Chaos A.D.: The First Dominoes

Published: February 16, 2019

For years, the keystone in the current era of the New Orleans Pelicans has been Anthony Davis. My mantra for years has been that Davis is the measure of all things the franchise does. Once that organizing principle was practically removed, you could see the chaotic swirling begin immediately.

Since then, just in terms of personnel changes, we’ve seen:

  • Wesley Johnson traded for Markieff Morris and a second prior to Morris being waived and signing with the Thunder
  • Nikola Mirotic traded for 4 seconds, Jason Smith, and Stanley Johnson
  • Dell Demps and the Pelicans mutually parting ways, with Danny Ferry stepping in as Interim GM

There are many ways to view the moves, but in light of the departure of Demps at this particular time, I think we start to get the picture that this organization is simply wiping away the prior era as soon and as completely as possible. There are obvious constraints: You can’t reasonably flip a whole team, you need a team that can play for the rest of the season, and you really have to play the Jrue Holiday situation with care. Still, within those constraints, they can make progress toward their goal.

Mirotic was clearly the most valuable piece they could part with, so they flipped him. Johnson’s value was in his ability to help Washington get under the tax line and just being able to play (meaning Ajinca netted some playing time and a second rather than costing them something to send out at the prior deadline). Many down-roster players are expiring or could be released with no pain, clearing some space next season on the books and on the roster. Assuming Davis is traded this offseason, that leaves Hill, Moore, and Holiday. Moore can be moved or kept, Hill will likely move out with Davis (though I’m fine with riding out his contract depending on the Davis trade); a Holiday decision requires much more care. The Holiday decision should be left for the next regime to decide with Jrue.

The combination of moves sends a message that the Pelicans are looking for someone to come in and have at it. The Pelicans likely could have ended up keeping Mirotic this offseason, but liquidating him now technically leaves open the chance to bring him back (as McNamara has pointed out) while not placing pressure on an incoming hire to “protect” their “assets,” especially high cost ones. They are making it clear that the incoming regime could have the Davis trade in front of them to help kick their era off if they feel it would be a positive, or leave it to Ferry if they view having hands on that move as a negative. They are also potentially setting things up for a total-control hire. If Dell were in place then dismissed by the new President of Basketball Operations, the POBO taking the job himself would be very awkward for ownership . . . was that part of the negotiation . . . how to handle salary . . . etc. This move opens up the door for such a hire, for better or worse.

Look at the red carpet they are laying out for that new hire: a choice in how deeply to wade into the Drama, Jrue, roster spots, potential cap room, trade and draft assets, and whatever the Davis return is, on top of what they are promising organizationally. We just better hope the Loomis situation is clear as crystal at the right time.

With All-Star Weekend upon us, the Pelicans could perhaps make do some work quickly on this front to help get a new face in and start to direct their own story more completely. The sooner they move on from the characters in the prior era, the sooner they can distance themselves from the plot of that Drama and subordinate Davis to the story of rebuilding, as being a mere asset that they control.

Times like these come with great peril, but brands can be built and created, too. What will the Pelicans do at this tragicomic fork in the road?

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