At the end of the 2014-15 regular season, the New Orleans Pelicans found themselves playing their biggest game in recent memory — a winner take all showdown with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
In the biggest game of his career, Anthony Davis led his team to victory. His squad went on the get swept by the Warriors (and nobody has been able to beat them since), but the Pelicans appeared to be on the rise heading into this NBA season.
Thing are not going to plan.
Sitting at 3-11, New Orleans enters Friday with the second worst record in the west (and allow a league-worst 110 PPG to opponents). Sure, it’s got to be disappointing for both the organization and the fan base after showing promise last season. But could this be a blessing in disguise?
Of course, it’s still early enough for the Pel’s to turn it around, but highly unlikely. AD has been in and out of the lineup with injuries all season — which is a concern. Typically, this leaves a team two options in the NBA. Blow it up, or tank the season away.
In this specific scenario, blowing it up makes no sense. Davis is unquestionably the best young player in the game, and just signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension at the age of 22. The line of teams willing to trade for him would be around the corner, but what would New Orleans even want in return? The next Anthony Davis?
The NBA hates the term “tanking.” But from where the Pelicans are sitting, that idea is pretty attractive.
Let’s go back to 1997. The Spurs were a team on the cusp in the mid-90’s, but David Robinson could never quite get his team over the hump. Robinson would only play six games in the 1996-97 season, and the Spurs went from 62 wins the previous year, to just 20 wins.
A couple of fun facts about that dreadful 20-win season — Dominique Wilkins made an NBA comeback and averaged a team-high 18.2 PPG, and after head coach Bob Hill was fired 18 games into the season, Gregg Popovich took over as the interim head coach.
But you already know what the biggest payoff was. San Antonio drafted Tim Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
So why did I throw you in the time machine for a minute there? What if the 2015-16 Pelicans are the 1996-97 Spurs? Davis is our much younger Robinson, and LSU freshman-phenom Ben Simmons is our much younger Duncan. The ping pong balls would have to fall the right way, but if Davis and the rest of the team’s poor fortune continues, it could be one of those kind of years.
If you’re unfamiliar with Simmons, the LeBron comparisons are not uncalled for. The 6’10” point-forward is averaging 18.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 blocks and 2.0 steals just three games into his college career, all while shooting 63.2% from the field. Pairing a talent like that with Davis could mean a decade of dominance if the tandem were to remain healthy (which Davis has made a legit concern).
It’s not as bad as it seems, New Orleans. This pain may be very temporary.
Find me on Twitter @julianedlow