2017-Finals-Inspired Thoughts for the Pelicans

Published: June 9, 2017

The New Orleans Pelicans, like 27 other teams, are watching the 2017 NBA Finals from the comfort of their living rooms, literally or figuratively. The Finals are in many ways a repeat of the last 2 seasons. In an age where parity is almost achieved, other than the super teams, realistic expectations of titles dwindle, and emotional reactions to that vary wildly.

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: The fact that there is clear dominance, to me, is no reason not to try to win games. It might be a reason not to spend yourself to death (and not just in terms of dollars), but the team needs to prepare itself for a possible opportunity, however that might arise. This is the best overall path to follow, all things considered.

Still, there’s basketball to be played and businesses to run around that fundamental product in an environment where the clearest objective is seemingly much harder to realize than it typically is. Normally, the business’ goal of “making money” is aligned and supported by the “sports goal” of winning a title. If one really believes the Warriors’ greatness is inimitable, then teams have to focus on other valid goals.

Others have to adjust to that focus. Real fans don’t just “hold teams accountable” like some rating or regulating agency, they do that and support the team, watch the product, think about the future, try to understand how the team is operating, and more. The businessmen have employees to take care of, and not just the Union ones, sponsors to satisfy, and fans to please. They have to do something for the fan on the northshore who is a student and who attends games sporadically but discusses them often, but their focus has to be on the ones that generate revenue, however that may be.

Circling back to the Finals . . . it is easily argued that the past 3 seasons have been pointless . . . they were just opening acts before the Cavaliers-Warriors series. This perspective has influenced and will continue to influence fans, writers, and teams. There is no doubt about that. So, how should the Pelicans deal with the realities of the actual NBA landscape given the current pressures on their team? There’s been much focus on the roster . . . the draft, free agency, trades. Here are two things they can do to weather this Warriors era as a business apart from winning a title to keep interest, happiness, and revenue going.

  • At bottom, the business is entertainment. That’s what the team has the most control over. That’s why there’s so much non-basketball at basketball events. Winning is very entertaining. So are good players. So are thrilling games. So is socializing. So are musical interludes. Etc. This is often overlooked by self-styled experts, and it causes them to fail to understand what they see in front of them. The Pelicans have continually invested in their non-basketball presentation. It’s obvious, it’s paid off, and that’s the right business move. This is also not an either-or in terms of on the court product; I’m suggesting putting additional attention on the non-basketball, not shifting attention. That said, I think their entertainment is more a product of them trying to dictate what fans will like, or at least relying too much on unscientific surveys (or even scientific ones). They have yet to really find those “signature” features to capitalize on, despite their efforts. In a run of successful ideas generated by this site, their addition of Chris Trew content is the kind of thing I’m talking about. These things take years to find, of course. I just think they need to keep an eye out, not force it, and they’ll end up with an even better unique product, with a New Orleans and a Pelicans flair. That will be good for business, even in down times.
  • They need faces. The team is simply way too insular. I don’t care how much content they put out from their internal media, everything is managed (and I get why). This feeling limits the amount of buy-in people will have. They desperately need their players to be personalities. This is a huuuge plus about Cousins, at least for it. While it’s not without costs, he’s a real guy,
    and I’m willing to take the chance that people will resonate with that fact. Holiday is probably a good bet on paper, but his injury and personal situations have limited their ability to capitalize on his “good dude factor.” Jason Smith was a good example of a guy to have around for these purposes and whose level of play warranted a spot. He was extremely personable and easy to relate to. You could just see him leaving Saints games in the crowds like a normal (but tall) guy. Airline Drive protects the staff, and any attempts to show a connection fall into “wow, the food” style of comment. Jake’s snowball interview with Shawn Dawson was great, because Shawn was talking about what he liked, and I remember them discussing “sour” and a flavor he was not impressed by with care for people who were a fan of it. That’s Shawn Dawson. I’d love to see Boogie review video games or movies once every couple of weeks. Player playlists . . . what they prefer, and stuff they like from a short list of local music played at that time . . . play it during practice or a workout, get the answers then, roll it out over a few weeks. Wham-o. Real stuff, not just accurate fill-in-the-blank stuff. New Orleans buys in to people who buy in to New Orleans. It’s simple. Remember “I’m in” . . . or too soon?
  • Identity, style, and culture can all be honed without a realistic chance at a title. These are, to me, necessary ingredients for a champion that can’t be drafted or hired. They take time and commitment to develop. It requires a meshing with a core of players and staff. After a critical point, it becomes self-reinforcing. Certainly some measure of success is required,
    as is some measure of improvement. A brand of basketball can put people in the stands, get people paying attention to existing sponsors and attract new ones, and actually help you on a court. Any information you give an opponent, such as your brand, helps them plan, sure, but it’s not like they don’t have game tape. What you want is to have them reacting to you so you have the first mover advantage. You want to be able to hold to your principle longer so they have to go away from their comfort zone. The sooner that happens because you can just hold to your principles, the sooner they start making moves that might not work, and that’s when the runs start. That’s the first move. It’s a game of runs, Gerry V told us time and again. If that’s true, the importance of going on a run first is amplified. So, get in their heads early. Culture can help with player development and all that, but it also helps endure runs. You have to believe that what’s happening to you can be stopped and turned around. In an 82 game season,
    there are going to be lapses, but we’ve observed long scoring droughts and unfathomable defensive lapses on this team for years.
    Even those who think no one has noticed their reversal on Monty Williams (combined with zero acknowledgement that others maybe had the good-but-flawed coach pegged about right . . . “loss averse”) have to admit that the lapses were uncommonly serious. Cracking the culture nut is hard to do, but investing in staff is a good way. Change the more easily changeable things, add people, add talent, and keep churning. The Pelicans seem to have tried to add voices to the staff and front office, and that’s the right play.

Speaking of faces . . . I’ve been rooting for the Warriors and expecting a 5-game series. We’ll see . . . the prediction is still possible but dicey after Game 3. My sole basis for rooting for them is David West. Plain and simple. West continues to be my favorite NBA player. I respect him as a player and man. He’s left a pile of money on the table looking for ring, and I just want him to get it. This essentially ties back to the prior point about faces. Not every player needs to be out there to do things to connect with fans in an important and lasting way. His minutes in the playoffs have been good ones, and I’ll be truly happy for him if the Warriors manage to avoid a 4-game sweep in what’s left of the post-season.

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