New Orleans Pelicans: New front office, same mistakes

New Orleans Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Orleans Pelicans’ tumultuous 2020-21 season has continued into the offseason.

Countless reports of key players being unhappy, as well as the departure of Stan Van Gundy after just a year in charge, has highlighted a season in which the lofty expectations were never met.

Gayle Benson revamped the front office to avoid the catastrophic errors made under Dells Demps. However, these last few months feel very much like the old Pelicans. The uncertainty and lack of direction are not new to the New Orleans Pelicans. While we see former coach Monty Williams thrive in Phoenix, we begin to question whether the franchise is reliving the same mistakes as years past.

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This may be an overreaction due to recent affairs, but New Orleans is in a precarious spot. Josh Hart wanting a change reminds fans of Eric Gordon asking out. A poor coaching hire mimics Alvin Gentry’s, and Zion Williamson‘s family reportedly being unhappy feels a lot like the Anthony Davis debacle. Nevertheless, the issues go beyond these.

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Before the start of the season, New Orleans traded for Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams. Although the Bledsoe trade was to make salaries match with Jrue Holiday, there was a belief Bledsoe would be moved eventually. The move never happened, and New Orleans was left underwhelmed considerably throughout the year as we watch the former elite defensive point guard be relegated to a spot-up shooting role and watch his defensive intensity and mindset plummet.

Adams fared much better in the system as he and Williamson created a dynamic offensive rebounding duo, but his unnecessary extension has hamstrung the team’s cap flexibility. With Jaxson Hayes emerging throughout the season and looking like the future center as soon as next year, the extension becomes even more perplexing.

Adams’ market is not as competitive as some may think. Many franchises opt to have an elite centre (Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, etc.) or a cost-effective centre (Serge Ibaka/Ivica Zubac, Nerlens Noel, Brook Lopez). It is of note that all these teams made the playoffs this year. Of course, there is another tier that includes young, budding centres such as DeAndre Ayton, where New Orleans should head.

Even if you delve further into it, Adams’ skillset is not what New Orleans requires. Defensive rebounding and shot-blocking were the greatest areas of concern among many, both of which aren’t Adams’ strengths.

The fact of the matter is, the New Orleans Pelicans jumped the gun similar to the time Demps rushed the then Hornets, bringing in veterans in a win-now mindset. Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon’s lofty contracts and insufficient production prevented the franchise from properly building a team around Davis. Instead of letting Williamson grow with the young, exciting core, New Orleans brought in veterans who struggled to adjust to their roles (Eric Bledsoe) and took away valuable developmental minutes in the process.

As well, Van Gundy’s old school mindset did not help the cause. Bledsoe and Ball would strive to be split apart and playing with a traditional two-guard. The options were endless, with Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker being worthy options, yet Van Gundy was stubborn and refused to change anything.

Moving forward, to amend the mistakes of this season, the road map is simple. Bring in a young coach who is relatable to the players of today. Teresa Weatherspoon or Fred Vinson are great options with excellent relationships with the current players. Next, try to move on from Bledsoe and Adams and bring in some blue-chippers who fit the pace-and-space style the New Orleans Pelicans should run. Shooting should be the emphasis, and with a bounty of picks, off-loading Bledsoe’s and/or Adams’ contract is easy.

The offseason coming up will shape the future of the franchise. The front office failed to create a sound infrastructure around Williamson last season but have a chance to do so now. Only time will tell.

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