51 Questions: Can the Pelicans make a leap forward in the crowded Western Conference?

2 Comments

51 Questions in 51 Days. PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27.

The hardest leap to make in the NBA is the one that takes you from good to great. Three years into Anthony Davis’ career, the New Orleans can definitely be classified as “good.” They won 45 games, good enough for the eighth seed in a brutal Western Conference. Even with the Thunder’s injuries creating that opening, New Orleans earned their spot. They navigated injuries to Jrue Holiday (who missed 42 games), Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson (21 games apiece) and put up a surprising fight against the Warriors in the first round, even though that series ended in a four-game sweep.

Despite earlier reports that head coach Monty Williams was working under a playoffs-or-bust ultimatum, Pelicans management decided that a postseason appearance wasn’t enough. They fired Williams after the first-round loss and replaced him with Alvin Gentry, widely seen as the chief architect of the offense in Golden State that ultimately took home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. It’s a clear upgrade — the idea of a player as talented as Davis in an offensive scheme like Gentry’s is absolutely terrifying for the rest of the league. More importantly, making a major coaching change coming off a season of upward progress sent a clear message: this is a team aiming to take the next step, solidifying themselves as not just a surefire playoff team, but a real threat.

Whether they were successful there is a different story. The Pelicans’ offseason moves were mostly insignificant compared to their West competitors — their biggest acquisition was Kendrick Perkins, who at this point can’t be counted on for more than spot minutes as a fourth or fifth big. In lieu of a roster overhaul, the Pelicans are counting on three things to elevate them to contenders: Davis’ continued otherworldliness, improved coaching under Gentry and a healthier, more consistent supporting cast. All three of those things are possible; some are surer things than others.

As long as he’s healthy, Davis is the NBA’s next generational superstar. In his third season, at age 22, he put up a 30.81 PER, the 11th all-time mark for a single season, putting him in a class with Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James. Already an offensive monster around the basket, Davis made enormous strides as a defender and further honed his midrange shot. Now, he’s making noise about wanting to shoot more threes and adding 12 pounds of muscle. If either of those things is even sort of true, there’s not much the rest of the league can do about it.

Becoming a contender is easier when you have a transcendent superstar, and the Pelicans are lucky enough to have one. But that’s not all they need, especially in a brutal Western Conference that looks to have six legitimate contenders ahead of them (the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets and Grizzlies). There’s a lot of talent on their roster, but outside of Davis, everybody has question marks stemming from either health or fit.

Holiday will still be limited in training camp, still recovering from surgery on the same leg that’s given him problems in both of his seasons in New Orleans. When healthy, he’s an underrated defender at the point guard position and a devastating pick-and-roll partner for Davis. The rest of the Pelicans’ backcourt is talented but not without its risks. Gordon was quietly very solid in the second half of last season, shooting 44.8 percent from three-point range. Tyreke Evans should also be terrific in Gentry’s offense. But both of them need the ball, and both have injury concerns.

The Pelicans’ frontcourt situation beyond Davis is similar to its backcourt: a lot of talent, but not a lot of natural fits. Anderson provides valuable spacing in the frontcourt, but his fit is odd considering New Orleans re-signed Omer Asik to a five-year, $60 million deal this summer. Anderson can’t play much small forward, and he’s a limited defender, so his ideal fit is alongside Davis at power forward — but it’s unclear how much Davis will play at center and how much he’ll play with Asik, who’s a legitimate liability on offense.

Beyond Gordon and Evans, the Pelicans have serious question marks on the wings as well. Quincy Pondexter isn’t expected to be healthy until November at the earliest, which could mean Dante Cunningham will have to play out of position at the three. If everyone is healthy, Evans can slide to small forward and play alongside Holiday and Gordon, but that’s a big if at this point.

There’s plenty of intrigue on this roster beyond Davis, who alone should make the Pelicans a playoff team in a year when two of last year’s contenders, Portland and Dallas, are expected to take major steps back. But even as good as Davis is, and as perfect a fit as Gentry’s offense is for this team’s strengths, it’s tough to see them making much noise once they get to the postseason. The West is simply too deep, and most of the teams at the top are either getting key players back from injury (Oklahoma City) or made major moves to improve (San Antonio and the Clippers). It’s going to take time for everyone to get comfortable with the new coach, and injuries have prevented the kind of natural chemistry building that most teams go through in their formative years.

But this team’s future is bright. They’ll have flexibility next summer to add talent, and Davis is only getting better. Regardless of their unlikeliness to be a true contender, he alone makes them appointment television. The rewards will come down the line. For now, it’s about growth and keeping this positive momentum going.

Report: Dell Demps bypassed Rob Pelinka for Magic Johnson in Anthony Davis trade talks

AP
1 Comment

It appears that Anthony Davis is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The trade was announced this weekend between L.A. and the New Orleans Pelicans, but won’t be completed until July 6. Earlier this season, it was thought this trade could never happen. Tensions between the two teams were high, and negotiations had broken down.

That was perhaps due in some part to the odd back-and-forth between the teams’ front offices. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, one peculiarity was that former Pelicans GM Dell Demps wouldn’t deal with Lakers GM Rob Pelinka. Demps would only discuss things with Magic Johnson.

Via ESPN:

Now, calling those discussions in February “negotiations” is a bit of a stretch. The Pelicans were never serious about dealing with the Lakers then. They didn’t like being forced into this position by Davis and his representative, Rich Paul. And they probably weren’t going to let former general manager Dell Demps make this big of a decision anyway.

