You deserve better.
Yes, you. The rare, curious creature known as the New Orleans Pelicans fan.
The person who reads columns like this, buys tickets and watches games on television. You have been vastly underserved by this franchise for most of the past 10 years.
The combination of short-term thinking, meshed with low expectations, may have lulled you to believe this is somehow an acceptable NBA circumstance.
It is not.
And a 27-hour debacle last weekend in the Smoothie King Center crystallized that concept. Consecutive losses to the scuffling Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks illustrated the Pelicans’ predicament. They are a win-now team who isn’t winning right now.
To be fair, New Orleans is still 18-18 and there’s enough time and top-end talent in place (Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jrue Holiday), inside the muddled Western Conference standing, to vault the Pelicans into a decent playoff spot by season’s end.
But, based on the evidence provided, it’s hard to believe this team is capable of generating the sustained success required to propel them into a position better than the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the West, eliciting a likely first-round exit.
That’s not really the point, though.
The underlying cynicism is accepting whether a middling team, who hovers near .500 and gets soundly booted from the first round, should be considered good enough.
This team isn’t selling a budding youth movement. Or a process. Or a brand of basketball.
It’s selling the now.
It’s pitching two All-NBA players, in their primes, paired together in an attempt to save one another from being the league’s best players devoid of meaningful games.
Yet, even with that specter lingering over the locker room, this team doesn’t generate a consistent effort or a reliable product.
On any given night, any version of the Pelicans could show up. The one who blew out the Spurs, Cavaliers and Thunder or the one who loses to Orlando, Sacramento, Dallas and New York at home (combined 55-92 record).
What are fans supposed to think? Is having a mediocre team with marketable stars and clever social media enough to satiate the public?
Should they just be satisfied to even have the NBA in a small, relatively poor market like this?
Since arriving in 2002, this franchise has done nearly nothing to capture the imagination of the region. Outside of the meteoric 2007-08 season, which saved basketball in New Orleans, this team has defined mediocrity under two different ownership groups, in two cities, with two nicknames.
They’ve won one playoff series in 15 years. Fans watched future Hall of Famer Chris Paul demand a trade out of town three years later and now fear the same fate is coming for Davis, with even less team success in his wake.
Every other franchise in the league can at least point to some grand moments in team history or a string of seasons when championship aspirations weren’t completely laughed off by the national public.
The sibling Saints have done a masterful job of unfurling the team’s legacy over the past few years, despite being riddled with losing seasons, bringing home former stars and highlighting past achievements.
Not across the street.
Not a single banner hangs in the Smoothie King Center. There are zero reminders of the team’s (albeit futile) past.
Going to a Pelicans game is like going to a sports bar. It’s marketed as a night out of the house more than a source of citywide passion.
Spend three hours in the arena and if someone were to tell you this the first season (or game) in franchise history, you’d have scant evidence beyond your smartphone and a lobby display to disprove them. It’s all about that night and perhaps the next one.
It is this franchise’s DNA.
Get to the next day, the next week, the next season. An ounce of competitiveness over a pound of patience.
It’s why they’ve traded every first-round pick since 2012 and endlessly try to fill gaps with longshot second rounders or known-quantity veterans.
And if you injected truth serum into the franchise’s uppermost executives, they’d tell you the deck is stacked against them, in this market, to win a championship. So, logically, prolonged patience may be less of a virtue than a vice.
But even if not everyone can be San Antonio, how about Oklahoma City, Memphis, Orlando, Indianapolis and Milwaukee; non-marquee NBA markets without titles who have built real connections with their city.
So, where does this leave the fans?
For now, the only hope is to root for this roster to snap out of the team’s endless line of mediocrity and make this a spring worth remembering. The opportunity is still ripe.
Perhaps, then, it’s enough to get Cousins to re-sign and keeps Davis on board for the longer term. Maybe they’ll coalesce together and become a dynamic duo capable of competing at a higher level.
But based on prior evidence, the fans shouldn’t expect it on blind faith. And in the meantime, the Pelicans’ fragile customer base is growing frustrated and some are openly dropping their allegiance, at least until the results change.
Don’t blame the fans. They’re starting to realize they should demand more.