Fine with the Struggles

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Published: November 4, 2019

The New Orleans Pelicans are struggling mightily, and I feel fine. This is not ideal; in fact, far from it. I’m not claiming “moral victory” or pointing to close losses or margins or any of that. I’m just fine with this. Let me tell you why, and maybe you will feel better or, better yet, make me feel worse.

Responding Correctly

Regardless of the causes for the struggles, the response to them has been encouraging. Gentry is facing the media with candor, which helps. His talking points are exactly what they should be. More specifically, they are exactly what I would say based on what I thought the keys to the season were going into it. We are spared stale aphorisms and copy filler. I have no reason to think that this is not a reflection of the actual ongoing team work. I would feel much worse if the franchise was just circling the wagons on “fine,” stiff-arming real criticism by putting out their own canned self-deprecation with no significance. They know it’s not fine, and that’s part of what makes me fine with it.

Aside from the literal responses (that is, literally words), the actions are correct. The handling of Moore stands out clearly. Moore has played in just one game, the opener, and played just 12 minutes. Even with other vets limited, Zion down, and an acceptable box score against the Raptors, minutes were invested in other players. Nine players have played in all six games, and they are all averaging over 13 minutes per game. This does NOT include Holiday and Favors, who have missed time. Hayes’ three games complete the accounting, and he exceeded the 13 minute mark, too. This is not musical chairs and he got left without a seat. This is “It’s not you, it’s me,” at least until “me” has a need.

There are obvious adjustments being made, such as with Lonzo Ball. The team has tried to set things up to get to certain place and to get there in a certain way. They are showing some responsible flexibility on how to get there in the short term and are prioritizing the long term both in terms of eventual team identity and also asset management.

Somewhat Expected

Anyone who failed to look for this starting on Draft night needs to set up some time to reflect and repent. This team has chemistry issues exceeding that of normal roster turnover. Many teams are dealing with this after the remarkably seismic changes across the NBA, but the Pelicans are among the worst, especially with the departure of Davis, who was a focus of the team, and importing teammates who have their own chemistry from another system.

Now factor in the number of rookies. How about Melli, who is new to the NBA but a legitimate veteran of the international game? Rookies are often unfairly judged by their draft position, performance in exhibition games or college games, or just false expectations set up by faulty analysis. Even sticking to the real, inherent issues facing rookies, such as adjust to the style of play, lack of relative strength, and likely confidence and focus challenges, no one can seriously expect this team to be performing at or above 0.500 recently. The point is to get there eventually, then try to exceed that, of course.

Temporary Condition

None of what is happening is permanent. Jrue and Favors are dealing with allegedly minor issues. Zion’s surgery is a response to an injury, and there is no reason to think this will cause drag later this season. More discussion and details are needed to look past that with any real clarity. The rotation and style tinkering is apparent and will continue, but it, too, will moderate. Good rookies are a prize in the NBA, and we have some. There is no such thing as a free lunch, however, and this is the cost. I pointed this out when Buddy was as rookie. His minutes cost that team wins, but I was happy to pay that price then. I’m happy to pay it now, maybe moreso. Knowing my feelings on picks should underscore this claim.

None of this is sunshine. None of this is saying that this trying to sell you what you were sold all off-season (and still today). I’m saying that while game results matter, so do the factors leading to the results. All totaled, this seems to be a path with a reasonable chance of setting up a team that will win more than lose for a long time. How much, for how long, and more will have to wait.

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