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.