Are the Pelicans better in the post-Boogie era?

Published: July 5, 2018

NBA Free Agency is in full swing and one of New Orleans’s looming fears came into fruition this week as DeMarcus Cousins will walk away from the Pelicans, leaving the franchise no assets from the original deal that landed the big man in The Big Easy. Our emotions were further stirred when we learned that Cousins will join the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors.

This week has been a whirlwind. The Pelicans lost their floor general, point guard Rajon Rondo, and when it happened, it happened in a flash. Rondo accepted a $9 million offer to join the now LeBron James led Los Angeles Lakers. For a fanbase that has suffered years of strange and unfortunate circumstances, uneasy feelings have been triggered. The loss of two big names in one week has many questioning how the Pelicans can even compete as other Western Conference powers seem to stockpile talent so easily.

However, now that we have adjusted to get past the emotional headlines, maybe we can assess the current situation for the Pelicans with a clear heart. After catching a breath, things don’t look so bad.

With Boogie on board, “#DoItBig” was perfect marketing on the Pels’ behalf. Not only were the tandem of Anthony Davis and Cousins entertaining on the court, but the alpha dog culture and roster featuring recognizable names were a boost to the New Orleans franchise. However, after Boogie’s exit in January, it’s impossible to deny that the team’s best parts of the season were the stretches of games Cousins was not on the floor. For the entire season, the Pels were a top 10 team in pace, but they solidified their stay in the number one spot from February on and progressed to whipping up on the third seeded Portland Trailblazers in a first round sweep in the playoffs. In Boogie’s absence, the Pels acquired veteran center Emeka Okafor, who was reviving his career in the G-League, and perimeter oriented big man Nikola Mirotic in a trade for Omer Asik, a first round pick and assets with the Chicago Bulls. This second half run resulted in one of the best finishes in franchise history.

Fans hear rumors about the eventual departure of Davis so often that when other free agents depart it’s hard to not assume the worst about his future in the Crescent City. However, it’s important to be realistic about the current state of Cousins, a big man coming off a major injury that might not see the floor until January. For the sake of #DoItBig, there was desire to bring back Cousins, but caution was necessary.

It also has been reported by multiple sources now that despite Cousins’ claims of receiving no interest from the Pelicans, the franchise offered him a $40 million deal over two years shortly after his injury during the season. He declined. From there, interest and market value for Cousins rapidly dropped. He will join the Warriors this season for $5.3 million.

Not keeping Cousins, in the end, comes off as a power move by GM Dell Demps and the state of the franchise whether the public realizes it or not. In terms of what they felt they “had to do” to keep Davis in New Orleans, the front office has given out some bad contracts in the past in efforts to keep certain cores together. In review, Demps awarded two lucrative contracts to injured big men Asik and Alexis Ajinca.. He recently dumped the Asik contract in a deal that became Mirotic so why create another situation that may hurt your options down the road? In this situation, the team’s success without Cousins actually became leverage. The franchise’s back was not against the wall this time, and making tough calls became a luxury.

By not picking up Cousins for too much money, Demps is making a statement that the franchise is committed mostly to the group that represented the best portion of last season. Fans need not to forget these stretches of games are what turned Davis into a MVP finalist and earned Davis and Jrue Holiday NBA First Team All-Defense honors. As much as Cousins excited this fanbase, the true cultural turning point for the franchise seemed arrive in the game three 119-102 win over the Blazers at home. From that moment on, it was apparent that not only would the Pels win the series but they would also likely complete a sweep.

Before we learned that Cousins would walk, the news broke that Julius Randle was quickly signed by the Pels for $18 million over two years after being somewhat surprisingly released by the Lakers. Randle is coming off of a career season where he averaged 16 ppg and 8 rpg. Randle is also a frontcourt fit for teams that like to run, and the Lakers finished last season second in pace just behind New Orleans. Considering the fact that the Pels would like to use Mirotic off the bench, maybe we should not think of Randle as replacing Cousins in the starting line up but rather Okafor. Which, in that case, the 23-year-old forward is a tremendous upgrade.

Admittingly, the loss of Rondo could be costly, but at the price of $9 million the Pels did not feel they could reach a deal after the surprise offer from LA. If the Pels had come to terms with Rondo, more than likely they would have not been able to bring Randle on board.

For the moment, the possible starting point guard replacement appears to be Elfrid Payton after signing a one-year deal. Payton comes into this situation as a question mark. He’s had an up and down career since he was a lottery pick out of UL-Lafayette in 2014. However, if there is one thing Payton knows how to do well it is push pace and he’ll be with a team that wants to run. Rondo’s intangibles and basketball IQ will be difficult to replace, but Payton’s game has shades of Rondo in it. It’s possible that playing with Davis may elevate his career numbers.

It’s entirely possible that the young Payton comes with upside, but Rondo does leave big shoes to fill. It should also be indicated that there may be a hole to fill in regards to point guard depth considering the questions around Payton and behind him are rookies Frank Jackson and Tony Carr.

As far as the conference landscape, everyone is kind of staying put. The Warriors gain Cousins. So what? At this time, no one is getting past them so nothing changes. Cousins may return by January, and when he does, he may around play 5-10 minutes a game. He may or may not showcase himself well enough for a max contract next summer. If he does, more power to him. But in the here and now, no one was going to beat the Warriors anyway.

Most teams in the West have not made their needle tick up much. We’ve mostly seen dramatic headlines. The only team that got significantly better was the Lakers and it remains to be seen how that new setting for LeBron will play out. Portland appears to be done. Trevor Ariza left Houston. There’s also noise suggesting Jimmy Butler wants out of Minnesota. Add in the fact that Kawhi Leonard’s soap opera in San Antonio is ongoing and this whole landscape could change tomorrow, or in February at the next trade deadline.

All Pelicans fans need to know is that the group from the best part of last season is coming back minus Rondo. That’s not bad to work with. There’s still time and the Pelicans have a few options as far as exceptions and trades they can work with to possibly add more depth to positions.

Now, get down from that ledge. The future is still fine.


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