How did we get here? How did a team that just last season had two All-Stars in its front court (for the first half of the season), made the playoffs, swept the No. 3 seed in the first round and won a postseason game over the Warriors fall this far, this fast?
It's tempting to pinpoint one cause — DeMarcus Cousins’ torn Achilles tendon, Anthony Davis’ trade request, a multitude of other injuries or head-scratching losses. But in reality, a season this bizarre would be hard for any team to replicate, from promising start to uneventful finish.
Here’s a look back at the 15-month roller coaster that leads to Tuesday’s meaningless season finale against the Golden State Warriors — the team that sent the Pelicans packing a year ago — through the mouths of those who lived it.
Jan. 26, 2018: Cousins suffers season-ending injury
Cousins had just been voted an All-Star starter a week before when he tears his Achilles in the closing moments of a home win against the Rockets. The Pelicans had acquired Cousins at the 2017 trade deadline from the Kings for a package that included their 2016 first-round pick, Buddy Hield, and their 2017 first-round selection. New Orleans had won seven of their past eight games. Sources had indicated the Pelicans were keen on signing Cousins to a five-year, $175 million max contract in the offseason.
Davis: “We were just figuring everything out. That’s the tough part. Like I said, we just have to keep going and keep finding a way to win.”
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry: “He’s extremely important to us, so yeah, we are scared about it. And I feel horrible for him. Everything he’s done and what he’s tried to do for us and the improvement he’s made as a player, on and off the court, has just been great.”
Feb. 1, 2018: Pelicans trade for Nikola Mirotic
Scrambling to find a suitable big man to replace Cousins, the Pelicans acquire Mirotic from Chicago, giving up their 2018 first-round pick.
Davis: “No matter who is here, we wanted to make sure we continue to try to make moves and better our team. That’s the most important thing. I think (Mirotic) is going to be very helpful for us.”
With two meaningless wins over the Sacramento Kings in the last two weeks - the team's only two wins in the last three weeks - the Pelicans ha…
April 11, 2018: Pelicans trounce Spurs 122-98 in season finale
With the win over San Antonio, New Orleans caps a five-game win streak to end the regular season and jump up two spots to the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.
Davis: “We wanted to do this for the fans. They came out and supported us, and they were here all season, through the ups and downs.
Former Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo: “We are rooting for the next man beside us. Earlier in the season, I couldn’t really say that for this team.”
April 21, 2018: Pelicans finish sweep of Trail Blazers
After winning Game 1 by just two points on the road, New Orleans wins each of their next three playoff games by at least eight to claim the first playoff series victory during Davis’ tenure.
Davis: “I just wanted to build a legacy in New Orleans. We let people know we are for real.”
Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday: “They were sleeping on us, and it seemed everybody counted us out, but to be here in this moment feels pretty good.”
May 8, 2018: Pelicans fall to Warriors in Western Conference semis
After dropping the first two games of the series on the road, New Orleans picks up a resounding 119-100 win over the eventual champs in Game 3, but a 26-point loss in Game 4 all but seals their fate before a road loss in Game 5 ends it.
Davis: “There’s a lot we can take from this season, but anytime you don’t win a championship, I’m not sure how much success you really had.”
Gentry, who receives a two-year contract extension June 7: “I’m confident that we have a great cornerstone in Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. Those two guys, I think, are going to be a great anchor for this franchise. We just have to look and figure out what we can add that’s going to make us better than we are this year.”
Pelicans owner Gayle Benson (in a team release): “I am confident that we are heading in the right direction as an organization and believe we have secured a solid foundation of players, coaches and staff on which to build a championship-caliber team.”
July 2, 2018: Pelicans lose free agents Rondo and Cousins; report reveals Davis bought house in Los Angeles
A tough day for the franchise, with the exodus of two valuable veterans and another signaling he also might be leaving.
Former Pelicans general manager Dell Demps: “We wanted to put a team on the court that can compete in the Western Conference. We wanted to bring DeMarcus back. We just didn't know with the injury when he would have been able to come back.
(On Rondo): “We felt like we had a chemistry. Unfortunately, he’s not back. At the same time, we believe that his impact will stay with the team.
“We feel like the team is improved, but we also feel like the rest of the league has improved as well.”
Davis (via ESPN): “The team kept me in the loop. … Now we’re here. So we just have to move forward and find out how we can be successful with the team we have now.”
Sept. 8, 2018: Davis fires agent Thad Foucher
Immediately after Davis parts ways with Foucher, rumors begin to swirl about him possibly signing with Klutch and Rich Paul, who also represents Lakers star LeBron James. That would play out 15 days later, and the Davis-to-the-Lakers buzz intensifies.
Davis (via ESPN): “Winning definitely helps everything. It helps with your legacy. It helps get you to the top of that list. For me, yes, everybody sees everything that I do, but not going far in the playoffs, or going every three years, doesn’t help my case.”
Oct. 26, 2018: Pelicans start season 4-0
A blowout victory over the Rockets in the season opener sparks the Pelicans' first 4-0 start since the 2010-11 season.
Holiday: “We didn’t shoot well, and we didn’t play as well as we could, and we still find a way to win. It’s definitely a confidence-builder.”
