After getting swept by the Warriors in the first round of the 2015 playoffs and being eliminated from playoff contention in 2016, it was clear that Anthony Davis was becoming frustrated with his situation in New Orleans. Little did anyone know that Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were soon to be teammates.
In the 2016-2017 regular season, Davis averaged 26 PPG, 10.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists all while shooting an efficient 54.7% from the field. Unfortunately, his numbers didn’t translate into wins as the Pelicans finished with a record of 34-48 and ultimately 10th place in the West. But with the likes of Austin Rivers, Omer Ashik, Jimmer Fredette, in addition to a seemingly never-ending revolving door of below average talent, there’s no surprise that the Pelicans underachieved. There was little expectation for them to even make the playoffs given their current roster, and Davis did his best to drag his team to an 8th place playoff seed. It didn’t take a genius to see that the roster needed revamping. But with no major free agents dying to come to New Orleans, or even the slightest whispers of potential trade rumors, it looked like the Pelicans would be watching the playoffs from their respective couches at the end of the regular season once again.
To his credit, Davis has always handled his discontent with the lack of roster talent like a consummate professional. During his short tenure at Kentucky, it was obvious that Davis not only possessed a superstar skill-set, but also a high level of emotional intelligence and maturity. While the former is important, the latter is what coaches and GMs look for when searching for a new face of their franchise and Davis has been nothing short of spectacular in both regards. He’s never been one to complain to the media about “needing more help”, or pointing the finger at his teammates’ lack of production.
Let’s fast forward to February of this current season when the Pelicans seemed to be stuck in the same vortex of mediocrity that’s plagued the team for the last 5 seasons. Davis was putting up jaw-dropping 50 points 15 rebound efforts in addition to being the team’s defensive anchor also leading the team in blocks. Despite his individual dominance, the Pelicans were still sitting in 11th place 2.5 games behind a lackluster Nuggets squad for an 8th seed in the playoffs.
Shortly after All-Star break, the Pelicans managed to escape the pit of misery and negotiated a blockbuster deal that landed All-Star Center Demarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi from the Sacramento Kings for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a first and second round pick in 2017. The trade was a win for both parties involved. Sacramento was looking to implement a culture change and there was obvious strife between Cousins and the King’s front office. Demarcus’s hot-tempered nature, combined with an organization that had no intentions of rebuilding around him, made the trade essentially a no-brainer on Sacramento’s end. In addition, Cousins is known for his unique talent to rack up technical fouls and throwing postgame locker room temper tantrums which is a gold mine for the media.
All in all, it was time for Cousins to have a new beginning. And what other destination would be better than playing alongside his former UK teammate, Anthony Davis, in New Orleans? Unfortunately, the results of the dynamic frontcourt duo haven’t panned out exactly how the Pelicans were hoping, and nobody can exactly pinpoint why.
So what’s the issue? You’d imagine that having two of the most versatile big men in the league would equate to more Ws in the win column, but that hasn’t been the case whatsoever considering that the Pelicans are currently sitting in 7th place at 27-23 with Denver in arms reach one game behind. At first, I gave them a pass because history has shown that there’s definitely an adjustment period after most major free agent signings. Brow and Boogie are high volume shooters and can play point forward when needed. This takes shots away from other guards such as Jrue Holiday and E’twan Moore and affects overall team chemistry as far as shot distribution is concerned. Regardless, with both players both averaging around 26 PPG and 12 rebounds, there should be no reason why they’re struggling to this degree.
In my opinion, the main problem with the Pelicans is consistency and discipline. Similar to the Wizards, the Pelicans seem to play down to the level of their competition and take their foot off the gas when they have massive halftime leads. Everyone familiar with the NBA understands that the sport is a game of runs and a 20 point lead can vanish into thin air if you aren’t locked in and focused. Apparently, the Pelicans haven’t gotten the memo.
-Pelicans blew a 19 point lead at home to the Hawks after upsetting Boston the night before. Final score 94-93
-Pelicans blew 18 point halftime lead at Denver and allowed them to force OT. New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times that led to 32 points for Denver
-They also have an abysmal record against lackluster teams with losses to Portland, Orlando, Dallas, and Minnesota (twice).
I understand that players have the ultimate control over the outcome of the game, but I think a majority of the Pelicans struggles fall on the shoulders of head coach Alvin Gentry. Gentry has admitted that the team has “given up” multiple times during the season and frankly, he doesn’t seem to have an answer for his team’s overall lack of interest when they have big leads. Recruiting top talent and the correct complimentary pieces for a roster is by far the most difficult part of a coaching job, and I believe Gentry has all the tools he needs to contend in the West. However, discipline and effort is a reflection of coaching and leadership and that’s where the Pelicans appear to be lacking.
All eyes should be on Alvin Gentry as the Pelicans start their next slate of games after the All-Star Break. If Gentry can’t get his team in line, he might be next to be banished to the pit of misery. And if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that you’ll be able to hear the roaring echoes of “Dilly Dilly!” from New Orleans fans everywhere.