The Pelicans’ outlook after an unconventional postseason run

Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 12:59 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 29, 2022 at 1:06 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - When the Pelicans’ postseason run ended Thursday night in New Orleans, the scene was an emotional one.

Fans in New Orleans were riding high until the end. Even in defeat, they gave their hometown team a standing ovation in a sold-out Smoothie King Center.

The public response brought first-year head coach Willie Green to tears. For a season in his playing career, Green helped the New Orleans NBA franchise reach the playoffs in the 2010-11 season. Now as a head coach, with full intentions of staying in New Orleans for years to come, Green guided a young squad through the Play-In Tournament and took two wins from the No. 1 seed Phoenix Suns.

Though on the other side now, New Orleans is also a special place for Suns coach Monty Williams and point guard Chris Paul, who shared that emotional moment with Green on the floor after the final buzzer sounded. New Orleans is where Williams began his career as a coach and where Paul began his career as a player. In 2010-11, Paul and Green were teammates under Williams.

“I always say this city raised me,” Chris Paul said postgame.

In Williams, Green also faced his former partner, as just a season ago he served as his assistant helping lead the Suns into the NBA Finals.

Even though the Suns put an end to the Pelicans’ magical run, the moment in New Orleans belonged to Green who has been the central figure in leading a troubled franchise into a future some critics said would soon not exist. Now, the future of NBA basketball in New Orleans has hope again.

“Very optimistic,” Green said about seasons to come. “I said it before, our future is bright. We’ll soak this up, a number of things. The playoff experience was great for us, elimination games, the play-in experience leading up to that, and then this loss. We feel it, so like I told our guys in the locker room, I will work this summer.”

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In Pelicans seasons past, winning seasons have come once in a blue moon without consistency due to boom or bust front office moves or lukewarm commitments from players.

Now, with a foundation finally cemented in place, the conditions and war chest of assets are in place for the franchise to pull in sustainable success.

Thanks, LA

While it didn’t work out on a consistent basis with superstar Anthony Davis, the Pelicans’ foundation of potential success starts with his trade to the Lakers. VP David Griffin and GM Trajan Langdon turned Davis into assets that over the course of two years eventually became a core of Brandon Ingram, C.J. McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones, Jaxson Hayes, and the incoming lottery pick from the Lakers for this year’s draft.

Shortly after the Davis trade, Ingram signed an extension on his rookie deal that kept him in New Orleans for the long haul.

The front office corrected the previous season’s mistakes by turning Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams into Devonte Graham and Jonas Valanciunas. And the biggest move of all was firing Stan Van Gundy to replace him with Green.

Acquiring young players in development may take longer to bloom, but it does put players under contract for longer and more cap-friendly deals.

Bouncing back

Most players will return next season. The extension Ingram signed in 2019 puts him at making around $30 million per season through 2025 and saying told the media on Friday that he wants to be in New Orleans on a new long-term deal. Ingram said after Thursday’s game that he’s still committed to New Orleans long-term.

When Zion was asked if he’d sign an extension he’s eligible for this summer, he responded, “I wouldn’t be able to sign it fast enough.”

The only player that doesn’t have a guaranteed contract next season is Jose Alvarado who signed a 4-year $6 million deal mid-season, which is arguably the best value-for return deal in the NBA. For the next 3 years, Alvarado’s contract has a team option that will likely be picked up as long as he continues his steady rise.

With much of the core still on rookie deals after they were drafted, there should be enough room in future cap space to sign signup McCollum and Nance this summer for extensions and to sign a quality veteran this summer. Hopes are that the Pelicans will also add a quality player to next season’s squad with a top 10 pick in the draft.

For a franchise people used to say should “move to Seattle”, some of those national voices are changing their tune.

Overnight, with commitments from Ingram, Williamson, and McCollum, New Orleans appears to be an extremely attractive landing spot for free agents.

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