After racing to seventh place in the Western Conference in the first month with a 10-8 win-loss record, New Orleans brought immense potential and promise for the Big City’s only pro-basketball squad.
Fair enough, the Pelicans were coming off a surprising Playoffs run in 2018 where they completely smothered the Portland Trail Blazers in four straight games before falling 4-1 to then-eventual champions the Golden State Warriors.
To say that Alvin Gentry and his young squad already fulfilled expectations early on the season proved to be an overstatement as injuries to their key players as well as — perhaps — bad scheduling amounted to a sudden breakdown.
Yet, this same Pelicans franchise knew it all along. They are bound to witness the dawn of the 2019-2020 season with 10 players entering free agency and having Jrue Holiday as the only player locked in to return from their foursome of Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, and Elfrid Payton.
Even as former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager and executive David Griffin became New Orleans’ newest head of its front office, the Pelicans’ delayed flight towards achieving excellence in the league had already landed as soon as their overachieving superstar shockingly demanded a trade in the middle of the season.
Davis inserted his name in the list of ‘face-of-the-franchise’ superstars who demanded a trade from its mother organization in the NBA, and became the second to do it last year after (well, hey) former Spurs’ star Kawhi Leonard.
After failing to meet expectations midway through the season, Davis requested to be shipped out of New Orleans hoping to move out of town before the February 7 deadline, though, that was not exactly what happened as the Pelicans were eager to position themselves in the good spot in the future as they did some notable actions, including firing former General Manager Dell Demps just at the start of the All-Star Weekend to delay the former’s departure.
The Davis-trade saga became a major talking point across the league for almost the entirety of the second half of the season where teams are already fighting for positions in the post-season; and, while he played in some of his team’s games, they weren’t as efficient and energetic as before.
Now traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, Davis will be playing alongside LeBron James next season and it is only fitting that when he comes back at New Orleans, the city where he spent his first seven years averaging 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks would surely have mixed emotions going together in welcoming him.
Fortunately for the Pelicans though, last season became a revelation of what to expect in their franchise in the upcoming years.
Players like Frank Jackson, who finished eighth in scoring among rookies after the All-Star Break, as well as former G-League standout and Kentucky product Cheick Diallo, who finished in Top 20 in rebounding, both showed glimpses of what they can provide for New Orleans.
Jackson and Diallo’s promise for the Pelicans, though, would likely see a significant decrease this season after the arrival of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart.
Paired up with their ultra-talented picks in the recently concluded NBA Draft last week, New Orleans’ future shines brighter than any other team as of the moment.
New Orleans barely tanked nor forfeited any games whatsoever as Davis’ 56 games played last season prove the point.
Yet, effortlessly, the Pelicans won the first overall pick in this year’s draft by virtue of the new lottery rules, and in the process, had the chance to pick their newest franchise cornerstone in the name of Duke’s Zion Williamson.
Not only that they revamped majorly through the draft, but Griffin was already off to a great start in his stint at New Orleans after trading for the number 4 pick (which they acquired from the Davis-Lakers deal) to get the number 8, 17, and 35 picks, drafting Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Marcos Louzada Silva, respectively.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @KristoffBellen.