How the Pelicans Became the NBA’s Island of Misfit Toys


“One man’s trash is Dell Demps’ treasure”

Although that quote may not have originated with the Pelicans’ General Manager in mind, it is still applicable.

When Dell Demps became GM in July of 2010, he was tasked with creating a supporting cast for superstar Chris Paul. Despite a flurry of moves in the 2010-2011 season, Paul wanted to move in a different direction.

He was traded in December of the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 campaign, a move that began the construction of Demps’ vision for his team.

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The Paul trade remains the biggest move made by Demps. In return for the star point guard, New Orleans received Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and a first round pick resulting in Austin Rivers.

In retrospect that is not close to an equal return, but it is still better than the deal proposed by the Lakers that same winter. Though the trade itself was more of an end to an era rather than the start of a new one, it indirectly lead to a fresh start.

The Hornets team in that lockout season was not good, and ended up with the 6th worst record in the league. That was enough to win the right to draft Anthony Davis, and it is safe to say that right has paid dividends thus far.

Not too long before the 2012 NBA Draft, Demps made a massive salary cap move. He traded forward Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor for Rashard Lewis (who was immediately cut) to create a boatload of cap space.

The departure of these players plus that of David West in free agency meant that this was now about to become Demps vision.

Davis and Gordon were high profile young players at the time, and were hot commodities around the league. With these two in place, Demps began his treasure hunt. Though the bench is its own story as well, this first part will cover the key cogs in the Pelicans team.

The Core

After the 2011-2012 campaign, Dwight Howard was traded from the Orlando Magic, ending a nice streak of playoff success. With their star gone, the Magic were looking to clean house, and made forward Ryan Anderson available. Demps decided to jump at the opportunity to acquire a young, talented forward and got him dirt cheap.

Feb 20, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) shoots a free throw against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 95-84. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mexican center Gustavo Ayon was all it took for the Hornets to acquire Anderson,  who was quickly signed to a four year, $34 million contract.

Although he has struggled with injuries, he remains a valuable asset to both the team and the league. In a league moving in the direction of analytics, where three pointers more important, having a big man with such an elite stroke for that amount of money is a huge win.

The Magic signed another shooting big man in Channing Frye during free agency this past off-season for $44 million over four years.

When comparing Anderson’s career stats to Frye’s, Ryno comes out on top. However, Frye excelled under coach Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix during his contract year, leaving other teams salivating at the opportunity to add such a valuable asset.

When evaluating a signing, it is fair to look at other players in the same market. Though the contract given to Anderson may have seemed a bit much at first, I believe it is safe to say Demps closed a deal that looks smart regardless of the injuries that have followed it.

In the offseason after head coach Doug Collins departed from a struggling 76ers team, Philadelphia was looking to clean house. Because of this, All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday likely had his bags packed and was simply waiting to see where he would end up.

When Nerlens Noel fell to the Pelicans at the sixth pick in the NBA Draft, a proposed deal between the Sixers GM Sam Hinkie and Dell Demps was put into motion. Noel and the Pels’ 2014 first round pick were sent to Philly in exchange for Holiday.

Jan 2, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) against the Houston Rockets during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jrue is a jack of all trades on the basketball court. He can handle the ball, finish around the rim, shoot from mid range and from three and find open teammates and defend the ball.

Though he is not amongst the league’s best in any of these skills individually, bringing the entire package has a value of its own.

Perhaps the two most attractive attributes that persuaded Demps to make the move were Holiday’s ability to defend and, ironically, his durability.

With so many other elite point guards scattered around the NBA, it is a luxury to have a guy capable of shutting them down without giving up much offensively.

In the first four years of his career, Holiday missed only 14 of the 308 possible games. In only two seasons in New Orleans he has missed 48 and counting.

Hopefully the stress fracture in his right leg (which is what has haunted him over these two seasons) will finally get back to full strength and allow Holiday to be the difference maker Dell Demps brought him here to be.

Though many disagree with the price paid to get the young point guard here, there is still plenty of hope for Holiday in New Orleans.

When the Rockets signed Omer Asik to a three year deal before the 2012-2013 season, they thought they had acquired a solid center that would fit nicely on a rebuilt roster. Asik was happy to finally get starters minutes after backing up Joakim Noah of the Bulls for his first two seasons. Unfortunately, this relationship went south when Houston acquired center Dwight Howard.

Mar 1, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik (3) shoots under pressure from Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) during the first half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Asik was frustrated with his minutes decreasing once again, and the Rockets made an effort to trade him. During his last season in Houston the Pelicans had inquired about the disgruntled center, but Houston would only deal him in return for Ryan Anderson.

Fortunately for the Pels, no team was willing to match the steep asking price of Houston and New Orleans acquired him without giving up their sharpshooting forward.

If you ever want to get someone excited about basketball, try to steer clear of Asik. He is the embodiment of gritty, ugly basketball. He rarely makes flashy plays, and his mistakes shine brighter than his successes.

With that said, the grit he brings, especially on the defensive end make him a coveted asset to almost every team. Houston may fit that bill as well, but tension with a superstar rarely works out for the other guy.

Tyreke Evans is probably the most recognizable name on the Pelicans team after superstar Anthony Davis and basketball icon Jimmer Fredette.

After coming onto the NBA scene with an insane Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009, he quickly fell victim to an incompetent management situation with the Sacramento Kings.

The Kings started him out at the point, but then shifted him between two guard and small forward for the rest of his time there.

Not only was Evans not able to get comfortable in a role to call his own, but the players around him were about as cohesive as a bunch of strangers playing pickup. The relationship was at a point where both parties just needed to start fresh.

And Dell Demps was there to help, right on cue.

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New Orleans had a deal in place with Evans right as free agency began in the summer before the 2013-14 season. Demps and the Pelicans seemed set on trying to make this obviously talented basketball player fit into a tangible system for the first time in his career.

To acquire Evans, who was a restricted free agent, New Orleans had to deal Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez. These two were productive bench players as Hornets, enough so that some were peeved at their departure.

Though it took a while to get rolling, Tyreke has definitely found his niche with the Pels with Jrue Holiday out. Being the primary ball handler is what he is most comfortable doing, and the numbers appear to back that up.

With Evans, too much constant change stunted his growth as a player. If Holiday, Anderson and Asik had stayed with their old teams, their fate would have likely been similar.

But now, they have all been brought to one place by Dell Demps. Injuries have slowed the process thus far, so a conclusion would be premature.

Oct 23, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps during a preseason game against the Miami Heat at New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The thought process though is pretty cut and dry: acquire “young veteran” talent that other teams simply do not want anymore.

So not only do this players want to succeed for their new team, but they want to make sure their former homes know exactly what they gave up. These four players have skill sets that do not mesh traditionally in the NBA .

Only time will tell, but with the help of an even more diverse bench this group of misfits might make themselves fit…………

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