Pelicans Off-Season Q&A: Looking Backwards & Ahead

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Published: April 28, 2017

Earlier this week, Rafał Kamieński (a writer for Pelicans.pl, a polish website dedicated to covering the New Orleans Pelicans) asked me a few questions related to the key decisions awaiting the Pelicans this summer. He translated those answers into Polish and then posted them on his site, but you can find the English version below.

 

1. Was the Pelicans’ season a success or a failure?

Good question to start off with – I actually answered it in a “Pelicans Scoop” article on Bourbon Street Shots one or two weeks ago that you can find here. I will summarize here, though:

I break this question down into two parts – on-court performance vs. expectations and impact of this season’s events on the team’s future. Using the first part as the key metric makes the season a moderate disappointment, but once you introduce that second component, the story changes. The addition of DeMarcus Cousins was unexpected, especially given the Pelicans’ presumed lack of assets to acquire such a talented player. This move alone flips the overall assessment of this season from a disappointment to a success. On top of the move itself, the Pelicans were easily a top-10 NBA team after the trade – if you back out their first 3 games (call it a “Boogie adjustment period”) and their last 4 games (AD/Boogie didn’t play), their net rating of +5.1 was tied with the Rockets for the 5th best in the NBA during that period. It took a few games to start figuring things out, but the Pelicans were a very good team after the Cousins trade, which is what matters most heading into the summer.

2. Who was the biggest surprise and who was the biggest disappointment for the Pelicans this season?

I am going to go a little outside of the box here for the first part of this question and go with Darren Erman as the person who surprised me the most. If you exclude the final week of the season (the rotation shifted towards youth with the Pelicans eliminated from playoff contention), the Pelicans finished with the NBA’s 7th best defensive rating. If you shrink the sample size a little more to start with Jrue Holiday’s first game on November 18, that ranking climbs into a tie for 5th place. Simply put, this Pelicans team was very good defensively when it had all of its pieces, and actually got a little better on that end after the Cousins trade, despite the major change to the rotation. Erman deserves serious credit for that, especially when you consider that the team ranked 28th(!) in defensive rating last season.

On the other end of the spectrum, I am going to throw another potentially unexpected name out there – Quincy Pondexter. After playing through an injury that he probably should not have fought through to help push the Pelicans into the playoffs a couple of years ago, he has yet to take the floor in an NBA game since then. Even 75% of the 2015 version of Q-Pon would have provided some much needed help on the wing, particularly after the Cousins trade when the team so sorely lacked willing floor spacers. The best-case scenario is that his health improves enough to provide some sort of positive contribution next season, but that can hardly be expected at this point.

3. What in particular did you like about the Pelicans’ new “Fire & Ice” combo? Are Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins a good pairing?

While the combo certainly experienced some growing pains, it would be hard to argue based on their play in the month of March that the two cannot be successful together. Both players’ offensive talent is unbelievable, but what is even more important is that both are either good (Cousins) or great (Davis) defenders. Their skill sets are so unique, and their tremendous versatility allows them to pair together impressively well.

4. Did Alvin Gentry earn another year as the Pelicans’ head coach or should the team look to replace him this summer?

Of all the off-season questions facing this franchise, this one may be the most difficult. On one hand, he has not had the easiest of situations to deal with over his first two seasons as head coach – injuries demolished the Pelicans in 2015-16, and the first month of 2016-17 without Jrue put New Orleans into a hole that it would have been very difficult to escape. On the other hand, even if he does not deserve to be “fired” just yet, he would certainly be on a short leash next season; if things were to go south again and management decides to make a change mid-season, what does that do to the Pelicans’ chances to retain Cousins next summer? There are so many variables in play that you could make a reasonable argument for either side. Both sides have risk associated with them. If the front office decides to move on from Gentry and Cousins butts heads with the replacement, you risk losing him. If Gentry stays and the team continues to underachieve, he may leave anyway. It is a tough decision to make, and I have not yet decided where I stand on the issue. Ultimately, I would be okay with either option as long as there is a sound plan in place to deal with any negative repercussions.

5. Is Jrue Holiday the best point guard that the Pelicans can realistically get to play along with Davis and Cousins? At what cost should he be re-signed?

As fellow Bourbon Street Shots contributor Jake Madison outlined here, Jrue Holiday is eligible for a 5- year contract with the Pelicans that could reach as much as $176 million over the duration. Paying that much to a player with Holiday’s skill set would be unwise, to say the least – Jrue would occupy roughly 30% of the cap in 2017-18, and that number would only increase from there. Regarding the cost for which he should be re-signed, I will stick with my thought on the matter from earlier this month – either about $90 million over 4 years or $100-105 million including a 5th year player option.

Now, for the other piece – is Holiday the best point guard that the Pelicans can get to play alongside AD and Cousins? It is hard to know the answer to that question for sure. Purely through a free agent lens, it would be tough to do any better than Jrue. By expanding the realm of possibilities, however – which Michael McNamara does quite effectively here – it is not hard to see that there are ways to find a floor general who is better suited to maximize AD and Cousins’ talents than Holiday. What path will they pursue? Your guess is as good as mine, but it is safe to say that it all starts with Jrue’s price tag.

 

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