One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
Life as a Pelicans fan who doesn't live in Louisiana is really weird. When I run into other sports fans while wearing Pelicans gear. I usually get comments like: "Didn't know the Pelicans had any fans." "Are you a real Pelicans fan or a Zion fan?"
I really hate the latter comment because I have been a New Orleans Hornets / Pelicans fan since the Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans before the 2002-03 season. Basketball has always been my favorite sport and I was so excited to have a home team to root for in the NBA.
Photo courtesy of Pelican Debrief
The first year in New Orleans was so promising as the Hornets had two all-star caliber players to lead the squad with Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn. They finished that season 47-35 and lost in the first round to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. After that first season, I thought this team was heading in the right direction but little did I know, the dumb decisions by upper management would start then and never end.
In the off-season that year, the Hornets decided to not renew head coach Paul Silas' contract along with letting go on the entire staff. They decided to hire Tim Floyd as the head coach after his stellar stint with the Chicago Bulls (sarcasm). New Orleans took one step forward, just to take two steps back. Floyd coached the Bulls for 3 seasons and some change, winning a total of 49 games during that time. In fairness to Floyd, this was the post Michael Jordan, Baby Bulls era.
In his first and only season as the head coach of the New Orleans Hornets, Floyd led the team to a 41-41 record with a first round playoff exit. The Hornets lost a hard fought seven game series to the Miami Heat as rookie, Dwyane Wade, gave us a glance of what was going to become a first ballot Hall of Fame type career as he outdueled Baron Davis.
Photo via The Sun-Sentinel
So, the Hornets let the winningest coach in their franchise history go to hire Tim Floyd who had done nothing but lose as an NBA coach. Floyd comes in and the team finishes with a worse record than the year prior. Color me shocked!! Then he is let go, as the general manager decided to move on.
The next season the Hornets finally made a good move by hiring Bryon Scott as the head coach. Scott had previous success as an NBA head coach with the New Jersey Nets where he led them to back-to-back NBA finals appearances.
The first season under Scott was horrible for New Orleans as they dealt with injuries to Baron Davis and Jamal Magloire among others. This was also star guard Baron Davis' last season with the Hornets. This is the first star New Orleans could not hold on to. They finished with a horrible 18-64 record that led to them having a top five draft pick, that turned into Chris Paul.
Photo provided by Fadeaway World
It took a few years for the Chris Paul and David West core to really take off but in the 2007-2008 season, Chris Paul in only his third season played at an MVP (Most Valuable Player) level, finishing second in MVP voting behind Kobe Bryant. I still believe Paul was robbed and should of won the award that season but that's a different article for a different day. New Orleans finished second in the western conference with a record of 56-26 and lost in the second round of the playoffs to the San Antonio Spurs. Who knew, 14 years later, that this would still be the best team in New Orleans Hornets / Pelicans history.
The next couple of years were filled with disappointment and unfulfilled expectations as the Hornets either were eliminated in the first round or didn't make the playoffs at all. Bryon Scott was let go after the 2009-10 season and New Orleans hired Monty Williams.
Photo via Arizona Sports
This above image may look familiar as Monty Williams is now one of the best coaches in the NBA as he led Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals last season and has them looking to make another deep playoff run this season. I guess it was just bad timing the first time around as Chris Paul only spent one season being coached by Williams in New Orleans. Paul was unhappy and asked to be traded. This turned into one of the most controversial moments in recent NBA history as Paul was a would be Laker but ended up being a Clipper for "basketball reasons". Paul was the second superstar gone.
The following season was bad as expected which lead to the Hornets getting the number one and ten overall picks in the draft.
Photo courtesy of Pelican Debrief
In the 2012 NBA draft the New Orleans Hornets selected Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. I was over the moon about these two selections. I thought this would be the next big time, one, two, punch that dominated the NBA. I was wrong, to say the least. Now Anthony Davis eventually turned into one of the best players in the NBA but Austin Rivers was looking like a bust for the first few years and had to leave the Pelicans to find his niche as a role player.
