How long can this last?
When will this moping, middling, wretchedly mediocre season of New Orleans Pelicans basketball receive a kick in the backside?
The answer is: Now or never.
The standings are bleak.
This isn’t a bad team. It’s just a maddening one.
Week after week, as bizarre losses expose a myriad of issues, the question keeps popping up: How can a group with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday be in second-to-last place in the Western Conference?
Scapegoats are abundant.
The roster. The coaches. The role players. The rotations.
And don’t forget effort, defense, rebounding and shooting.
Put simply, losing generates blame. And losing in a season of high expectations and high stakes only exacerbates the intensity of it.
“The frustration is, we’re a better team than our record shows,” Anthony Davis said after Wednesday’s 126-121 defeat to the 18-21 Brooklyn Nets. “I mean, everyone’s frustrated — players, coaches, front office. We just have to be better. We know what we did last year, we know how good of a team we are.”
This is not how the Pelicans were supposed to start 2019.
The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t need to use their Christmas wish to figure out where their problem lies.
But rather than using’s last year’s playoff success as a catapult, the Pelicans are buried under the weight of it. They keep waiting for the same turnaround they experienced last season, when an inadequate 20-20 start evolved into a captivating 48-win campaign.
That group was a plucky underdog, and this one isn’t. This also isn’t a young team trying to find itself and its style.
They’re just a disappointment. And it’s come at the worst possible time.
While many outside of New Orleans salivate over the idea of Davis joining a super-team to challenge the Golden State Warriors, the Pelicans’ only chance to persuade the superstar to sign a supermax extension and ward him off the trade market was to take a tangible step toward contention, thereby showing Davis his loftiest goals could be achieved here.
The Pelicans needed to prove the ghosts of the past were gone, and provide hard evidence they’re a respectable franchise, capable of contending in the Western Conference.
As Saints coach Sean Payton rode an imaginary dirt bike around an overjoyed locker room, team executives surely toasted the gridiron accomplis…
Instead, despite Davis in the NBA’s Top 5 in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, he’s saddled with a 17-22 team, making the seventh time in his seven NBA seasons he’s entered a new calendar year at .500 or worse. It’s forced him to face familiar questions about the shortfalls of the franchise, and those will only get more pointed when he’s named an All-Star for the sixth straight season.
While some blame rests at Davis’ feet, since an elite level superstar should be able to close out wins and carry a team when needed, the truth is the franchise’s dysfunction spreads far beyond Davis’ reach.
And unless the Pelicans can rein it in over the next 43 games, and rally like they did last season, even ardent Pelicans fans will resign themselves to the eventuality of a trade.
This week, in many ways, could be the end of the road.
Avoiding that dangerous path is getting increasingly difficult as New Orleans continues to drop winnable opportunities against opponents like Brooklyn, Miami and Sacramento. So it places monumental importance on the next four games, starting on Saturday against the last-placed Cleveland Cavaliers at 7 p.m., followed by contests against the Memphis Grizzlies, Cavs and Minnesota Timberwolves.
It’s a prime opportunity to notch consecutive wins for the first time since Nov. 19, and the pressure to do so couldn’t be cranked up any higher.
Beyond all of the hype, drama and headlines circulating around Anthony Davis’ future, the New Orleans Pelicans have a larger problem on their hands.
While tallying some victories won’t change the greater complexion of where the Pelicans stand in the Davis conversation, it can provide a long-awaited foothold to latch onto and a reason to stay aggressive in the trade market.
A handful of losses in this stretch would devastate their hopes and could quell any lingering optimism the Pelicans maintain for salvaging this season, and potentially the Davis era.
It’s because the stretch after this one features matchups against eight current playoff teams in 10 games, and is likely the most daunting segment of the season. A week later the trade deadline hits.
By every indication and according to several sources, the Pelicans have no intention of trading Davis this season. But, if the next week is anything like the past six weeks, it’s hard to see them trading any future assets to improve this year’s team at the deadline, because there will be no evidence this team has the ability to win at the clip necessary to compete in the West.
And that could be a signal for Davis’ future and the franchise’s potential pivot point.
This is all to say, these games matter. They’ll be played in half-empty arenas and provide almost no headlines.
But they’re crucial.
The Pelicans weren’t back to full strength.
And while winning won’t salvage the season on its own, it can keep them in the fight. Davis and Holiday have shown with enough time, they can flip a season from stunning to special.
And the journey back there needs to start right now.