to Davis and other key guys, and I think Dell is shooting for this team to land somewhere between 38-44 wins. Not stellar, but it’s an incremental improvement. It stops the trend of running it back, and it gives you some ground to stand on.

This circles me back to my original concern, do the Pelicans still have time to try and build something around Davis, or has the dye been cast?

42: I think with versatility comes that low-level insurance policy, which is a nice bonus. I also think your idea of how they see the team playing, which we have seen, despite protests to the contrary, to be approximately true with Evans, Holiday, and Pondexter sitting. Hill has come under a some justifiable fire, but Hill is one such guy, as you pointed out.” You pointed out that he is one of those versatile guys as we defined above. Clearly, Davis has been playing as you suggested.

I think, however, you are not taking this far enough. As I said yesterday, I think not only is this the plan for how the team should play – though, clearly with Holiday back Davis should trade some usage for efficiency . . . which is scary . . . and the second unit will improve because of who is no longer on the first unit . . . which is pleasant – but that the plan to get better is nearly identical with the plan to win games.

For the most part, the dye is cast, and the type of game and play we are going to get is going to be stamped out just as we’ve said, which is a less dramatic version of what we’ve seen. Their only real shot to hit that next gear is not through incremental improvement or some coaching paradigm shift. They need someone to walk through that door. In a world where stars attract stars, they need to increase Davis’ heat, brightness, and gravity. That’s it. Period. Without exception.

They likely will be unable to draft real help. It’s possible, but there’s not enough probability to plan around that. The idea of collecting assets to get someone via trade never materialized, and the current contracts and players don’t seem to be scintillating assets, even packaged with a pick, at least when you are looking for a second banana.

That leaves free agency, or related forced trades, etc. They simply need a player to say, “I want to be in New Orleans.” The best way to make them say that is to make Davis absolutely incandescent. Even at the expense of wins, this has to be the case. Forcing conversation about Davis needing help puts pressure on ownership in a way they can’t really complain about, while the actual individual success attracts talent and fans. They have enough exportable assets to make room for a free agent should the time come.

If it doesn’t work, I don’t see a way to keep Davis, but it’ll be a fun ride.

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