Photo provided by Hoops Habit
Before the 2013-14 season the team switched mascots from Hornets to Pelicans but the story stayed the same. The first season as the Pelicans was Anthony Davis' second season and he wasn't ready to be the best player on a good team yet as New Orleans finished under .500. Then the next season the Pelicans made a turn and finished the regular season with a record of 45-37 but got swept in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors. Monty Williams seemed to finally be in a place to continue progressing with the team and then BOOM, Williams was fired.
New Orleans hired Alvin Gentry in an effort to have a higher octane offense. The first season under Gentry was not a step forward as the Pelicans finished 31-51 after an injury riddled season. The second season was much of the same with another under .500 season.
Photo courtesy of The Undefeated
The third season with Gentry as the head coach was the best season New Orleans had as the Pelicans. The previous season New Orleans made a big time trade to add perennial all-star DeMarcus Cousins to the team. It took a while for the "twin towers", Anthony Davis and Cousins to gel but once they got in a rhythm, New Orleans really took off. Then BOOM, Demarcus Cousins tears his Achilles tendon. The Pelicans had won 8 out of their last 10 games at that point when Cousins pulled up lame against the Rockets. I remember it like it was yesterday, my birthday is on January 24th and we went out to celebrate it on the 26th. I was watching the game at a bar when I saw Cousins limping after going after a long rebound. I was devastated, thinking, "every time we take one step forward, we take two steps back." The Pelicans would go on to sweep the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in the second round.
Photo via nola.com
During the off-season after Anthony Davis' best year as a Pelican, New Orleans would let DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo go to other teams. Rondo was great along side Jrue Holiday in the playoffs but let's not keep him. Again, one step forward, two steps back. The next season was a big disappointment as the Pelicans were not good at all and Davis wanted out. You may sense a theme here. Davis finished the season playing limited minutes in a bizarre should he play or should he sit scenario. In the 2019 off-season the Pelicans gave Anthony Davis his wish and traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving Pelicans' fans heartbroken.
Photo provided by The Denver Post
The Pelicans got really lucky in the 2019 draft lottery winning the first overall pick which was going to be Zion Williamson. Williamson was a once in a lifetime prospect that had the power of an all-pro defensive end but the explosiveness of an Olympic high jumper. Williamson had knee surgery prior to his rookie season which led to him only playing 24 games. Zion's first season was Alvin Gentry's last as the head coach. Gentry's tenure as coach was not impressive but you could make the argument that he deserved one more season since he only had Zion for less than half of the season and this thing called Covid-19 made the NBA take a 4 month hiatus and finish the season in a bubble.
Photo via The New York Post
In the off-season the Pelicans hired veteran NBA head coach, Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy had success in the past, taking the Dwight Howard led Orland Magic to the NBA finals but after that spent five subpar years as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. Van Gundy was hired to be the anti-Gentry, bring discipline, accountability, and make the Pelicans a good defensive team. None of those things happened. I would say we took one step forward to take two steps back but to call the Van Gundy year a step forward is an insult to moving forward. Van Gundy only lasted one season. The one positive from last season is that Zion was amazing, averaging 27 points per game on 61% shooting from the floor while playing in 61 games.
Photo courtesy of the NBA
During this past off-season the Pelicans Willie Green as their head coach. This is his first head coaching opportunity, so there were no expectations for him but he was not handed a great situation as the Pelicans star player, Williamson, had surgery on his foot. It was reported that Zion would be ready to play opening night but here we are almost halfway through the season and no site of the former Duke Blue Devil on the court. The Pelicans are currently, 13-25, with Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valančiūnas playing at all-star levels.
As a Pelicans fan, all I can hope is that this latest step back is a set up for steps forward but with rumors of Zion Williamson wanting out of New Orleans and the history of the organization. Why would I have hope of anything but the status quo. One step forward, two steps back.