The New Orleans Pelicans are off to a disastrous start to the season which raises a legitimate question: at what point does the team commit to tanking?
The 2019 season was full of promise for the New Orleans Pelicans. The team won the draft lottery and drafted Zion Williamson, traded Anthony Davis for a trio of young studs and a lot of draft capital and brought in two savvy veterans in J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors.
With Jrue Holiday, who many expected to step up and become a star with Davis out of the picture, the Pelicans looked to be a legitimate playoff team or at least a threat to snag the eighth seed.
If I would have told you before the season that Brandon Ingram would also be averaging 24.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and three assists through 23 games then you would have assumed that the Pelicans were in the playoff hunt.
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They aren’t, in fact, they are one of the worst teams in the league. At 6-17, the Pelicans have the second-worst record in the Western Conference and the fifth-worst record overall. Only 2.5 games separate the Pelicans from the worst team in the league, the New York Knicks.
There are reasons to be excited, however, as Zion still has not even made his NBA debut. However, the initial estimate for his return has been pushed back and once he is back the team is going to load manage him and not play him in any back-to-backs (which is smart).
The Pelicans are worried about the future, and rightfully so. This team is young and even if they made the playoffs they likely would not have made it past the first round. With that future mindset, there is the possibility of the Pelicans simply committing to the tank after this horrendous start.
On paper it makes sense. The Pelicans would get better draft odds and if they get high enough in the lottery can add to the weakest part of the team (center) and draft James Wiseman, who Tankathon ranks as the second-highest prospect in the draft.
It makes sense on paper but I highly doubt that the Pelicans commit to tanking. There are multiple things in play that should keep the team from simply waving the white flag.
The first in the new lottery odds, which benefitted the Pelicans last season. There is no advantage to being the worst team in the league as the three-worst teams get the same odds at the first overall pick (14 percent). The five-worst teams all have better than a 10-percent chance, the eight-worst teams all have above a five percent chance.
The Pelicans were the seventh-worst team last season and ended up with the first overall pick and only one of the three-worst teams finished in the top three. The difference between the worst team and the seventh-worst team used to be 20.7 percent, now it is eight percent.
Even if they don’t commit to tanking, based on this start, the Pelicans will probably end up being in the bottom eight this season. The incentive to commit to losing simply is not there.
Another reason is Brandon Ingram. Ingram is a restricted free agent after this season who is going to get some big offers from other teams. After being on terrible Laker teams for three seasons, if the Pelicans commit to tanking it very well could rub Ingram the wrong way.
I am sure he would understand the long-term vision that is in mind but if they restrict his minutes to help the team lose it is not going to sit well. If a contending team offers him a big contract he might be more inclined to leave New Orleans.
Finally, this young core needs to know what it is like to win. Ingram, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball have not been on a winning team in their careers and while the Pelicans probably won’t finish as a winning team, instilling a losing culture is not going to help the young players on the roster.
Let them go out, have fun and win some games. The culture you instill in a team is just as important as the talent on the court and with this much talent, you cannot instill a losing culture.
I still think the New Orleans Pelicans have some holes this season and will have a lot of hiccups along the way, but we should not have to worry about the team wanting to lose to help draft stock.