We (Peli)can do this! Nola’s NBA team set to come back under new leadership

Jude Papillion, Contributing Reporter

After finishing the 2018-2019 season with an underwhelming 33-49 record and landing in a mediocre 13th place of the 15 teams in the Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans hope to turn things around in their 2019-20 season. 

Despite high expectations for the 2018-19 season, the Pelicans were plagued by injury and drama. 

In late January 2019, Pelicans superstar and six-time NBA All-Star Anthony Davis said he would not sign a contract extension with the team and requested to be traded. Davis had been the face of the Pelicans franchise since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2012. 

The Pelicans’ offensive efficiency, ranked fifth in the league through 50 games, took a turn for the worse after Davis’ trade request, finishing 28th of 30 NBA teams. 

Following Davis’ trade request, the Pelicans fired general manager Dell Demps in February after nine seasons with the team. During his time with the Pelicans, Demps led New Orleans to just three playoff appearances, despite having stars such as Chris Paul, Demarcus Cousins and Davis.

When things began to look like they were going off the rails in the Crescent City, a glimmer of hope appeared when the Pelicans hired David Griffin on Apr. 12 to become the executive vice president of basketball operations and handle the ongoing Davis trade fiasco.

Griffin previously served as the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, putting together the LeBron James-led team that won the 2016 NBA Finals. 

Following his appointment, Griffin hired former Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon to serve as the Pelicans’ general manager. 

Light really began to shine on New Orleans when the organization won the NBA Draft Lottery, granting the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Pelicans had the seventh-best odds of receiving the first pick, with a slim 6% chance. 

This fantastic opportunity was followed by a dark day. On June 15, New Orleans shipped Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he will have the opportunity to team up with Lebron James. 

As part of the deal, the Pelicans acquired Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks.

Five days after trading Davis, New Orleans found the new face of its franchise, Zion Williamson, whom the Pelicans selected with the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Williamson was one of the most sought-after NBA prospects of all-time, averaging 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists and winning the Naismith Player of the Year award during his lone season at Duke University. 

In addition to Williamson, the Pelicans also selected Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Marcos Louzada Silva in the draft. The team also acquired JJ Redick, one of the premier shooters in NBA history, in July. 

All of these new acquisitions will team up with Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, who is arguably the most underrated player in basketball and who averaged 21.2 points, 5 rebounds and 7.7 assists in the 2018-19 season. 

While the Pelicans are a really young team with plenty of new faces, they have high hopes for this season and seasons to come. Holiday himself expressed his high hopes for the team to ESPN.

“I feel like the whole vibe, the whole attitude in the facility and with the staff has just been different,” Holiday said. “It definitely feels like people are ready and excited. It’s been like that ever since [Griffin] has come into place.”

The Pelicans’ season begins on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at Scotiabank Arena against the defending champion Toronto Raptors. The Pelicans home opener is set for Friday, Oct. 25, against the Dallas Mavericks at the Smoothie King Center. Davis will make his highly anticipated return to New Orleans on Wednesday, Nov. 27, when the Pelicans face the Lakers.

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