Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans started this season as favorites to land two of the of the final three playoff spots in the NBA Western Conference.
Following the departure of Gordon Hayward to Boston Celtics, last season’s surprise postseason package, Utah Jazz, was bound to struggle. That notion has turned into virtual reality following a below par performance in the offseason transfer market.
Bringing in poor shooters like Ekpe Udoh and Ricky Rubio hasn’t helped space out the offense around Rudy Gobert and ace defensive player Thabo Sefolosha is injured out for the season. Portland Trailblazers looked to fall out of the playoff race due to committing major finances to a good but not excellent squad.
With little room to bring in free agents, the team’s dependence on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum looked shot off making it ahead of an improved conference. Fast forward four months and the Grizzlies are far from securing a playoff spot in 12th place.
Any faint chance of making it to the postseason has been dashed following the season ending surgery set to be performed on Point Guard Mike Conley. Portland on the other hand, is seventh and on track to make its fifth straight playoffs.
While New Orleans ranks sixth in the standings, it is difficult to envisage a playoff appearance coming later this year. This is down to the team’s dim outlook following the severe achilles injury to DeMarcus Cousins recently.
In the midst of a sensational season averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists, the former Sacramento Kings man was under a month away from making the All Star Game as a starter. He was on track to guide Pelicans to the playoffs which would have been the first in his career and was in line to score a big pay day at season’s end in free agency.
However, none of the aforementioned prospects will come to pass since Cousins has been shut down for the season and about to undergo surgery. That leaves Pelicans in a perilous position to slip from its sixth place since Los Angeles Clippers are gaining momentum to take up the final playoff spot. Should the Pelicans duly miss out on the post season Coach Alvin Gentry and Manager Dell Demps could be jobless at the end of the campaign. Missing the services of DeMarcus and possibly Anthony Davis-considering Cousins sidekick has injury issues to deal with- could prove to be a catalyst to buy at least one more year for both men.
Conversely, team owners in the league have demonstrated cut throat measures when things don’t go their way. Golden State Warriors fired Mark Jackson despite taking the team from the NBA wilderness and Milwaukee Bucks did same by firing Jason Kidd. But beyond missing this year’s playoffs, the Pelicans have a lot to lose starting off with Davis future in the City. The former Kentucky man has three more seasons remaining on his contract after this season but the team has missed the playoffs since 2015 which is a waste of his supreme talents. Players in their prime like Davis, Damian Lillard and Paul George want to contend for a title and failure to build a winning team around them leads to misgivings and an eventual trade push.
Lillard secretly met with Trailblazers owner Paul Allen regarding the team’s plans sending rumors of a possible trade into overdrive. After handing out big contracts to the likes of Jrue Holiday and Solomon Hill, New Orleans have little room to sign another top player to augment Davis’ efforts. Largely unknown to many, Cousins leads the Pelicans in steals, rebounds and made three point shots this season. With the ex Sacramento Kings Center out, defenses will have a field day defending Davis since few shooters exist on the roster to draw opposing players away from the basket. With Davis utter worldly talent, Pelicans future depends on management’s ability to get players to draw bodies off him.
As a small market team, New Orleans has struggled to attract big name free agents in the past and it is likely to stay same in the immediate future. Had Cousins stayed healthy, offering him a maximum contract worth $170 million for five years to stay, would have been easy. There is huge doubt management will offer Cousins a long term deal considering the poor form of players returning from Achilles surgery. That leaves Davis as the sole elite player on the roster which isn’t enough to pull other star names to the team.
Losing Cousins hurts but Pelicans future rides a lot on happenings between now and the end of the season.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter