CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball is taking a team-by-team look at the 2014 NBA offseason. We continue with the New Orleans Pelicans. Check out the rest of the offseason reports here.
How they finished 2014: Sad. That's how they finished 2014. Sadly.
The Pelicans, along with the Lakers and the Nuggets, never really head a chance. Their best combination of five players, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, and Eric Gordon, appeared in 12 games together. Just 12. First Anderson and Gordon were injured, then they came back and Davis was out, then he came back and Jrue Holiday went down, for what wound up the rest of the season.
Then Anderson suffered a serious neck injury, done for the year.
It was just a cavalcade of misfortune. The Pelicans weren't good when they had most of the whole team together, but they also had no time to gel, no time to find a rhythm, no time to find an identity. In the final two months of the season, the only things we learned are that Anthony Davis has evolved to the point where it seems "likely" he'll be a top five player within three years at the latest, and Tyreke Evans really did seem to show some genuine development both as a leader and as a player. Brian Roberts showed some things, in a contract year.
Other than that, it was just a bust.
Offseason needs: To get healthy? OK, beyond that, they needed to get back the center they gave up when they sent Robin Lopez to Portland to make room for Tyreke Evans. The plan early on was for Jason Smith and Stiemsma to fill in, but that didn't work. So Davis wound up playing center, and that's too much of a physical toll on him.
They needed to get some back court depth. They were looking at free agents in Brian Roberts, and Anthony Morrow. Jason Smith was also a free agent going in.
Again, though, seriously, health.
Draft: They didn't have a first-round pick, having sent it to Philly in the Jrue Holiday trade last year. The Sixers wound up taking Dario Saric who won't be coming over for two years with it. The Pelicans grabbed Russ Smith out of Louisville in the second round .
Free agency and trades: They let go of Roberts, Smith, Morrow, and Al-Farouq Aminu, a starting-caliber young wing who was underrated last year. That's the one that's really going to hurt them as the team is perilously short on true small forwards, and especially ones that are high-level defenders. Losing Aminu was a real blow to the team.
The big addition, however, was really big. The Pelicans swooped in (get it?) and landed Omer Asik when the Rockets cap-dumped him to make a run at Chris Bosh. Asik is just what the doctor ordered. He allows Davis to go back to the power forward spot, saving him wear and tear from banging down low, immediately improves their woeful defense, provides a legitimate rim protector and rebounder, and since Davis is such a freak, his offensive liabilities aren't a concern. Even with Asik being paid $15 million on an $8 million cap hit thanks to the poison pill contract he signed with Houston, it's great value for New Orleans.
And on top of all that? Asik's an expiring. Even after giving Anthony Davis the most money they possibly can in the next year, if Eric Gordon opts out (which he might, given his overall unhappiness in New Orleans), the Pelicans could have as little as $47 million tied up in cap space next summer. In short, if this plan doesn't work and they want to blow it up, they have the ability to.
From there the Pelicans made a few small moves. They nabbed Jimmer Fredette who can shoot and not do much else, but he was worth the gamble to see if he can turn into something. They brought back Darius Miller, a good move, as he's shown some quality things. And they brought in John Salmons off the scrap heap pile to provide a veteran who can play some small-ball three for them.
Overall grade and accomplishments -- B: How you feel about the Pelicans' summer basically comes down to whether you buy into their core or not. If you think Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis is a great combination and they can win, then adding Asik is just setting that team up for success better. If you think the roster is flawed and bloated with players overpaid, then you think this was a waste of a year.
But again, the Pelicans haven't compromised their future. They still have cap space. They still have an elite player under the age of 25. They have some talented guards and versatility. Adding Asik helps them, and they didn't give anyone up who seems essential. Aminu was good, underrated, but still a name few people know. Brian Roberts, same deal. They lost some depth, that's important to note, but if they get back their full compliment of players healthy, at least they'll have put this roster in a spot to see if it can work or not. And if not, they'll have the ability to go back to the drawing board.
We'll see if they can get healthy, and if we can finally know what these birds are made of.