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Orlando Magic 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Orlando Magic’s rebuild has been slow and painful, but after two solid years in the draft lottery the Magic might have a bright future in front of them. Basketball Insiders takes a deep dive into the Orlando Magic in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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The Orlando Magic have been in a slump ever since the departure of Dwight Howard. Since his exodus, they’ve only eclipsed 30 wins in one season and haven’t finished in the top 10 of the Eastern Conference.

They’ve seen multiple lottery picks leave the team in the that span, either by trade or by free agency. One of those players, Victor Oladipo, has already turned into a legitimate superstar.

With three young lottery picks remaining on their roster in Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and newcomer Mohamed Bamba, and a new head coach to boot, do the Magic have what it takes to make a splash in the LeBron-less East? Let’s find out.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

It feels like the last several summers have kind of bled together when it comes to the Orlando Magic, and 2018 was no real exception. The Magic made another coaching change, this time replacing Frank Vogel with Steve Clifford, who will become the franchise’s fifth head coach since the 2014-15 season. They locked up Aaron Gordon to a new four-year deal that seems mostly fair, plus swapped out one albatross center in Bismack Biyombo for another in Timofey Mozgov in a deal with Charlotte that also netted them Jerian Grant. And of course, they continued the franchise’s apparent obsession with drafting length, taking Texas center Mo Bamba sixth overall. It’ll be another developmental year in Orlando, one where the Magic will quickly want to get an idea of how Gordon and 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Isaac play together after Isaac barely cracked 500 minutes last season. They’ll also want to get a quick idea of how Bamba fits into the plans, plus whether or not that means they have to try and extract some value for the expiring contract of Nic Vucevic. Don’t expect a whole lot on the floor unless someone like Gordon takes a big leap, however.

4th Place – Southeast Division

-Ben Dowsett

In most cases, it would be very frustrating to watch a team like Orlando start rebuilding again since, you know, that’s what they’ve been doing since 2012. However, things just might be different this time. While the next couple of years are going to be drag for Orlando, Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon could build a glorious future in the Magic Kingdom. As for the present, not much should be expected of Orlando. The roster is promising but, even with Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic, it has no stars right now. Still, the future is bright! Just don’t screw this up like last time, okay guys?

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Matt John

There is no question about what kind of team the Magic are building right now. With the exception of four players, nobody on the roster is under 6-foot-6. They are long, athletic and most importantly, defensive-minded. Steve Clifford is going to have plenty of options to tinker with as far as rotations go. Scoring will be at a premium with this bunch, but opponents are going to need a ton of luck to put the ball in the basket against the likes of rookie Mohamed Bamba and second-year forward Jonathan Isaac. It probably won’t field the best results in their first season, but pay close attention to this experiment in Orlando.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Spencer Davies

The Orlando Magic haven’t been crazy in their moves, but they have taken chances, and on the surface those chances look pretty promising. The issue for the Magic is they are trapped between two teams – the team the current front office inherited, and the young team they have built and drafted. If Steve Clifford is the coach the Magic believe him to be, maybe all of this comes together into something unexpectedly special, but if Clifford is the coach he was in Charlotte, the Magic could be doomed before they get out of the gate. Its not fair to lay it all on the feet of a new head coach, but if the Magic have had a bad culture for a while, maybe Clifford is the guy that changes it enough to help the young guys flourish. If he’s not, then all of this is simply smoke and mirrors for another run through the draft lottery.

3rd Place – Southeast Division

– Steve Kyler

The Orlando Magic have a decent group of veteran talent but the team’s priority should be on developing and building around its young talent. Aaron Gordon is locked up on a four-year deal and continues to round out into a very capable player. My main focus this season, however, is the pairing of Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba. Both players are incredibly long, talented and mobile. I am not sure how well these two players will fit together on the floor against NBA teams but I am excited to see what head coach Steve Clifford is able to do with them. If Isaac and Bamba come even close to their respective ceilings, the Magic could have a dynamic frontcourt duo unlike any other in the league. But it’s also possible that they aren’t a great fit or they don’t allow Gordon to play enough minutes at power forward, which is where he is arguably most effective.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Aaron Gordon

Entering his fifth year in the league, Aaron Gordon has seen a substantial improvement to his offensive game. He is coming off a season in which he averaged career highs across the board, posting 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.8 blocks.

