This NBA off-season has been one of the most eventful in recent history. With blockbuster trades sending Paul George, Jimmy Butler, and Chris Paul to new teams, one NBA franchise has quickly been swept out of the public spotlight that they so suddenly took ahold of only five months ago.
The New Orleans Pelicans sent shock waves through the NBA when they traded for DeMarcus Cousins last February right before the NBA trade deadline. In what many considered a one-sided deal, the Pelicans sent Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans, and two draft picks (Zach Collins and Frank Mason) to Sacramento in return for the star big man out of Kentucky.
However, after an underwhelming second half to the 2017 season, the Pelicans quickly find themselves as underdogs to make the playoffs in an absolutely stacked Western Conference. This is despite being one of only three teams in the west with 2+ players selected as a 2017 NBA all-star (Warriors, Thunder). One of the main reasons that the Pelicans are not thought to be on the same level as the Thunder, Rockets, or Spurs is that they are attempting to win with what many feel is an extinct formula in the NBA, the twin towers.
In the 1990s and early 2000s many teams found success putting two bigs on the floor together and dominating the paint to win. The Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs won with two stars players consistently filling the paint, and even the 2000 Lakers started Horace Grant next to Shaq.
In today’s NBA the opposite has proven to be the most successful. The most dominant lineup in the league the past three years has been some variation of the Warriors “death lineup” which pits 6’6 Draymond Green at the center position, giving the team 5 wing players to space the floor.
More and more teams are attempting to recreate this success by playing only one post player, surrounded by four wings. Not the Pelicans, they are the last of a dying breed in the NBA, and their time is running out.
DeMarcus Cousins is entering the final year of his contract, and will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career next off-season. If this season is anything like last year don’t expect him stick around.
The Pelicans were 11-14 after the Cousins trade last season, 7-11 with him in the lineup, and 4-3 without. Head Coach Alvin Gentry was put in a difficult position last season, going from starting mobile 4s in Dante Cunningham and Terrance Jones to being asked to completely change the teams play style to adapt to starting two players that had played at the center position for the majoiry of their career.
With the full off-season to work out the kinks the team should be better, but so will the rest of the west. Despite this, the front office and the fan base will expect the team to win now. They have Anthony Davis locked up for another 3 years, but if they don’t start winning he is as good as gone, and DeMarcus Cousins is as good of a chance as they will have to start.
If they don’t win, there will be heavy repercussions. Alvin Gentry hasmade the playoffs in one of his six full seasons as an NBA head coach, and he has to feel that his chances are running low. Rajon Rondo was signed to a 1yr./$3.3mil contract this offseason, and it’s becoming clear that NBA teams are getting tired of waiting to see if he can sustain the brilliance he displayed during his time with the Celtics.
Most importantly, it would be the end of the twin towers in the NBA. If DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, two of the best big men in the league, can’t even make the playoffs together it will be clear that no magic like that created by Olajuwon/Sampson or Duncan/Robinson will be possible in the NBA again.