New eras began in the same day for both New Orleans pro sports teams

Published: Feb. 9, 2022 at 2:57 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 10, 2022 at 7:48 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It was Bob Dylan who sang, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

Particularly in the post-Katrina history of New Orleans, the city, and the Gulf South region, have witnessed several sports moments that also served as turning points in the local culture.

Specific moments that come to mind for some are Steve Gleason’s blocked punt in the return to the Super Dome, the Saints winning the Super Bowl, Chris Paul leading the former Hornets to a Southwest Division title, the pairing of Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins after a surprise All-Star night trade, and so many more.

Tuesday was another reminder to New Orleans sports fans that the sands of time are shifting. For the first time, major changes are bringing Who Dat Nation and Pelicans faithful into the “great unknown” at the same time.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Saints officially passed the torch of head coach to defensive coordinator Dennis Allen after it was held by Sean Payton for 16 years.

Later that night, the Pelicans trade to acquire C.J. McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell for Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Tomas Satoransky, and Didi Louzada was made official while a 110-97 win over Houston was in progress.

Professional teams are constantly tinkering and making major decisions both during the offseason and regular season but both teams representing the Crescent City have cleared paths for the future and will embark on a journey that will define what kind of organizations they’ll be in years to come.

For new Saints head coach Dennis Allen, the path forward means honoring a winning tradition while putting enough of himself into the mix as a way to keep the Black & Gold culture positive.

“This was not a broken job, this is a desirable job,” Allen said. “I think we’re close to contending again.”

Allen made no bones about how familiar he is with the organization, saying his relationship with the Saints has been like a “12-year audition” for the position he now holds. He looked back at his time as an assistant, a coordinator, and on his time as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. He believes his resume, which includes the experience of significant failures and success, has truly prepared him to be the face of a franchise that has an incredibly unique connection to its fanbase.

Allen now has the challenge of bridging the gap from one era to the next. Though the Saints never won a second Super Bowl after 2009, they were always contenders as long as Payton and Drew Brees were at the helm. Even without Brees, the Saints missed the playoffs but finished with a 9-8 winning record even with Payton taking on a constant question mark as to who would play quarterback any given week.

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New Orleans knows of Allen as a brilliant defensive mind and how he navigates retooling an offense looking for both a permanent quarterback and offensive coordinator might determine his legacy as the successor to Payton.

As far as culture goes, Allen has been embracing New Orleans for years. He and his family greated the crowd as they sat courtside during Tuesday’s Pelicans game at the Smoothie King Center.

Just merely feet away from Allen, another head coach that’s been working to make his Big Easy mark was one-half of NBA regulation play away from getting his fourth win in a row at the expense of the Rockets.

It seems the Pelicans were supposed to be already progressing towards better days seasons ago with the drafting of Zion Williamson but after two new head coaches, and a missing injury-plagued Zion, the team found itself in a perpetual search. The Pelicans started the current season 1-12 and no one had any hope for first-year head coach Willie Green and his flock.

READ MORE Ingram scores 26, surging Pelicans top Rockets 110-97

Green stayed patient, determined to establish a culture and instilling trust in All-Star snubbed Brandon Ingram, who went on a tear after his return from injury.

The dedication paid off and the Pelicans are now in the 10th spot in the West, eligible for the postseason Play-In Tournament.

The new era for the Pelicans began with the focus of Willie Green, but it’s been a slow burn up until this point, prolonging the completion to the new era’s start with yesterday’s McCollum trade. Landing a next-level guard to balance a projected starting lineup that includes Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Jonas Valančiūnas, and the ever-evolving rookie Herb Jones is a long-awaited statement from Pelicans across the league that the organization is serious about winning.

In the case of Green, he’s already begun on a journey guiding his squad through the thick of the chaos and establishing the cornerstones of winning culture. Whereas Allen is looking to expand upon the house that Payton built, Green is attempting to raise the pillars of what his predecessors failed to do.

In terms of culture, the last established Pelicans star bolted from the Big Easy home crowd in a Looney Tunes “That’s All, Folks” t-shirt he said someone picked out for him to wear for the purpose of promoting the new Space Jam movie he had a role in. Fans have had a difficult time letting go of that memory.

Despite being traded on Tuesday, Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker attended the Rockets game to cheer for their former teammates. The trade went official while the game was in progress and the two went from being Pelicans to Trailblazers. Though no longer teammates, the two stayed and gave their goodbyes.

New Orleans Pelicans coach Willie Green hugs former player Josh Hart after a win against the...
New Orleans Pelicans coach Willie Green hugs former player Josh Hart after a win against the Houston Rockets following an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)(AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Green said. “To have guys show up to a game after they’ve been traded to support their brothers is what we’ve been trying to build — is what we are building — just that connectivity.

Hart wore an Ingram jersey and sat courtside with his wife.

The perception of the Pelicans seems to be changing. McCollum reportedly agreed to the trade himself and Portland described it as sending their former star to a “good situation”. McCollum got fans excited by sending his love to the Saints and Pelicans on social media.

While predicting the future is impossible, both the Saints and the Pelicans are embracing the great unknown. While new roads will have their challenges, it appears both of these organizations that share the same roof believe they have the right navigators in place.

Here’s to an interesting ride.

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