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Pelicans “DEMPSter fire” leaves team in flames

by J.W. Miller on 02/18/19

Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry probably misspoke when he called the current turmoil surrounding the team “a dumpster fire.” I think that was a subconscious urge to say “DEMPSter Fire” after the club terminated the tortuous nine-year reign of GM Dell Demps. The team is in flames fed by the fact that generational star Anthony Davis wants out, the team has failed to reach the playoffs on a regular basis which is probably because they have failed to acquire – and keep - a solid supporting cast. That perfectly describes the series of curious decisions, dead-end trades and pure bad luck that Demps presided over. 

It’s unfortunate that the situation became so discouraging for Davis that he wants out, but it’s probably better for him than my fear he was going to become another Ernie Banks – the legendary Cub who was a perennial all-star on a team never quite good enough to contend for a championship. Watching Kentucky take the 2012 NCAA championship in the Superdome behind Davis was ecstasy for this Kentucky fan, and three months later it looked like new owner Tom Benson’s magic was working when his team drafted the Wildcat star No. 1 overall. It seemed that Demps, Benson’s inherited GM, had fallen into a field of clover. The franchise was stable and NBA titles surely would follow. 

After Davis’ first year, Demps traded two first-round picks to Philadelphia for Jrue Holiday. He also swung a deal for Tyreke Evans, which sounded good at the time, but injuries devastated that team. In the summer of 2014, he traded a first-round pick and received center Omer Asik. He was respectable in his first season but after receiving a 5-year, $58 million contract was an injury-plagued bust. 

Demps made the decision in 2015 to keep the team intact, re-signing all of his potential free agents. That tactic has been a proven path to success, but only if you also retain the coach. Demps dumped Monte Williams and expected the roster to fit into Alvin Gentry’s system, whatever that was intended to be. The results were disastrous, and the lack of fit plus an ER full of injuries doomed the Pels to a 30-52 record and another missed playoffs. 

Demps and Gentry retooled for the next season, hoping to give Davis some help with No. 1 draft pick Buddy Hield. It sounded good, giving Gentry the guy who could start the transformation to the Warriors’ fast-paced offense that he helped put together. Demps signed former Bulls’ guard E’Twaun Moore and ex-Pacers forward Solomon Hill to help patch up the team’s erratic defense, but those moves did nothing but take up valuable cap space. Demps’ boldest move was in 2017 when he shipped Hield, Evans and 2017’s first- and second-rounders to Sacramento for All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. That might have been a good deal – torn Achilles notwithstanding - if Cousins had not been on the last year of his contract and could walk. 

Demps’ efforts to build a team around Davis by trading first-round picks for veterans clearly failed. Today’s quiz: How many players the Pelicans drafted are still on the roster? The answer is Davis, who likely will be gone next year, and Darius Miller, who was drafted in the 2012 second round after Davis, but was released and played in Europe before being re-signed. In other words, the last six NBA drafts have not produced one player who is still on the roster. I know player acquisition is different in the NBA than the NFL, but that seems odd even for basketball. A quick glance at rosters shows Golden State with six players they drafted and Boston with five. 

I get it. You make changes that your current situation deems logical. Cutting 35-year-old Morten Andersen after he’d gone 1 for 11 from 50 yards the previous two years made sense at the time. It didn’t make sense after Andersen hit three field goals beyond 50 yards his next game in the Superdome. Not re-signing Bobby Hebert and Sam Mills, two aging players who wanted sizable raises, was logical. It wasn’t logical after they led their new teams to victories over the Saints. Just as trading for DeMarcus Cousins made sense at the time.

But a GM’s crystal ball can’t predict injuries or a spurned player’s resolve to turn logic on its ear. The results are what matters. And the GM who thinks his team is better than the results should heed Bill Parcells’ time-proven wisdom: “You are what your record says you are,” The Pelicans are a team in flames with a losing record whose star wants to be traded. And that’s why Dell Demps is out and Anthony Davis, sadly, is looking to prove he will not be remembered as the NBA version of Ernie Banks. 

Comments (1)

1. Will said on 2/18/19 - 07:03PM
Good lead. Excellent commentary.

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