The Pelicans' recent roster moves are a bleak reminder of the team's future.
For years now, the New Orleans Pelicans have been what some fans would call a "Poverty Franchise." The exact definition of "Poverty Franchise" varies depending on who you ask, but the general idea remains the same. Franchises that have experienced very little success throughout their history typically fit the description. The Pelicans could certainly be considered a "Poverty Franchise" when you realize that the team has undergone various ownership changes over the years, including a few seasons where the squad was run by the NBA itself. Not to mention, between 2005 and 2007, the team split time between New Orleans and Oklahoma City, which was unprecedented at the time. Ever since joining the NBA in 2002, the Pelicans have struggled to be consistent playoff contenders, and they have a bad history when it comes to retaining their superstars. From Chris Paul to Anthony Davis, it's almost an inevitability that their best players are going to leave them due to a lack of success.
Back in 2019, the Pelicans had just given up on DeMarcus Cousins, and they had done the same thing with Rajon Rondo. These players were perfect complementary pieces for Davis, however, they failed to keep them on board. This led to a bitter falling out between Davis and the franchise which was a devastating blow for hardcore fans of the team. Eventually, the Pelicans traded Davis to the Lakers in exchange for players like Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and Brandon Ingram. While this trade helped bring pieces to the Pelicans, there was still a lot of pessimism surrounding the team as they didn't have a bonafide superstar. Every single team needs one, and the Pelicans desperately needed to fill that hole.
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Thankfully, the Pelicans quite literally won the lottery that summer as they were awarded the first overall pick in the NBA Entry Draft. With this pick, the Pelicans took Zion Williamson, who was heavily touted as one of the best prospects since LeBron James. Of course, this is pretty well impossible to live up to, however, if anyone was going to bring in ticket sales, it was going to be Zion. Despite being injured for the first half of his rookie season, Zion made a huge impact on the team once he hit the court. His massive dunks and otherworldly blocks had fans around the league in awe, and his play made the Pelicans a must-watch team on a nightly basis. Eventually, Zion and his teammates went to the NBA bubble that year, where they missed the playoffs.
This past season, there was newfound optimism surrounding the Pelicans as they were bringing back all of their young stars, while also adding Stan Van Gundy as their head coach. Fans around the league felt as though the Pelicans were at least good enough to be a playoff team, and at the worst, they would make the play-in round. In the end, none of those things happened as the Pelicans were way too inconsistent. While Williamson continued to display superstar potential alongside Lonzo Ball, the rest of the team was marginal at best, and it forced the Pelicans into the abyss of the Western Conference. After just one season, Van Gundy was let go as head coach of the team, while reports surfaced that Zion's family was losing hope in the Pelicans' ability to turn things around.
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Heading into this offseason's free agency period, Pelicans fans were hopeful that the team would make the right decisions and surround Zion with the best players possible. After all, the Pelicans need Williamson to remain relevant, and if they don't surround him with the proper talent, then it's likely he'll just walk once his rookie contract is up. At first, the belief was that the Pelicans would make a big play for Kyle Lowry. In the end, that didn't work out as Lowry went to the Miami Heat. From there, the Pelicans tried to retain Lonzo Ball although they lost him to the Chicago Bulls. After two swings and a miss, the Pelicans went out and got themselves Devonte Graham who wasn't exactly the best option available. Sure, Graham is a fine point guard, but he doesn't move the needle enough to make the Pelicans a playoff team. Simply put, the Pelicans didn't get better this year, and arguably, they got a bit worse.
With the Pelicans headed in reverse, it's about time we ask the question: is it too early for Zion to give up on the Pelicans? Well, to answer that question one just needs to look at the history of the Pelicans, which was outlined earlier. The franchise simply does not have a history of winning, and with the team's most recent moves in mind, it is quite clear that winning is just not in the cards for this team. If Zion's main goal is to pad his stats, then, by all means, New Orleans is the place to do that. If he wants to win, however, then he might want to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Daivs, who won a title immediately after ditching the Pelicans.
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Over the years, players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and various others have taught us a very valuable lesson. That lesson is that it is simply not worth wasting your youth on a team that has no interest in winning. LeBron gave the Cleveland Cavaliers seven years of his life from 2003 and 2010, and not once did the team surround him with a superstar. The Pelicans have a potential face of the league on their roster right now, and they can't seem to attract anyone else to play with him. If you're Zion, this reality is simply unacceptable and it would be a true waste of his potential if he just sat around and accepted it.
It's unfortunate to say but until the Pelicans figure this out, they will continue to be among the dreaded "Poverty Franchises" of the NBA.