Does winning the lottery create more questions than provide answers? After securing the rights to select first in the 2019 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans still have a ton of questions lingering around the franchise.
One thing is for certain: Zion Williamson will be picked first, and he’s heading to the Big Easy.
This has been a tumultuous season in so many ways for New Orleans, but Anthony Davis still had the chance to put himself in the the conversation to be the best player in the NBA this year. Watching the Blazers square off with the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals should set off alarm bells in Pelicans’ fans’ heads. Isn’t this the same Portland team that the Pelicans swept in the first round of the playoffs just one year ago? In a weakened Western Conference, why couldn’t the Pelicans have made a run this year? If Anthony Davis is one of the best players in the league, and if Jrue Holiday is a real secondary star, how did the season go sour so fast?
I was in the middle of writing a column about just that on Tuesday before the lottery. I was writing about how Davis tarnished his legacy, blew his chance at putting himself in the “greatest” conversation (leading a non-superteam by himself, the way Kawhi and Giannis are this season), and killed off an entire season of his prime just because he couldn’t get his way.
Then the lottery happened. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and company evened the odds of the draft lottery this year. I won’t go into the details as I don’t totally understand them, nor do I care.
Davis’ mistake may have just turned into the biggest blessing he could have asked for, if he handles it correctly. For the past few months I have been wondering, “What if?” with these Pelicans. That should be us in the Conference Finals playing the Warriors. We should be in these Playoffs, just like last season.
But reality set in. I’m watching Portland struggle to stay on the floor with a Warriors team that is missing two All-Stars in Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. Portland will be lucky to get one win in this series. New Orleans got one win last year against the Dubs in the second round (and it was one of the best nights of my life).
This is all to say that this blunder of a season was a blessing now that we have the top pick. Instead of trying and failing to topple the Warriors, Davis and the Pelicans have been given another life. Durant and Cousins will leave the Warriors in the summer, and Golden State’s unbeatable streak will start to crack. The NBA will be wide open again.
That coincides with New Orleans stealing the top pick in the draft. It’s a one-man draft, and that man is Zion. He’s coming to New Orleans. I don’t care if he likes it or not. I don’t care if Davis likes it or not. Sometimes you are given an opportunity with so much quality and so many benefits that you would be a fool to turn it down. Zion, Davis and Holiday have a new, championship-caliber front office led by former Cavaliers GM David Griffin. Alvin Gentry, who is close with Davis, will return as head coach. The Pelicans have about $24 million in salary cap space to entice a free agent, along with Solomon Hill’s expiring contract.
Davis has complained all season that the Pelicans don’t have enough to contend.
Well, outside of the Rockets and LeBron, the Pelicans were about as close as anyone to beating the Warriors the past few seasons (which is to say, not very close at all). If he wants to contend, as well as be the man and lead a team to the Promised Land and cement his legacy as an All-Time Great, his opportunity is right under his nose. He doesn’t have to go anywhere.
The Pelicans have been criticized and laughed at by the entire country, the media and anyone outside of Louisiana. Much of that is completely unwarranted. Giannis is showing what you can do with an inferior point guard to Holiday (Eric Bledsoe) and a few shooters like former Pelican Nikola Mirotic. If Davis is who everyone says he is, he has more than enough right now to go out and do it.
Zion is the best prospect to come into a draft since Davis, who was the best prospect to enter the draft since LeBron James. Everyone likes to excuse Davis’ absence from the latter stages of the postseason as an organizational problem and one that he has no control over. It’s a false narrative. Now Davis has to put up or shut up. He can make the mature decision to stick it out and prove what he’s made of in New Orleans.
My bet is he will continue to force a trade out of New Orleans. He will want to leave for a “bigger market.” He can do that, but he will never have another chance to be the guy like he does now.
Best-case: Davis stays to join with Holiday and Zion as the Pelicans flip their assets into a young core and sign Jimmy Butler in free agency. New Orleans wins the championship next season, Davis signs an extension, and every free agent is begging for beignets in 2020.
Worst-case: Davis forces his way out. Griffin flips Davis for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and future draft picks from Boston. The Pelicans keep a young core of Tatum, Brown, Holiday and Zion.
New Orleans landing the top pick is probably the worst thing to happen to Davis in a long time. It puts the onus on him. He doesn’t want that; he wants other people to make decisions for him.
He’s had an out because the consensus is that New Orleans is a trash franchise wasting an All-Time talent. Now, he has everything he’s been saying the Pelicans lack: a competent front office (Griffin put together the Cavaliers team that won the first title in Cleveland in over a half-century), a young core (led by Williamson, a consensus All-World talent), a top, two-way point guard in Holiday, cap room and a coach he likes.
So much is going to happen this summer. It’s a fool’s errand to predict anything at this point.
I could see Griffin trading Davis if the right deal comes along.
I wouldn’t mind either way because I like Griffin, I love the moves he’s making already and I can tell he wants to be in New Orleans. He sees it as a challenge and wants to rise to that challenge.
I wish I could say the same for Davis, which is why I’m ambivalent to whether he stays or goes.
It’s like a relationship: if you don’t want to be with me, I don’t want you here. If Davis doesn’t want to be a Pelican, then I’ll help pack his bags.
With Zion on the way, it makes that so much easier to say.