Something that really sticks out is Gordon’s work to become a modern-day stretch four. As a rookie, he shot a measly 27.1 percent from the three-point line. He’s seen a steady improvement in his ability to shoot from beyond the arc throughout his time in the league and posted a respectable 33.6 percent this last season. He started out the season red hot, shooting a blistering 42.5 percent from the three through December. He obviously cooled off the latter half of the season, thanks in part to a lackluster 20.5 three-point percentage in January.

If he can find that fire again this season, and stay healthy (a large part of his poor January shooting could be the fact that he missed seven games in December), his ability to shoot the three will give the Magic some much-needed offensive firepower. A key thing to note, in wins last season, Gordon shot 42.1 percent from the three-point line. In losses, that number was down to 30.2 percent.

Top Defensive Player: Jonathan Isaac

While the Magic added someone to their roster this offseason whose wingspan makes Rudy Gobert’s look average, we wanted to go with someone who has already had a season to prove their defensive value. The second-year product out of Florida State University, Jonathan Isaac posted a considerably lower defensive rating than anyone else on the Magic’s roster at 101.1.

Isaac still has a thin frame, which can allow stronger opponents to muscle him down low, but he more than makes up for it with his length and athleticism. It’s no surprise that he led the Magic in block percentage at 44.1, but he also led the team in steal percentage at 35.9.

Jonathan is still incredibly raw on offense. But his high defensive IQ, matched with his lanky frame, will allow him to dominate on D for many years to come. He is long enough to protect the rim, but quick enough to guard the wing, making him highly valuable in today’s game of “position-less” basketball. Give him a few more years to put on muscle and assimilate in the league, and he’ll become a force to be reckoned with.

Top Playmaker: D.J. Augustin

If there is one thing that Magic are definitely lacking right now, it is a solid playmaker. Before the trade deadline, Elfrid Payton was putting together a solid season offensively, averaging a career-high 6.4 assists per game. Once he was dealt to the Suns, the starting one position essentially fell into Augustin’s lap.

A positive thing to note regarding Augustin’s tenure post-All-Star break was his increase in assist percentage. Before the break as a backup, his assist percentage was 23.7. After taking over as lead ball handler, it shot up to 27.1 percent. Thanks in part to D.J.’s many years in the league, he also boasted a positive assist to turnover ratio of 2.36 during the post-All-Star stretch. It doesn’t hurt that he shot 41.9 percent from beyond the arc, either.

He clearly shouldn’t be their answer as a long-term playmaker. Augustin has been in the league long enough to know what you’re going to get out of him, but going into this season he is the best playmaker on the floor. It will be interesting to see if the Magic try to add a younger point guard at the deadline to help with their rebuild, or if they plan to go with Augustin for the year and begin the search next summer.

Top Clutch Player: Evan Fournier

Evan Fournier has been a solid player during his tenure with the Magic. He is an efficient scorer, and barring the emergence of Aaron Gordon, could have been considered the best offensive player on this roster. One thing that sticks out with Fournier, however, is how much the Magic go through him in the clutch. He has a 31.8 usage percentage in the clutch, almost double any other player on roster. Only 11 players who played at least as many clutch minutes and exceeded Fournier in usage percentage made a higher percentage of their team’s field goals.

He also boasts the most points per game in the clutch, the highest percentage of fields goals attempted and made, and the most minutes played. One thing that Fournier lacks in this category is efficiency. While he does score the most points in the clutch, by a considerable amount, he does so with poor field goal percentage at 38.9. Chalk this up to teams putting their best wing defender on him in the closing minutes of all close games. Teams realize how much he is relied upon in the clutch and definitely game plan around that.

