The good times didn’t last long for the New Orleans Pelicans. After a surprising 95-91 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, the Pelicans suffered huge letdown Tuesday night as they fell to the Sacramento Kings 114-97. The star of the game was the revitalized Rudy Gay, who had a season-high 41 points.
It was hard to not view the game as a microcosm of where the teams are at this point in the season. After a rough start, the Kings have picked up their play (mostly due to the arrival of Gay) and are no longer an easy win. Meanwhile, the Pelicans have been buried under the weight of several key injuries (Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday) and have fallen out of playoff contention in the Western Conference. Just three weeks ago, this was a promising season for the Pelicans, but the damage has been done and now the question is how far the Pelicans will fall in one of the deepest draft lotteries in years.
Pelicans fans might be disappointed with the sour direction this season has taken, but there is certainly a silver lining in the possibility of getting a top lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, which figures to have several All-Star caliber players. Imagine what the Pelicans could do if they landed Arizona standout Aaron Gordon, who is currently the best player on the best team in the country. He’s an excellent frontcourt presence and being able to play him and Anthony Davis at the same time would give the Pelicans one of the scariest frontcourt duos in the game, right up there with what Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have done for the Grizzlies. Maybe they bottom out a little bit more and have a shot at Joel Embiid of Kansas — he’d be an even better fit than Gordon. Embiid is one of the best center prospects in recent memory — perhaps going all the way back to Greg Oden. The thought of Embiid and Davis playing together for the next decade should be enough to get Pelicans fans drooling. Or how about this: drafting Jabari Parker and putting him on the court with Davis and Anderson — that lineup would be unstoppable!
Obviously, this isn’t the Pelicans or their fan base wanted to be in at this point in the season. After spending the first two months looking like a team with a decent shot at racking up one of the lower playoff seeds, it’s hard to go back to setting your sights on an alluring draft pick. But thanks to the ridiculous amount of injury problems the Pelicans have had recently, that’s where they find themselves.
And hey, there’s no reason not to make the best out of a bad situation. If the Pelicans descent from contender to lottery team had taken place last season, when there were very few players in the draft to get excited about, that would have been a truly dire experience. In this case, however, not being a playoff team just yet is not an entirely bad thing. The current Pelicans team, while talented, was probably never going to be strong enough to contend for a championship, unless Anthony Davis played well enough to get them there himself (like LeBron James with 2007 Cavaliers).
Realistically, they were always going to need one more piece. Falling into the lottery allows them to get that piece without giving up any part of the solid core they’ve already developed. So, while the death of the Pelicans playoff hopes may initially seem like a cause for despair, it’s really blesing in disguise and it may be exactly what they need to turn them into a serious contender.