The most challenging task for small-market teams in the NBA is getting the franchise cornerstone guy. Even if they manage to draft one, the clock on convincing them they can win it all in that small makret starts. Considering all the money, glamour, and benefits big markets offer to players, it’s tough to create a situation that will make a star player comfortable and loyal for an extended period of time. But it is not impossible, as the latest example of that can be seen with the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Milwaukee is a small market without too many things going on, but they managed to build a culture, atmosphere, and team that makes their superstar happy, as they got repaid with a championship. A sight that is rarely seen in today’s NBA. Well, that gave hope to other small-market teams, as the New Orleans Pelicans are definitely looking to take a page out of Milwaukee’s book.
The Pelicans have a transcendent player in their team, as Zion Williamson has proved in two short seasons he will be a force to reckon with for the next decade. But having a player of that magnitude brings expectations and pressure along. Gone are the days of developing your stars for years, losing, and building up to a better future. Nowadays, everybody wants to win now and quickly, with players in their early 20’s already carrying the burden of the whole franchise.
That is precisely what is happening to the Pelicans once again. Rumors have been swirling around for some time now that Zion is unhappy with the situation in NOLA, as he wants the team to be more competitive. Considering their previous experience with Anthony Davis and his abrupt exit out of New Orleans, David Griffin and management are panicking and trying to assemble a win-now team. A move they already tried once and failed miserably, as Zach Lowe pointed out on his podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski.
“They are still too early in this rebuild to start just giving away picks…This is almost reminding me of Anthony Davis 2.0. They realized they had a transcendent talent, and just rushed to get veterans around him, and the team just wasn’t good enough, and I think with Zion Williamson they just have to be careful.”Zach Lowe, Woj & Lowe
When the Pelicans saw what Anthony Davis is becoming, they immediately rushed to surround him with veterans like Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, etc. But that would prove to be the wrong move, as they never managed to build out of the mediocrity they were in without any young talent outside of AD. That is what eventually forced Davis out of New Orleans.
Now with Zion, they have the chance to learn from their mistakes, but their decisions are not showing any promise. After getting a solid group last year, headlined by the young core of Zion, Ingram, and Lonzo, surrounded by proven veterans like Adams, Bledsoe, Reddick, and more, the expectations were to make the playoffs. But as the season went down the drain, the questions of what to do now started to float.
The Pelicans front office is feeling the pressure of assembling a winning team around Zion, but if that means getting rid of your young assets and picks to get a couple of veterans, that is the wrong way to go. They managed to pack up Adams and Bledsoe for Valanciunas but lost valuable draft picks in the process. Still, most notably for them, that move cleared a lot of cap space, as now they are expected to make a run for Kyle Lowry while basically writing off Lonzo Ball, a very promising young point guard that has good chemistry with Zion.
I can understand they want to build the best possible team right now, but they could very well play themselves into a hole after those veterans leave, and Zion is requesting a trade – same as with AD a few years ago. David Griffin will have to find a balance between building a competitive team while remaining flexible for the future. A challenging task for one of the top GMs in the game.