The Unheralded Player: Nikola Vucevic

This seems to be a popular place for Vucevic to land, as we had him as the unheralded player last year, too. He is a talented big that somehow gets hidden on a lackluster roster. He averaged a quiet 16.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 blocks last year, all while averaging a career high percentage at the free throw line of 81.9 percent.

One thing that doesn’t get mentioned nearly often enough is that he has the highest usage percentage out of all the starters. This can be tied to his highly efficient post-up play and ability to finish around the rim. He’s been trying to stretch his game to the three-point line, and while his mark of 31.4 percent isn’t entirely flashy, it puts him at seventeenth in the league out of centers who attempt more than three a game.

A few more interesting numbers to prove his value are the fact that his plus-minus of -0.6 is considerably better than any other starter on the roster. He also boasts 29 double-doubles, 12 more than Aaron Gordon, and light years more than any other player on the roster.

Best New Addition: Mohamed Bamba

This pick should come as no surprise. Bamba has brought a new dimension to this league. With the sixth overall pick, the Magic introduced the largest wingspan in the NBA at 7-foot-10. ‘Mo’ Bamba has elite length, which will allow him to make an immediate impact on defense. He finished second in the NCAA in blocks per game, at a staggering 3.7. He was in the top 20 for defensive rebounds at 7.33. His stature is no joke, and the league will take notice upon the start of the season.

A dimension that he will surely try to improve is his ability to shoot. Many videos have appeared showing Bamba shooting with solid, consistent technique. This will not directly translate in game situations off the bat, as he did shoot only 27.5 percent from three in college, but the fact that he finds importance to develop this part of his game early can only be a huge benefit to the Magic.

– Jordan Hicks

Who We Like:

1. Jonathon Simmons:

After coming off arguably his best year, albeit in a new system and getting used to a larger role, Simmons is poised to make an even larger impact in his second year of the Magic. He is locked up for at least one more year with next season being non-guaranteed. This fact alone will incentivize him to string together a strong season so he can potentially make a large splash in next summer’s free agency.

He developed superbly with the Spurs during his first two years of the league, then saw career highs across the board in his first year with the Magic. Not only did he improve basic stats like scoring, rebounding, and assists, but he was also able to improve his efficiency.

He’s spent the summer recovering from a wrist injury, so it will be interesting to see how healthy he is come the start of the season. With him slated as the starting shooting guard, the Magic will definitely need him to continue his improvements if they want to add more wins.

2. Steve Clifford:

By hiring Clifford as new head coach, the Orlando Magic hope that he’ll be able to develop this young roster into a winning team. Steve has carved out a comfortable spot in the league as a defensive savant, developing his skills under both Van Gundy brothers before taking over as the coach of the then-Charlotte Bobcats in 2013.

While he wasn’t able to make any deep runs in the playoffs, he did get there two out of five seasons. He never really had a championship caliber roster, but he was definitely able to coach his teams to be solid defensively.

The Magic were very strategic in hiring Clifford. As you look at their roster, three names stick out right away as defensive building blocks: Mohamed Bamba, Aaron Gordon, and Jonathan Isaac. Throw in Jonathon Simmons, and you’ve got yourself quite the group. These players, as mentioned previously, boast length, athleticism, and technique. Clifford should be able to utilize these players’ unique skillsets right away to help the Magic get off to a strong start.

3. D.J. Augustin:

If there is one thing we’ve learned while watching the NBA the past few years, it is that teams can live or die by the three. D.J. Augustin was one of the best three point shooters in the league last year at 41.9 percent. The Magic weren’t flawed in starting Elfrid Payton over Augustin, as he is much younger and definitely had room to develop, but allowing Augustin more minutes per page gives the team a much better opportunity at stretching the floor on offense. D.J. is an elite three-point shooter and will keep defenses on their heels whenever he has the ball.

4. The New Frontcourt

We cannot wait to see the three-man monster lineup on defense of Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, and Mohamed Bamba. Those three players will terrorize opposing teams at the rim. Two of the three can absolutely hold their own when switching onto smaller players, as well.

