Dear New Orleans,
I’d like to formally welcome you to the Pelicans’ season.
Some of us have been here, intently following each dribble since September, but I’m aware the region’s attention doesn’t deviate from the gridiron until now. When Marcus Williams dove into thin air and remotes across Louisiana flung to their grisly deaths, your focus was finally allowed to shift.
Yes, the Saints season is over (in agonizing fashion), as is LSU’s (also, agonizing fashion) and Tulane’s (yup, agonizing).
So allow me to take the opportunity to catch you up on what’s unfolded across Dave Dixon Drive and set the stage for what’s still on the line.
I’ll start with the good news. You have a reason to stick around after this column.
Unlike the past two seasons, the Pelicans didn’t face-plant the first 15 games and fall into an inescapable hole. Instead, they’re firmly entrenched in the Western Conference mix, with a realistic eye on the playoffs.
New Orleans began the week in sixth place, just a half-game back of the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth, and enter the second half of the season possessing a winning record for the first time since 2011.
So, if you’ve been waiting for a competitive product before ducking into the Smoothie King Center, you’re cleared for purchase.
And of course there’s Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, two of the league’s most spectacular big men.
You’ll be forgiven for missing Davis roast the New York Knicks on Sunday (you were busy), but the All-NBA forward dazzled Madison Square Garden by commandeering a stirring comeback victory, posting 48 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and three blocks. When Davis is rolling, he’s among the most entertaining players on the planet and he’s flourished under a new offensive system.
For the first time in his six-year tenure with New Orleans, Davis isn’t operating alone atop the Pelicans’ pyramid. Cousins serves alongside in a starring role, peeling off defenders and destructing helpless opponents, ranking among the NBA’s top six in scoring (25.5) and rebounds (12.6) per game.
Both are likely to appear in the All-Star Game and on All-NBA teams, making them the most lauded tandem in franchise history.
And they aren’t alone in lighting up the scoreboard. Red-hot shooters E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller have emerged alongside Jrue Holiday, providing those bigs with reliable outlets, turning the Pelicans into the NBA’s sixth-ranked offense.
Are you interested, yet? Maybe even a little excited?
Well, before you start cancelling your Spring vacation to be home for a playoff run, I must tell you, this hasn’t been seamless. The road to this 22-20 record is riddled with stupefying losses, beleaguered excuses and maddening finishes, while endlessly teasing fans with unreached potential.
So, don’t expect to escape your sports frustrations by honing in on the Pelicans. They have infuriated even their most avid supporters, dropping winnable games in dizzying fashion, while admitting they’ve often failed to generate the effort required to win on a consistent basis.
There are also missing pieces.
I could carry on for a while about why. I could drone about the intricacies of the salary cap, but suffice to say not developing a first-round pick since 2012 and paying centers Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca $15.4 million to watch from the sideline, has left some gaps.
And while the Pelicans’ front office has done an admirable job filling them, their depth is limited and it’ll likely require trading another first-round pick to solve the issue.
But, in this league, those are small-potatoes problems. When the trouble spots are the eighth man and vacillating effort, the obstacles are capable of being cleared.
Ultimately, this is life in the NBA’s middle class. And while it isn’t the elite quarters housed by Golden State, Houston, Boston and San Antonio, there’s still plenty to attract your eyeballs.
New Orleans has unique, generational, marketable talent. It’s something nearly half of the league is envious of.
They have a system in place to unleash it. And on the right night, you won’t feel stupid picturing a seven-game playoff series tilting in the Pelicans’ favor.
I can’t promise you the Pelicans are going to take the sting out of the depressing football finishes, or even that you won’t end up more frustrated than when you arrived. In fact, on some weeks it might even be worse.
But, the Pelicans are at least deserving of your interest until football season roars back to life.
Just don’t blame me if you get kicked in the gut — again.