So the Lakers — really just Johnson, because Demps wouldn’t talk to Pelinka — would call and Demps would write names on the board without giving them any feedback. Those names would leak publicly and do damage to the Lakers’ team chemistry. But eventually, Johnson and the Lakers got the hint and stopped banging up against what had become an incredibly self-destructive wall.

It’s possible that Demps wanted to deal with Magic simply because he thought he had ultimate authority. That, or maybe Demps thought Johnson would be easier to manipulate?

There’s also the idea that Demps could have had a poor relationship with Pelinka from when he was an agent. For example, Pelinka client Eric Gordon had a restricted free agent saga wherein he tried to leave New Orleans for the Phoenix Suns in 2012. The Pelicans matched, and the shooting guard never played more than 65 games in a season. This is conjecture of course, but it’s not as though Demps hadn’t dealt with Pelinka in the past. There’s been reports that Pelinka is unliked by some GMs around the league from his days as an agent.

I think we’re going to keep seeing information about the inner workings of the Lakers and former Pelicans front office like this over the next several months. This one is pretty odd, but it’s not entirely surprising.

Magic Johnson congratulates Lakers, Rob Pelinka, on Anthony Davis trade

Getty
4 Comments

Magic Johnson left the Los Angeles Lakers under inauspicious terms. Turn the last game of the season, the Lakers great announced that he would be resigning his position effective immediately. In an extended hallway interview, Johnson said that he hadn’t even informed close friend and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss.

Now Magic is back to his old tricks, flashing his pearly white smile on television and tweeting banal observations about the NBA.

Johnson was supposed to be part of the team that got New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis to Staples Center. He couldn’t get the deal done, and things reportedly got testy between the two organizations during the regular season.

The Lakers were able to finally trade for Davis in an agreed-upon deal on Saturday. The trade reportedly won’t be completed until July 6th, but all indications are that Davis will be a Laker.

To that end, Johnson is apparently quite happy. He took to social media to congratulate Buss and the organization on Saturday. Eventually — surprisingly — he even gave props to Rob Pelinka.

Via Twitter:

The Pelicans got a great haul for Davis, and the Lakers got what they wanted in another star to pair with LeBron James.

It’s unclear if Los Angeles will be able to build a roster around their two stars enough to contend deep into the Western Conference playoffs. That’s still up for debate, and health will be a serious question as they try to rely on an aging James and a shaky Davis.

Still, the Lakers are headed in the direction they would like and with the West now more in question than ever. We don’t know what’s happening with the Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets could be in full teardown mode as they look to ditch Chris Paul.

We’re headed into the summer and there’s a bit of daylight for fans in L.A.

Report: Celtics wouldn’t include Jayson Tatum in Anthony Davis trade talks

Getty
6 Comments

Anthony Davis is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The New Orleans Pelicans got a significant haul in exchange for their beleaguered star, and LeBron James is openly happy his team finally got the player they wanted all along.

Other favorites to land Anthony Davis this offseason were the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks. Danny Ainge had to wait until after July 1 to make a trade for Davis thanks to some special CBA rules regarding Kyrie Irving‘s contract.

But that no longer appears to be on the table, in part because Boston decided not to offer Jayson Tatum in any deal for Davis. Thought to be the crown jewel of any potential Celtics-Pelicans trade, there was also concern by Ainge that Davis would not re-sign in Beantown.

Via Twitter:

This runs contrary to everything we’ve heard about Boston going after Davis. Ainge has always been one to leverage his assets in a way that’s less conservative than other team execs. Plus, the reports have been that the Celtics were not concerned about Davis re-signing. Perhaps Davis gave them a little extra information, telling them directly that he would not re-sign? Davis’ agent Rich Paul said as much publicly, but what’s posturing and what’s negotiating isn’t one in the same.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pelicans and Lakers will complete the deal on July 6. There’s a lot of time before we hit that date, and Pelicans leader David Griffin won’t back out of his deal with L.A. But the fact there’s still time on the table and the Celtics didn’t change their tune on Tatum tells us all the information we need to know.

Rumor: LeBron James hoping Kyrie Irving might join Lakers despite Nets talk

AP
10 Comments

The Anthony Davis trade saga is finally over. The deal between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers hasn’t been completed yet, and is expected to be done on July 6.

For now, L.A. can move its attention elsewhere to look for another star. The Lakers will have significant cap space — $23.7 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks — and they’ll need another star.

Talk recently has been that former LeBron James running mate Kyrie Irving is headed to the Brooklyn Nets. But no deal is officially in place, and free agency hasn’t started. According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, there are folks in LeBron’s camp who are hopeful that Irving could still join L.A.

Via The Athletic:

Just days before the Davis deal was done, a source close to James indicated some optimism that – Nets noise be darned – Irving was still in play for the Lakers.

Remember, Irving and James had a heart-to-heart talk earlier in the season. They hashed out what happened in Cleveland, with Irving apologizing to James for how he acted as a younger man.

That sparked speculation that Irving could be looking to join LeBron with the Lakers this summer when he had the ability to opt out of his contract with the Boston Celtics.

We haven’t even reached the 2019 NBA draft yet, and already free agency is ramping up and getting crazy. This July is going to be wild, and until the music stops and the butts are in the seats, don’t count anyone as being a sure thing for any team just yet.