As the season goes on and this group gets more and more minutes together, they are going to help the Orlando Magic morph into a defensive-minded team that this league hasn’t seen. Clifford will help put these players in the right positions. Don’t be surprised if the Magic finish as a top-five team defensively.

– Jordan Hicks

Strengths

While this team has struggled immensely since the departure of Dwight Howard, this young, raw core that they’ve pieced together over the last few years has to totally look like a bright spot. They’ve been able to draft some really intriguing pieces that all harbor elite length, athleticism, and playmaking ability.

It will be interesting to see if the new head coach can help instill a winning culture to a team that is used to losing games. Looking at the roster as a whole, Jonathon Simmons is one of the few players that has recently been a part of a winning culture. Getting a new coach in there that is used to winning a lot more games than most of the players should be viewed as a positive.

– Jordan Hicks

Weaknesses

A clear weakness is their lack of a true distributor. By waiving Shelvin Mack, the Magic no longer have anyone on their roster that can successfully distribute the ball. D.J. Augustin has always been a solid backup point guard, but he’s never been more than just that. By trading Payton and waiving Mack, they’ve handicapped themselves to a serious lack of depth at the point guard position.

Jerian Grant is coming off his best season yet with the Chicago Bulls, so it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table with Orlando. He will likely start the season as backup point guard, but thanks in part to his youth, Orlando may throw him into the starting spot if he proves he is worth the development.

While they have plenty of pieces to work with defensively, they are coming off a season in which they finished twentieth in the league in defensive rating. This has certainly been a weak point the last couple of seasons, so their recent draft acquisitions and new coaching hire have been made for a reason.

– Jordan Hicks

The Burning Question:

Can Steve Clifford Change the Losing Culture of this Young Team?

History matters with a question like this. In looking at Clifford’s track record as an NBA head coach, there is reason to believe that he can. During his first season with the Charlotte Bobcats, he led them to a 43-39 record as well as the playoffs. Their two previous years the Bobcats had a combined win total of only 28.

This shows that Clifford has the ability to make an immediate impact by employing his defense-first mentality. One could also argue that this young Magic roster has a lot more upside than the roster he took over in Charlotte. It will be interesting to see as the season progresses, but one thing is for certain: This Magic team will be exciting.

– Jordan Hicks

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NBA Daily: Who’s On The Move Next?

While the bulk of the NBA offseason is likely done, here are some names to watch as potential movers ahead of training camps in two months.

Steve Kyler

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With NBA free agency all but closed, there are still a few names lingering waiting for deals, and a new batch of players to watch as the NBA season starts to take shape. Until training camps open in roughly 65 days, here are some of the situations we’ll be watching:

Bradley Beal

The Washington Wizards have finally wrapped up their summer-long search process for new leadership, landing on Tommy Sheppard as their new full-time general manager. After flirting publicly with Denver’s Tim Connelly, and privately with several other candidates, Sheppard won out. His first order of business is convincing Wizards’ All-Star Bradley Beal to stay on board long enough for them to build around him.

Sheppard has been very transparent that the team will offer Beal the maximum contract extension possible on July 26th — not only hoping he’ll sign it but also showing him their convictions to remold the next iteration of the team with the sharpshooter as the centerpiece.

Beal has two fully guaranteed years and some $55.7 million left on his current deal and is eligible to tack on three more years later this week.

While it is likely Beal will turn down what’s expected to be a three-year $111 million extension offer, the Wizards feel like the respect shown in making the offer at the earliest possible moment will illustrate to Beal how much the team values him.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, the way the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement works, it is in Beal’s best financial interests to wait out next season as he can earn substantially more money if he picks up where he left off last season as an All-NBA level guard. Earning an All-NBA nod next season could trigger eligibility for a Supermax extension next summer that could push him towards a $167 million deal over five years.

