Do the Pelicans Have the Guts to Shut it Down in April?

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Published: March 12, 2016

The playoff dream is dead. The dreams of landing a top pick in May’s draft lottery are still alive. The Pelicans are currently in the midst of a brutal stretch that is causing the losses to pile up, but to borrow and modify a phrase from the returning Game of Thrones (Yes, I watch!), “April is Coming!”

The Pelicans April schedule is soft, even for a team that is injury riddled and devoid of talent beyond their top three guys. In the final 7 games, the Pelicans play the only five teams in the league with a worse record than they currently have right now. They also get the struggling Chicago Bulls in the second to last game of the season, who may have already shut down Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose by then if they are eliminated from playoff contention. In summary, there are 6 winnable games in the final 7 for a team that will have no business winning games at that point.

Unless Minnesota gets hot, the best the Pelicans can probably do (or is the worst), is to finish with the 6th worst record in the league. Winning 5 or 6 of those games could push them down (up?) to 9th or 10th. Even 3 or 4 wins could mean 8th, and would almost definitely have them fall to at least 7th. As we all know, this not only likely means a worse pick, but it also decreases the odds of jumping into the top 3. Sixth worse record gives you a 21.5% chance to jump up, 7th gives you 15%, 8th gives you a 9% chance, and so on and so forth.

Just look at the difference between 6th and 8th – a few wins means you are cutting your chances of Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram in half, essentially. Yes, people can point to times when lesser odds led to prosperity, but the odds are the odds. Going into any game of chance, you want more good outcomes than less. So objectively, it makes sense for the Pelicans to pull a 2012 Warriors, and lose as many of those games as possible. But does this staff have the guts? We have already seen the head coach have to apologize for saying they were out of the playoff hunt. There is a GM who might be on the hot seat, and there also is an utter lack of guys available to take minutes from the players who could actually help you win.

Ideally, you would have a couple of young guys (who aren’t that good) that you could give big minutes to while your quality players barely played or sat out game with minor injuries. This is the way teams normally disguise the tank. “We wanted to give the young guys some minutes to see what they can do,” is a popular sentiment this time of year that the staff can sell to fans and their players. But with a third of the players on the injury report every game, and no young players on the roster (outside of their franchise superstar), the Pelicans can’t use this popular tactic.

Instead, they seemed to have shifted their focus in these final games to making Anthony Davis a dominant player at the end of games and getting Jrue Holiday back to being a 35 minute per game starter that plays like an All-Star. Luckily, for those who are rooting for losses, the Pelicans have been playing teams just good enough to sneak out wins despite fantastic performances by their two cornerstones. But that all ends in April when the schedule eases up. To lose those games, the Pelicans will have to limit the minutes of Holiday and Davis. They will have to pull back the reigns on home Ryan Anderson when the Lakers and Suns come to town. The random Norris Cole 20-point games will have to end, and hey Dante Cunningham – Can you stop hitting that wing three?!!

Gentry will need to get creative to ensure the best chance at landing a future superstar in June. How about seeing if Perkins and Asik can play together? Or, why not go back to Jrue’s old restriction and rest him in the two back-to-back games they have in April? An Orlando Johnson-Alonzo Gee starting backcourt? Yes, please! Lastly, April is tax season – Would anybody be upset if Anthony Davis¬†missed a few games to film a couple H&R Block commercials?

We could easily look back at April of 2016 as the month that changed the face of the franchise – for better or worse. Imagine winning a few games and jumping a spot or two and watching the 6th worst team get Ben Simmons. I mean, that did happen just a few years ago with Andrew Wiggins. Lose those last two meaningless games and he would have been ours. Oh, and we probably wouldn’t have made the Asik trade because we would have owed our 1st to Philly still. See how much winning a few games in April can kill your team?

This April matters, and the Pelicans need to do everything they can do to ensure a losing record in that month. They aren’t landing a significant free agent this summer, and a team with Anthony Davis isn’t likely to be in this position frequently. May’s draft lottery offers them the best opportunity to turn this gut punch of a season into something great long term. But to maximize their chances at a bright future, they have to swallow their pride and be absolutely miserable for a handful of games. Will they have the guts to do what needs to be done? Time will tell.

 

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