The New Orleans Pelicans are 0-8. In a vacuum, there’s nothing particularly alarming about a bad basketball team starting the season with eight consecutive losses, but the Pelicans have failed in a way that shouldn’t really be possible in today’s NBA.
The Pelicans are a team that was gifted a once-in-a-generation talent, in the form of Anthony Davis, at the 2012 draft. For a few seasons, their fortunes tracked favorably with Davis’s development—they won 27 games during his first season, 34 during his second, and 45 during his fourth—which is how things are supposed to go when a bad team gets a player as good as Davis is.
Things fell apart last season (in no small part because Davis was injured for a large portion of it), but a team that had spent the previous four years building a competent core around its transcendent star could have written a 30-win campaign off as an unfortunate stumble. The Pelicans, my friends, are not that team:
This is a crime against basketball. Acquiring a superstar of Davis’s caliber is the hardest thing to do in the NBA, and teams that are lucky enough to get one have to actively sabotage themselves in order to stay out of the playoffs while that superstar is still on the roster. What does that kind of self-sabotage look like? It looks like pledging nearly $18 million per season to Omer Asik and E’Twuan Moore.
As soon as the Pelicans got their hands on Davis, they went about surrounding him with as many openly flawed players as possible. They traded a first-round pick for Omer Asik, traded the sixth pick in the 2013 draft for Jrue Holiday, wasted a top-10 pick on Austin Rivers, and traded for and then extended Tyreke Evans. At this year’s draft, they picked sharpshooter Buddy Hield, who is already 22 and shooting 20 percent from behind the arc, with the sixth overall pick.
The Pelicans’ team-building failures were on full display in each of Davis’s previous seasons with the team, but they have never been more starkly displayed than they are right now. Not only are the Pelicans 0-8, they are winless despite the fact that Anthony Davis has been playing some of the best basketball of his career.
On opening night against the Nuggets, Davis threw up a stat line that the NBA had never seen before: 50 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, seven steals, and four blocks. The Pelicans, somehow, lost that game 107-102. Two days later, the Pelicans lost to the Warriors while Davis put a 45-17 on the board. Davis scoring 35 points and 15 rebounds wasn’t enough to keep his team from falling to the Bucks on Nov. 1; neither was a 34-point, eight-rebound performance against the Kings last night.
This is a league in which a star player is supposed to be a golden ticket to the playoffs. LeBron James dragged a collection of corpses to the Finals during his first run in Cleveland, Carmelo Anthony never once missed the playoffs while in a Nuggets uniform, and Chris Paul took the Hornets to the playoffs three times while he was stuck there. And yet here the Pelicans are, with a legitimate superstar anchoring the roster, performing like a team that is tanking for draft picks.
Perhaps Davis deserves a larger share of the blame for the Pelicans’ ineffectiveness than I am giving him, but it’s hard to watch a guy go out there and put up Bill Russell numbers while sharing the floor with four barely functional teammates and playing in a seemingly non-existent offensive system—seriously, watching the Pelicans try to execute their offense is one of the most depressing experiences sports currently has to offer—and say, “Yes, well, the problem is obviously the guy scoring every basket and grabbing every rebound.” The Pelicans are broken in ways that go far beyond Davis’s ability to fix, and the league will be better off when he finally manages to get the hell out of there.