Seasoning this Season

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Published: March 14, 2015

Well, well, wellwellwell.

With 17 games to go, the New Orleans Pelicans sit in the 8th seed. It is admittedly by a margin that is garlic skin thin over the Oklahoma City Thunder who are a good team that, like the Pelicans, have been under-performing for various reason, someone of which are ongoing.

We can asterisk the situation to infinity (and beyond), but everything is asterisked. They taketh, they giveth, and we just rolleth with the punches.

The bottom line is the team is in a position that many hoped for, fewer expected, and most rightly doubted early on was even a realistic eventuality.

Round of applause for the team.

17 games to go for the Pelicans, 17 for the Thunder. The Suns have a tough hill to climb to pass both teams to get in, and the Spurs, (I hate) the Mavericks, and the Clippers could fall, but it’s a two-team race for now. It’s simple, it’s clean. It’s a race. It’s a boxing match. It’s the classic match of good v good, it’s Han v Luke, it’s Kirk v Picard, it’s Burton v Newsted, it’s Roth v Hagar. (Han, Kirk, Newsted, Hagar).

I have no idea what is going to happen, and the situation is poised for great drama and great fun.

Let’s turn the attention from what we’ll talk about incessantly for the next month (or more?), and look back at what we’ve learned.

  • Every year, including this one, the Pelicans have out-paced expectations given the circumstances surrounding the team. I’ve said this many times, and it keeps proving true. The downward-pressing variable is the circumstances, not Monty.
  • With different personnel on the court, the team’s personality and style changes. Monty has his ways and appears loss-averse / risk averse, but he can certainly do things differently when circumstances warrant, according to his judgment. As this roster and the availability of the key cogs stabilize, we may see changes some did not anticipate.
  • The team has gotten better through the season. Part of it is roster moves, but part of it is changes by the players: Gordon’s confidence and step returning, Ajinca fouling less. Assuming what happens in December mirrors what happens in March is fallacious and folly. This is a fluid team in a fluid situation. Coaching plays a role here, too.
  • In terms of talent acquisition, Dell has gone from churning through 10-day players in droves (see 2012-2013), to making good minimum contract signings, to trying to acquire legitimate NBA assets when they are made available. The 10-days more recently are more injury-related than a reflection of not being able to get players to come here.
  • Dell has a nose for available players that is a tick keener than the typical GM’s, and that is likely being modest. He may be more of a bloodhound or whatever they use on manhunts these days.
  • Dell is patient. Failure to trade a particular player at a particular time is not an indication of a lack of willingness to trade the player. Rather, it’s indicative of a plan. If you look at their moves as whole, while they are far from flawless, they are all quite clearly according to their young veteran strategy that’s been clearly articulated.
  • Dell looks for bang-for-the-buck players to fill in the roster, to acquire assets to trade. He’s still doing that, upgrading his trade assets. This creates the ability to overpay another player. We all know they need that other guy. The continual asset flipping says this roster is not the end of the plan.
  • Perimeter defense started the season as this team’s main issue. The moves made to improve this are showing positive results. Other than Quincy, none are locked in pieces. Depending on what else can be done this summer, that may be a good thing. They have some flexibility, which is good, and we can all see what this team is like when it works the the plan is even close to realized.
  • Winning Percentage by year for Pelicans: 33%, 42%, 55& (ongoing season). Winning Percentage by year for Thunder: 24%, 28%, 61%. I invite you to look at the availability of the the Thunder’s key players in that third season. The rebuild is going fine, despite trading draft picks and committing what some consider to be the kiss of death to the franchise’s potential. I have yet to see this Thunder’s title materialize either. They can claim from Seattle, but that really doesn’t serve to help the case for praising the so-called Thunder model.

We have a good team that seems much more likely to get better this season (as players come back, return to form) and next (more time in the trenches, maybe a big roster move). Regardless of whether this team makes the playoffs this season, got themselves into this position and are playing like they could stay there. Luck plays a role in winning a title and everything leading up to it, just as it played a role in the draft lottery. Set the luck aside, enjoy the real progress, and enjoy this state of affairs.

You can call this last stretch the playoffs, but that demeans it. It devalues the the last 17 games at the expense of the next step. This last 17 games is simply two teams fighting for one spot.

It’s classic. It’s rare. It’s fun.

Try to have some fun.

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