Turning down the offer will open the trade rumor flood gates on Beal, and that’s not lost on the Wizards. Teams that have tried to engage Sheppard and company on Beal deals have been turned away abruptly, and Sheppard has already started telling people publicly and privately that even if Beal turns down the extension offer, the Wizards will be staying the course with Beal.

While time will tell how committed Beal really is to a rebuilding situation in Washington, for now, it seems that, with or without an extension, the Wizards plan to keep building around Beal.

That could change if he asks out, but even if he stays silent on the subject, that’s not going to stop the speculation train from picking up steam if he does as expected and passes on the extension offer.

Kevin Love

As teams started missing out on All-Star level free agents this summer, Cleveland Cavaliers’ forward Kevin Love’s name started to pop up in trade rumors. Most of the trade talk was speculation according to sources near the Cavaliers, who said there were never any real discussions on moving Love and his remaining four years and $120.4 million.

While interest in acquiring Love is lukewarm, to say the least, there is a belief that Love is obtainable from Cleveland, who have looked at moving most of their veteran players as they start to focus in on building around their youth.

Love, who will turn 31 in September, might be the most obtainable All-Star level guy in the NBA and does have a lot owed on his deal — but it is a contract that plateaus in value next season and then declines during the final year.

As of now, it seems unlikely that anything involving Love happens before training camp. Still, there is a sense in NBA circles that as the season progresses and the balance of power takes shape, Love could be a name on the move around the trade deadline; especially with so much perceived parity in both conferences after the most chaotic offseason the league has seen in years.

Kris Dunn

The Chicago Bulls were pretty active after Summer League wrapped trying to make deals to round out their roster. One name that continued to surface in trade talks was Bulls’ guard Kris Dunn. The belief in NBA circles is that the Bulls are looking to move on from Dunn and that the asking price is fairly low.

Dunn’s time in Chicago has been hot-and-cold, to say the least. He had a breakout redemption year after being traded to the Bulls as part of the Jimmy Butler trade in 2017 — but since then, Dunn has been up and down and has developed a spotty reputation inside the organization.

With the Bulls landing Coby White in the draft and having so much invested in Zach LaVine, the belief is the Bulls are seriously looking at moving on from Dunn.

In terms of easy-to-obtain guard options, Dunn seems like the most plausible starting level young guy, and it might not take much more than a protected draft pick to get it done if the asking price rumors are genuinely true.

Iman Shumpert

Rockets’ guard Iman Shumpert is still unsigned, although it seems he may stay in Houston on a one-year deal if something else doesn’t surface. The Rockets had approached Shumpert’s camp about his willingness to be included in a sign and trade deal before they obtained Russell Westbrook, and there is still talk that Shumpert could be used to bring in another high-level player.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement requires any sign and trade deal to be three years in length, but only the first season must be guaranteed. This means that the Rockets could leverage Shumpert’s Bird Rights to balloon up his first-year salary to add a significant piece to the roster.

Among the remaining unsigned free agents, Shumpert has logged the most minutes, played a solid role for the Rockets in the postseason and might be the best defender on the market.

While there isn’t much left in terms of free-agent dollars, there is still exception money out there, so the book isn’t closed yet on Shumpert’s options.

Chris Paul

When the Oklahoma City Thunder triggered the deal to swap Russell Westbrook for Rockets’ guard Chris Paul, it was assumed the Thunder would immediately flip Paul to another team and start their rebuild around the pieces that came back. The problem is that deal never materialized.

While there has been some criticism of the Thunders’ decision to move Westbrook for what might be the ugliest contract in the NBA. Sources close to the Thunder believed that keeping their word to Westbrook was worth it. When the multi-time All-Star signed his massive extension, one of the promises made by the organization was that if Westbrook were ever unhappy, the Thunder would work with him and his agents to find a suitable situation — something they felt they did with the Houston deal.

While Paul may not be the ideal player to re-build around, the Thunder entered into the deal knowing they could not offload enough of their veteran players to be bad enough to get into the top draft pick discussion, so they opted to add Paul and aim for a playoff spot.

