New Orleans Pelicans: Steps to Contention

The New Orleans Pelicans were one of the most intriguing teams in the league this season. They traded Anthony Davis for a collection of young stars from the Los Angeles Lakers, and of course, drafted Zion Williamson. Although Williamson spent the majority of the season sidelined due to injury, his small sample size of games proved that he has superstar potential. The Pelicans still managed to make the NBA Bubble, and although they didn’t make the playoffs, have a bright future.

How the New Orleans Pelicans can Make the Playoffs

Step One: Re-sign Brandon Ingram

Before anything else, the Pelicans need to make it their top offseason priority to re-sign Brandon Ingram. Ingram was the centerpiece for the Pelicans of the Davis trade, and he exceeded all expectations.

New Orleans has talent across the floor, but Ingram was their best player all season long. He made his first All-Star game this season and is still only 23. It’s safe to say the best is yet to come.

Ingram averaged 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists per game on a solid 46-39-85 shooting split. The season prior, while on the Lakers, he averaged 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He improved in just about every facet of his game, most notably his three-point shot as that percentage jumped from 33 to 39. This, of course, allowed Ingram to be rewarded the league’s Most Improved Player award.

He enters free agency this offseason and is definitely expecting a max-contract. There will be teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets, who will have the cap space to offer him this. Luckily for the Pelicans, however, Ingram is a restricted free agent. The future of New Orleans is centered around Ingram and Williamson, so the Pelicans must offer Ingram a max-contract or match the highest offer he gets from another team.

Step Two: Don’t Rush a Jrue Holiday Trade

Jrue Holiday has found his name circulating in trade rumors for most of the past season. He has one year left on his contract, and the Pelicans have other young talents at the guard position such as Lonzo Ball and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

What separates Holiday from the rest of the pack is his veteran status, leadership, and elite perimeter defense.

Besides Holiday, JJ Redick is the only other true veteran with a contract on the Pelicans next season. They had Derrick Favors this past season, but he’s going to be a free agent. It’s safe to say the youthful Pelicans group needs consistent leadership.

Holiday’s defense also seems to get overlooked. He didn’t receive mentions on this season’s All-Defense teams, which was a major snub. Holiday is called upon time and time again to defend the opposing team’s best guard, which is often the best player on the team when it comes to the Western Conference. A duo of Holiday and Ball in the Pelicans’ backcourt provides fantastic perimeter defense and tenacity. While he may have been snubbed, his defensive ability could prove to be very valuable in a potential trade.

Besides that, Holiday is also a very talented offensive player. This season he put up averages of 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. In the Pelicans’ last 10 games of the season, where every single game mattered tremendously in terms of making the playoffs, Holiday turned it up another level and averaged 21 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals per game.

New Orleans will receive plenty of trade inquiries for Holiday this offseason. Unless a trade brings the Pelicans a superstar such as Bradley Beal or Ben Simmons, they should hold onto Holiday.

Step Three: The New Orleans Pelicans Must Attract an Elite Head Coach

New Orleans parted ways with head coach Alvin Gentry shortly after their exit from the bubble.

The Pelicans, however, will be seen as an attractive opportunity for many coaches. They have a plethora of young stars, and enough talent to make a playoff run. Three names they must consider are Darvin HamIme Udoka, and Billy Donovan.

Ham is currently an assistant on the Milwaukee Bucks. That says enough on its own as the Bucks continue to be one of the better teams in the league. Ham is also part of the Mike Budenholzer coaching tree, and many of these coaches go on to find success.

Udoka is a current assistant on the Philadelphia 76ers, and formerly one with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Udoka’s experience with the 76ers has given him experience in managing young stars, while his experience with the Spurs instilled with him a culture of success.

Donovan is the most experienced of the bunch. He just parted ways with the Oklahoma City Thunder, after coaching the team for the last five seasons. They never made it to the Finals under his coaching, but this season was an indication of just how good of a coach he is. His experience with young stars while coaching in college then experience with legitimate superstars in the NBA may prove to be the ideal mix for the Pelicans. He has had plenty of ups and downs, but one thing is for sure. He knows how to develop young talent.

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