A year after advancing to the second round of the postseason, the Pelicans backslid into the lottery on the heels of a tumultuous 2018-19 campaign that saw the departure of franchise player Anthony Davis, as well as a housecleaning ordered by ownership. The result: a lightning-quick rebuild engineered by David Griffin, the new executive vice president of basketball operations who also spearheaded the team’s selection of former Duke star Zion Williamson at No. 1 overall.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: New Orleans Pelicans
The best player in franchise history, Davis, told New Orleans in late January he wouldn’t sign a contract extension and requested a trade. That action set off an awkward state of limbo between Davis and the Pelicans, as the team worked to preserve its best trade asset by managing minutes (eventually all but benching him), while fielding calls from potential suitors. The Pelicans also worked behind the scenes to find ways to keep Davis in New Orleans. The organization eventually fired general manager Dell Demps in February before bringing in Griffin in April to manage the crisis. The Pelicans invested heavily to upgrade their facilities in the next month, in addition to hiring away renowned trainer Aaron Nelson from the Phoenix Suns while also bringing aboard new GM Trajan Langdon and drafting Williamson No. 1. … None of the moves deterred Davis’ desire to leave. So in June, Griffin traded Davis to Los Angeles in a single transaction that allowed the Pelicans to retool nearly half the roster. … As part of the trade, New Orleans received Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart. The Pelicans also landed a collection of first-round picks and first-round pick swaps that give the club the ability to continually surround Williamson with plenty of talent. … Griffin also beefed up the rotation with the acquisition of sharpshooting J.J. Redick and reliable vet Derrick Favors to increase this young team’s ability in 2019-20 to hit the ground running with Jrue Holiday leading the way.
1. Hunger rules the day. New Orleans essentially goes into the season with what was once the Lakers’ young core, and that core will be hungry to prove it’s not damaged goods. Couple that with arguably one of the game’s most underrated players in Holiday leading the way, and you can expect to see a team motivated to make us forget about Davis.
2. Rich in top-end talent. Indicative of how solid this team’s top-end talent looks on paper, either Ingram, Redick or Ball could very well start this season coming off the bench. Already this roster appears to be deeper now than it was during any of Davis’ seven seasons in New Orleans.
3. Win now ... and build for future? Griffin proved that those ideas aren't mutually exclusive in how he’s built New Orleans’ roster with young, yet experienced players to go with dependable vets (Redick and Favors) and promising Draft picks (Williamson, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker). Griffin and coach Alvin Gentry both expect the Pelicans to play fast this season, and the architecture of the roster shows that.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Overshadowed by Davis his entire tenure in New Orleans, Holiday now holds the keys to the kingdom. Griffin said the current incarnation of the Pelicans was built to maximize all of Holiday’s gifts, but it also takes some pressure off rookie Williamson. New Orleans’ success depends heavily on the jump in production the organization expects from Holiday.
Lonzo Ball | 9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.4 apg
Shooting still needs work, but court vision has improved. Playmaking will improve with larger role.
Jrue Holiday | 21.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 7.7 apg
Averaged career-highs in points, steals (1.6), blocks (0.8) and rebounds while making a career-high in free throws (208).
Brandon Ingram | 18.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.0 apg
Length (6-foot-9 with 7-foot-3 wingspan) helps in isolation situations with him coming off career highs in points and field goal percentage (49.7).
Zion Williamson | 22.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.8 bpg (Duke)
Potential franchise player expected to miss first few weeks of season because of right knee soreness.
Derrick Favors | 11.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Relentless effort makes him an elite rim protector and rebounder on both ends of floor.
J.J. Redick | 18.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.7 apg
Coming off the best scoring production of his career with an effective field goal percentage of 55.7.
Josh Hart | 7.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.4 apg
Ranked fifth with Lakers in 3-pointers made per 36 minutes (1.9) last season, but needs to get percentage up to level of rookie season (39.6).
E’Twaun Moore | 11.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.9 apg
A dependable vet, Moore knocked down 43.2 percent from distance last season.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Griffin deserves credit for constructing a roster built for the future that is plenty capable of winning now. The immediate concern is whether the re-tooled group develops the cohesion necessary quickly enough to make a legit run in a loaded conference. New Orleans has the pieces and leadership to play into May.
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