Nov. 5, 2018: Pelicans drop sixth straight
Davis misses three games with a right elbow strain and starting point guard Elfrid Payton sprains his right ankle, which keeps him out of nine games and starts a long trend of Holiday having to play out of position and carry a heavy load. By the end of November, the Pelicans drop below .500 and don't come back above.
Gentry: “Yeah, we’re disappointed in a road trip like this because I think any time you’re playing in the West you don’t want to have these long streaks at all.
“What he (Payton) does is, it would put Jrue back in his normal position, and it gives us a good player back on the floor who is a defender and made a lot of plays for us.”
Dec. 31, 2018: The Pelicans finish December 6-9
The Pelicans lose five in a row and fall as many as five games below .500. Seven players miss at least one game for health reasons. They enter 2019 with the second-worst record in the Western Conference.
Gentry: “To me, the greatest thing is no one is running away with it (the West). It’s not like anyone is creating this great separation. So what we have to do is keep battling and try to keep our head above water, so that when we get our team back and everybody healthy, I think we’ll be pretty good.”
Jrue Holiday is ready to be the face of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Jan. 18, 2019: Davis injures left index finger
After the Pelicans start the new year 4-2 and work back within 2½ games of a playoff spot, the organization announces the next morning that Davis will be out as long as two weeks with a strained left index finger. Without him, they lose three of the next four.
Pelicans forward Julius Randle: “AD is our leader, and we rely on him a lot, but us as players, we have to come prepared for all situations.”
Gentry: “I still say, eventually, we’ll be healthy enough and have enough guys that we’re going to make a run at (the playoffs). I really do. I told the guys not to get discouraged, still believe in our team.”
Jan. 28: Davis requests trade
With one early-morning tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pelicans’ future is in disarray; Davis announces his intention, through his agent, to not sign with the Pelicans when his contract is up at the end of the 2019-20 season.
Wojnarowski (via Twitter): “Agent Rich Paul has notified the New Orleans Pelicans that All-NBA forward Anthony Davis has no intention of signing a contract extension if and when presented and that he has requested a trade, Paul told ESPN on Monday.”
Paul to ESPN: “Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him the chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.
“Anthony wanted to be honest and clear with his intentions, and that’s the reason for informing them of this decision now.”
Pelicans front office (via release): “Relative to our specific talks of a trade, we will do this on our timeline. One that makes sense for our team and will not be dictated by those outside of our organization.”
Gentry: “It’s not awkward at all, and I think if you ask the guys in the locker room, they’ll tell you the same thing. He’s the same guy.”
Davis: “I feel like it’s my time. I gave the city, the organization, the fans everything I felt like I could. I don’t know how long I’m going to play this game. People’s careers are short, so I feel like it’s my time to move on.
“I’m all about legacy. Money comes and goes, but when I’m done playing or leave this earth, what is my legacy going to be?”
In many ways, this is a fitting end to the Anthony Davis era.
Feb. 8: Boos greet Davis as he returns to the court
With his finger finally healed and the NBA forcing the Pelicans to play him, Davis returns to the court at the Smoothie King Center and is booed frequently during the first half. He drops 32 points in 25 minutes in a 122-117 win over the Timberwolves.
Davis: “I always love the fans here. That (the boos) was definitely awkward, boo, OK. But it doesn’t matter. I’m gonna go out and play basketball. I was surprised, but it’s life, man. Some people aren’t going to like you.”
Feb. 12-15: Drama overflows on and off the court
With the trade deadline past and Davis back in the lineup seemingly for the rest of the season, the Pelicans suffer an embarrassing 118-88 defeat at home to the Magic.
Davis: “We sucked. Nobody was interested in playing it looked like.”
Two days later, with the game still going, Davis leaves the arena with his agent after suffering a bruised shoulder. The following morning, Demps is fired. With the Pelicans six games out of the playoffs, the team begins to thrust its younger players into larger roles.
Benson: “My responsibility is to provide the leadership and resources necessary to deliver a winning team to our fans and community.
“While we still have many more critical decisions to make when this season comes to an end, I am focused on making sure we are properly positioned to succeed and that we are headed in the right direction.”
Davis (at All-Star weekend): “All 29 teams are on my list. I don’t have a preferred destination. I just want to win.”
A season removed from the “FREE JAH” shirts his father wore to 76ers games, two years after Philly fans walked by him in first class and wishe…
March-April: Limping to the finish line
A sampling of the Pelicans' biggest moments over the past six weeks:
• The front office announces a plan to play Davis about 20 minutes per game and not in both legs of back-to-backs, keeping his shadow on the team for the rest of the season.
• Holiday, the new face of the team and its lone ray of consistency, misses the final month of the season with a lower abdominal strain.
• New Orleans loses in overtime to the Suns; the Pelicans are outscored 5-0 in the final 12.8 seconds in part because Gentry calls a timeout the team doesn't have.
• Elfrid Payton becomes one of just five players in NBA history to record five consecutive triple-doubles.
• Benson makes a public decree at the NFL owners meetings, declaring she will never sell the Pelicans.
• Davis is fined $15,000 by the league for flipping off a fan while leaving the court after a loss to the Hornets.
• The All-Star forward sits six consecutive games while dealing with back spasms, often while being listed as "probable."
• The Pelicans dress just eight players but beat the Kings on the road Tuesday, hurting their chances in the NBA draft lottery.