While making the playoffs in the Western Conference might be a stretch, the Thunder have eyes on developing their young guys with Paul as a veteran mentor. There is also hope that Paul will play himself into being more desirable in trade, especially as the three remaining years and $124 million left on his deal ages away.

Basketball Insiders has been grading the offseason of every team in the NBA; if you have missed one check them out here:

New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, and Cleveland Cavaliers.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding up to four new voices in 2019, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team other than in New York & LA; we are full in those markets.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful. E-mail that to openings2019@basketballinsiders.com

 

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NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – New Orleans Pelicans

Spencer Davies recaps a busy summer for the New Orleans Pelicans that turned out to be a huge success going into their first year without Anthony Davis.

Spencer Davies

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With the NBA Summer League concluded and the brunt of free agency completed, the doldrums of the offseason are here. The FIBA World Cup, Drew League, BIG 3 and The Basketball Tournament and other events are currently taking over the scene until the association fires back up in late September.

Last week, Basketball Insiders started a “Grading The Offseason” series by breaking down six teams and the type of summer each has had. To kick off this next round of reviews, we’ll take a look at the brand new version of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Overview

Entering the year, the Pelicans had high hopes. While they did lose key contributors with Rajon Rondo and a rehabbing DeMarcus Cousins electing to sign elsewhere, the organization was able to bring in a motivated Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton to ease the roster hit. The core of Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic and those two seemed to be a solid group on paper.

Of course, as the season progressed, that changed. Playing the up-and-down pace that Alvin Gentry loves, the Pelicans were getting it done on the offensive end. Davis had been putting up the ridiculous numbers as usual, while Holiday was scoring and dishing with the best of them. Randle fit like a glove with his new team and was a force on the inside, as well as an improved shooter on the outside. Mirotic stretched the floor and, before getting hurt, Payton looked as comfortable as ever.

Then, chaos ensued. Shortly after the new year, Davis made his intentions clear that he wanted out of New Orleans. As the team was hovering around the postseason hunt, the turmoil caused a noticeable distraction and an awkward predicament that left many with a sour taste in their mouths. Up to the trade deadline, the rumors ran rampant regarding Davis’ desire to land with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

General manager Dell Demps refused to give in to those demands though, asking for the steepest of prices to even field a call from LA’s front office duo of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. The Lakers offered a majority of the franchise’s young core and a package of picks in an attempt to entice Demps, but he didn’t budge. Pelicans owner Gayle Benson reportedly wanted nothing to do with moving Davis, and she got her wish … at least for the remainder of the season.

New Orleans did trade away Nikola Mirotic and in return received Stanley Johnson and Jason Smith in a three-team deal. Still, it wasn’t enough to bolster a middling, banged-up squad. One week following the deadline, Benson fired Demps and replaced him with Danny Ferry in the interim.

Sure enough, the playoffs became an afterthought quickly. Gentry began playing guys to get a glimpse at what they could bring to the table. On the positive side, Jahlil Okafor made the most of an opportunity, as did upstart rookies Kenrich Williams and Frank Jackson.

However, finishing with a 33-49 record and facing an imminent rebuild, the Pelicans had work to do to straighten out the organization’s direction—with or without Davis.

Offseason

New Orleans wasted no time in finding a mastermind to fix one of the most difficult situations in the league. Less than a week after the conclusion of the regular season, the franchise hired David Griffin as its new executive vice president of basketball operations.

Lady luck shined on the Bayou at the NBA Draft Lottery a short month after, as the Pelicans scored the No. 1 pick with only a six percent chance to do so. Griffin chose Trajan Langdon, a fast-rising front office assistant in the Brooklyn Nets system, as his general manager. Ahead of the NBA Draft, former WNBA legend Swin Cash joined the fray as vice president of basketball operations and team development.

It wasn’t long before Griffin and his team addressed the turmoil surrounding Davis. In mid-June, the Pelicans struck a blockbuster trade to send the disgruntled superstar to the Lakers as he had desired. In return, they received a king’s ransom as a part of a three-team agreement including the Washington Wizards.

