After one of the most disheartening seasons in franchise history, New Orleans is ready for a basketball rebirth. With a bevy of fresh faces and a brand-new generational talent, the Pelicans have quickly rebounded after being forced to trade franchise cornerstone Anthony Davis away to the Los Angeles Lakers
Pelicans fans are hoping new executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin will be able to replicate the championship pedigree he established in Cleveland around superstar LeBron James. As general manager of the Cavaliers, Griffin helped guide the team to three straight NBA Finals, including the 2016 NBA Championship.
Griffin struck gold this summer when the franchise improbably landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, winning the rights to draft Duke University freshman phenom Zion Williamson.
Former New Orleans general manager Dell Demps, Griffin's predecessor, also oversaw a number one pick when the (then) Hornets selected Davis in 2012 with the first pick. Demps failed to build a consistent championship contender around Davis, and now neither is a part of the organization. Griffin, however, has already distinguished himself as a major upgrade from Demps by orchestrating several savvy roster moves since being hired in April.
New Faces, Young & Old
By drafting, trading, and signing free agents, Griffin completely retooled the Pelicans this summer, prioritizing youth and versatility, with a smattering of veterans from around the league. Besides Zion, the Pelicans acquired 6-foot-11 Jaxson Hayes (8th pick) out of Texas and 6-foot-6 Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17th pick) from Virginia Tech in the first round on draft night.
Hayes is an athletic rim-running center who averaged 10 points and five rebounds in his lone season in Austin. The former Big 12 Freshman of the Year could be an excellent front court complement to Zion for years to come.
Alexander-Walker is a sizable shooting guard who possesses keen passing and play-making skills. As a sophomore, he averaged 16 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game. Playing behind veteran guards should afford Alexander-Walker the necessary transition period to acclimate to the NBA.
The Pelicans finalized the long-awaited Davis trade in early July, receiving a trio of young Lakers in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart, along with a slew of draft picks.
In free agency, the Pelicans signed veteran shooting specialist JJ Redick and initiated a trade with the Utah Jazz for big man Derrick Favors. The 6-foot-10 Favors has played both power forward and center during his nine seasons in the NBA and averaged over 12 points and seven rebounds per games during his final two seasons in Utah.
Redick is coming off his most prolific scoring season yet. The former Philadelphia 76er seems to get better with age, averaging nearly 18 points per game, while stretching the floor for young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid the last couple of seasons.
Both Favors and Redick bring valuable experience to a very young team, with plenty of playoff bona fides between them-especially Redick, who's famously never missed the playoffs in his 13-year career.
Pushing the Pace on National Television
While Zion is the main attraction around the league, veteran guard Jrue Holiday is the undisputed leader of the young ball club. Entering his seventh season with New Orleans, Holiday is coming off the best two seasons of his career and has blossomed into one of the league's premier two-way players.
He'll be charged with leading Gentry's fast-paced offensive assault, but will have plenty of help with new running mates Ball and Ingram. The pair of former Laker No. 2 picks have tremendous upside, especially Ingram, who averaged 18 points and five rebounds before severe blood clots ended his season last year.
Add in the shooting of Redick, the low post experience of Favors, the freakish athleticism of Zion, and the youthful exuberance of the rest of the roster, and that's the recipe for a team suited to fit Gentry's up-tempo style of play.
Despite a 33-49 finish last season, the arrival of Zion in the Crescent City has drawn excitement from around the NBA and its television partners. Fans across the league are salivating at the chance to watch the star rookie unleashed at the professional level-and will have plenty of chances, as the Pelicans will be featured a franchise-record 30 times on nationally televised games for the upcoming 2019-20 campaign.
The future, and possibly the present, look bright for coach Alvin Gentry's squad.
Zion's stellar rookie season invigorates a stagnant New Orleans basketball fan base and garners him Rookie of the Year honors. Holiday makes his second career All-Star appearance and third straight All-Defensive team. Ball's notoriously opinionated father, LaVar, delivers plenty of hot takes on everything from beignets to Mardi Gras. After a rough start, the Pelicans' exciting young nucleus begins to jell following the All-Star break, making a frantic playoff push, before ultimately falling a few games short of the final playoff spot.