Looking for a breakout team for the coming NBA season? Many experts think that club can be Anthony Davis' New Orleans Pelicans. No question it's a franchise on the rise.
Can you remember the final night of last regular season? New Orleans and Oklahoma entered that Wednesday at 44-37 and tied for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Pelicans held the tiebreaker so the Thunder had to win and have the Pelicans lose.
New Orleans had to know Oklahoma City would win as the Thunder were playing the worst team in basketball in the Minnesota Timberwolves, who entered that game on an 11-game losing streak. And the Thunder, even without Kevin Durant, took care of business easily 138-113. The Pelicans were home underdogs to streaking San Antonio Spurs team that still had the Southwest Division title and No. 2 seed in the West to play for. I honestly didn't think the Pelicans would win but they did, 108-103, behind 31 points and 13 rebounds from Davis. He delivered in the final minutes a pair of clutch jumpers, two blocks and two rebounds to prevent the Spurs from pulling off a 23-point comeback.
So that got New Orleans into the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Unfortunately it was against one of the best regular-season teams in NBA history, the Golden State Warriors. And predictably, the Warriors swept. New Orleans was competitive and really should have won Game 3 at home. But the Warriors rallied from 20 points down in the fourth quarter and won in overtime.
So even though it was a successful season, the team apparently thought it reached its ceiling under Coach Monty Williams, and he was fired despite having a close relationship with Davis. The Pelicans have made six playoff appearances since moving to New Orleans for the 2002-03 season and have fired their head coach before the end of the following season on four of those occasions.
"Going forward we just felt like we needed something different to get to the next level," Pelicans executive vice president Mickey Loomis said of dumping Williams.
Gentry In Charge
If you can't beat them, join them. So in a way the Pelicans did that by hiring away Golden State top assistant Alvin Gentry to replace Williams. Gentry, a former head coach with Miami, Detroit, the LA Clippers and Phoenix, was chosen over ex-NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. The Pelicans were a rather boring, slow-paced team under Williams, finishing 27th in pace, but they will speed it up under Gentry, who is an offensive guy.
While landing Gentry was a big move, the biggest was getting Davis to commit to the team long term. He agreed to a five-year, $145 million extension (most lucrative deal in NBA history for now), breaking the hearts of other teams around the NBA who were hoping for a shot at the league's next top superstar if he got to free agency. Davis' annual salary will rise from $7 million this upcoming season to $29 million in 2016-17. He's worth it. Davis averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebound and 2.9 blocks last year. If you want to make one complaint about the former Kentucky star it's durability. He hasn't played more than 68 games in his first three seasons. Davis is the +300 second-favorite to win MVP honors on NBA odds.
The Pelicans had major injury problems last year and they already are dealing with it again. Swingman Tyreke Evans just had knee surgery and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. Not sure why the team waited this close to have Evans do it, but it was his second on the right knee since May. If it takes six weeks, Evans would likely miss the first 14 games before returning around Nov. 23.
Fellow swingman Quincy Pondexter is out until November as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. Starting point guard Jrue Holiday remains on a minutes restriction amid his comeback from a lower leg surgery. He probably won't be able to play more than 15 minutes or so a night until January. Holiday was limited to 40 games last year. Center Omer Asik is likely to miss the first week or two of the season with a calf injury. At least injury-plagued forward Ryan Anderson (61 games last year) and guard Eric Gordon (also 61 games last year) are healthy for now. Gordon's role is likely to increase in Gentry's offense.
The Pelicans didn't make any big additions (other than Gentry) or subtractions this offseason.
NBA Free Picks: New Orleans is +4000 to win the NBA title, +2000 to win the West and +800 to take the Southwest Division. This team isn't ready for any of those yet. I'm going slightly 'under' 47.5 because I simply worry about the health of this club even as good as Davis is.