After all of the re-routing was done, New Orleans had brought in Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and the fourth pick in the draft, plus a pair of future first-round draft picks and the ability to swap another first with the Lakers in 2023.

It would’ve been foolish to believe the Pelicans were done there. The week of the draft, Griffin struck a deal with the Atlanta Hawks to offload Solomon Hill’s large contract by using the No. 4 selection acquired in the Davis trade. The No. 8, No. 17 and No. 35 picks, along with a conditional 2019 first-rounder via Cleveland, were sent to NOLA in exchange.

At the end of it all, New Orleans wound up with three highly-touted rookies: Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The franchise also took intriguing 20-year-old Brazilian prospect Marcos “Didi” Louzada Silva in the second round as a draft-and-stash.

That was one portion of a busy summer. The other was making a couple of striking moves to add experience to the locker room. Longtime sharpshooter J.J. Redick quickly came to terms on a multi-year contract with the Pelicans during free agency moratorium. Darius Miller returned on a separate multi-year deal. Italian forward Nicolo Melli decided to make the journey over from Euroleague and signed with the team for two seasons in addition.

More recently, New Orleans decided to go after Derrick Favors and were successful in doing so with another trade with the Utah Jazz. All it took to get the job done was a pair of future second-rounders that the franchise had previously acquired from Golden State. Zylan Cheatham and Josh Gray were also inked to a couple of two-way contracts.

The theme of the Pelicans’ summer has been roster turnover. With a completely revamped and re-tooled group, Griffin did yeoman’s work regarding the task he had been assigned.

PLAYERS IN: Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Nicolo Melli, Darius Miller, J.J. Redick, Derrick Favors, Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada (draft-and-stash), Zylan Cheatham (two-way), Josh Gray (two-way)

PLAYERS OUT: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Solomon Hill, Cheick Diallo, Ian Clark, Stanley Johnson, Dairis Bertans, Christian Wood, Trevon Bluiett

What’s Next

A new era of Pelicans basketball is on tap next year. There is a palpable excitement within the franchise, as there should be. The phrase “fresh start” applies almost all around. Ball, Ingram and Hart haven’t been in the league for long, but they’ve seen enough floor time to be considered young and experienced. We’ve seen plenty of glimpses of how talented they are. Now, it’s time to see whether or not they can carry those past learnings and turn into leaders collectively.

As those three figure out how to mature in that respect, New Orleans will have the organization’s rock in charge—Jrue Holiday. Coming off what probably should have been an All-Star season, the veteran 29-year-old will be depended on as the new number one option. More importantly, he’ll be the top voice in the locker room to guide this up-and-coming contingent of youngsters. Far too long has Holiday’s consistency and improvement gone unnoticed, and you can bank on seeing a sensational year from him.

Holiday will have help from Redick and Favors, two guys with over a decade of experience in the NBA, in that leadership aspect. E’Twaun Moore is still around and an underrated contributor. They’ll have quite the cast of first-year talent as well, namely that guy Zion who everybody is frothing at the mouth to see play—and no, one short stint at summer league was not nearly enough.

Hayes and Alexander-Walker displayed instant chemistry in Las Vegas, and they could make up a significant piece of an exciting second unit. Granted, Hayes will likely be developed slowly behind Okafor and Favors, so we might not see too much of the promising big man in year one.

With the kind of roster this team has, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pelicans make an immediate return to the postseason. Yes, there’s a heck of a lot of competition in the Western Conference, but they’ve reset the temperature in that building. There is confidence that a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.

New Orleans is going to come out of the gate fast and furious, sticking to Gentry’s style of play. Living in transition and embracing ball movement, it’s going to be a blast to watch this particular group—a mixed bags with loads of potential, plus proven talent—mesh over the course of its first season without Davis.

As difficult as losing a franchise player is, this is by no means your typical rebuild.

It’s a reload.

Grade: B+

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