42 Sense: Season Behind

In advance of the New Orleans Pelicans kicking off the 2017-2018 Season against the Memphis Grizzlies on October 18th, I’m going to share some thoughts on several areas of interest. To start with, we need to look at how we got here.


The Pelicans sit among the smallest markets in the NBA by every measure, and the smallest market by some. They also share the market with the NFL’s Saints. After losing a team to Utah when local support was strong, the NBA returned to New Orleans, but poor ownership, natural disasters, and some bad luck brought attention to franchise that other small market teams, such as the Grizzlies (rightly) do not face.

When Tom Benson went against the advice of his advisers to buy the man-made disaster of a business that the franchise was at the time, feelings were mixed. My take was that he was “safe.” Benson committed to investment, not just purchase, building up the business so it could stand on its own two feet. This included doing things like ending massive giveaways just to have people in the building. It worked, and season ticket holders have responded if loudmouths on social media have not. Despite patently untrue accusations of being cheap, Benson invested and has done so continuously, even adding to his contributions above what was additionally pledged at times. He’s also signed off on large contracts for the team while trading away cheap contracts and draft picks. You can say the organization has been unwise if you wish, and you can say they don’t spend like a top tax team, but cheap simply does not apply. If you think it does, you are simply missing the facts or grinding an ax.

Despite all the success on the business side of the house, the franchise remains a punching bag of NBA commentary, in part just because of their small market status (and they are going to pick on one just keep talking about larger markets . . . pure laziness). In part, however, it’s because they are allowed to be both ignorant and unopposed in their claims.

Meet the opposition. I’m not pro-Pelicans. I’m pro-New-Orleans. When the Pelicans have issues, I point them out, and I do it better than anyone. Period. None of you reading this have gotten the nastygrams I’ve gotten from my criticism, so you can just leave your claims of homerism at the door. I’ve also had my finger on the pulse of this franchise for longer than anyone here locally. TV, name, ownership struggles, on-court and off-court strategies. You’ve seen people saying how the seat is sooo hot for Dell and it resulted in nothing. They’re just guessing or seeking attention. I told you I wasn’t worried, and I wasn’t. Now, everyone was surprised by Monty’s firing and other things, but long-run accuracy matters, not just volume of information. I plan on continuing to criticize the team, media, and anything that provides a dangerously inaccurate position as it relates to New Orleans. You can believe that.

This is because it is the punching bag status of the franchise, deserved or not, does make the lack of success here more glaring, particularly with Davis and even more now with Cousins.


Continuing with the team, another source of criticism is that they have had Davis for a while now, made the playoffs just once, and trade their draft picks. This goes against the conventional wisdom in the NBA because most teams don’t have a generational talent. Basketball geeks, stats nerds, and social media sycophants conspire together to complain, and the Pelicans’ on-court results simply do not put up any resistance. I think their criticisms are based on incomplete analysis, however.

The Pelicans made little real progress with Anderson, Evans, Gordon and others brought in to help. Only Davis has been a consistent player in New Orleans. Holiday has had availability issues, Cousins is too new to have a real track record to comment on (despite people trying desperately to do so). The Monty era is different from the Gentry one, and the Gentry era has had its hiccoughs.

One of the main issues, besides Dell’s plans simply not panning out, in the Gentry era is that people absolutely expect something from Gentry that he’s not trying to deliver. The media clips are all generic, but in the end, the on-court choices simply do not reflect the seven seconds or less style from Gentry’s time as an assistant in Phoenix. The underlying principle of “generate a decent attempt, take it, go” is there. The implementation of that is not the same as it was in Phoenix, so people flip out. Whatever.

Once Cousins was added, people were still trying to cram this team and roster into the old Phoenix mold. Writers and fans just echo what they think smart basketball people say and lay criticisms out thoughtlessly. It’s annoying, and I can only imagine what it’s like for coaches to live inside a Dunning-Kruger bubble every day.


The Pelicans have absolutely had a run of bad luck. Now, and I don’t want this to get lost: “Chance favors only the prepared mind” (Pasteur). The Pelicans were not prepared for some of this, which is partially on them. Some of the bad luck might have been of their own devising as they knowingly took changes on players with injury history. Some of it was just freaky.

The Pelicans have been raked over the coals about the medical issues, and here’s what I’m going to say: You simply have no idea what you’re talking about. This isn’t about who has what degree and who doesn’t. It’s not about who actually is a doctor and who isn’t. What it’s about is that medical issues hinge strongly on fine, private details, chance, and protocols. Consider a labrum tear. They are not all equal, as the orientation, length, position, all matter in terms of how to recover, if the joint is usable without surgery, and more. The phrase “labrum tear” is simply not enough. Neither is “superior labrum tear” or “inferior labrum team.” Trying to speculate about specifics when you don’t have any is beyond a waste of time. Now, one can start to add in specifics to develop a range of outcomes if you clearly indicate your assumptions, but at that point you have no idea if your conclusions are relevant.

Diagnosis is incredibly hard. Protocols must be followed, and they are driven by various things none of which are the specific, unknown true ailment. Treatments have certain chances of working no matter the care taken of the patient or their adherence to protocols. Complicate this with HIPAA and Union rules, pride, and love of the game, and you get a swampy mess no one should wade into or want to wade into.

My advice to the team is to continually improve in ways to improve the most important ability of your players: availability. Ounce of prevention, pound of cure. Now, they do this. I just wanted to say that I certainly advise that. I also think that the following should be undertaken: Distinguish between preliminary and more robust diagnoses. Give a timetable for updates, not for recovery. Refer to standard, generic recovery times, but don’t commit to those… you can’t… it’s a losing battle. Don’t even appear to commit to a medical position. Just commit to communication. Make it clear, succinct, and as informative as can be while respecting privacy and not setting up expectations. Update about verifiable facts, such as so-and-so practiced today, so-and-so has been cleared for contact. The back and forth erodes confidence of the fans, and that confidence is fundamental.

The Pelicans enter the season facing business, media, fan, and player pressure. Some of it is deserved, some not, but this pressure arose from what got them here and it will shape their season.

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