The New Orleans Pelicans can't catch a break.
Still reeling from the loss of sharpshooting big man Ryan Anderson, New Orleans was once again rocked by the injury bug.
This could be the knockout blow.
Per an official team release on Pelicans.com, starting point guard Jrue Holiday "has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right tibia." The 23-year-old is out indefinitely.
Chris Haynes of Comcast SportsNet Northwest reports Holiday could be back in action in about a month:
Source close to Pelicans Jrue Holiday tell @CSNNW they're optimistic he'll return in approximately a month from his stress fracture injury.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) January 10, 2014
But the Pelicans might encourage him to take his time. A flurry of offseason activity sent optimism racing through the Bayou, but a rash of injuries have forcibly lowered expectations.
They've also changed priorities.
Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses
New Orleans did what it could to speed up its rebuilding project.
The acquisition of Holiday, an All-Star in 2012-13, and sign-and-trade for Tyreke Evans, Rookie of the Year in 2009-10, gave the Pelicans an intriguing mix of young talent. It also left coach Monty Williams trying to slot in a number of moving parts, but he's rarely had a full deck at his disposal.
For that reason, it's hard to make any definitive statements about this team. Other than the fact that the playoffs seem highly unlikely.
The Pelicans (15-19) are decent, but decent doesn't cut it out West.
So, Williams and general manager Dell Demps need to have a long talk about this team's direction. Despite their offseason work, there are still holes that need filling.
Injuries always sting, but the chance for a midseason assessment could be a blessing in disguise. If the postseason was already going to be a long shot, which it was, the Pelicans were essentially chasing empty dreams.
This gives them the opportunity to make moves to make the playoffs a more attainable goal for next season.
Anthony Davis is a transcendent talent at the defensive end—maybe at both sides of the floor—but he doesn't have the body to bang with the league's supersized bruisers. Having Anderson as a frontcourt partner raises the potency of this offense, but it exposes this team at the other end.
With those two on the floor, the Pelicans have an elite offense (115.4 points per 100 possessions) and a porous defense (109.4 points allowed per 100 possessions). That attack is nearly five points better than the league's most efficient offense (Portland Trail Blazers, 110.2), but the defense is nearly two points worse than the NBA's most generous team (Utah Jazz, 107.7).
The backup point guard spot is another area of concern. One that could be haunting this team shortly.
Brian Roberts isn't a great scorer (5.7 points on 40.1 percent shooting) or setup man (5.2 assists per 36 minutes). But he'll get the call in Holiday's absence, according to John Reid of The Times-Picayune:
Pelicans' Brian Roberts expected to start tonight in place of injured Jrue Holiday at point guard— John Reid (@JohnReid64) January 10, 2014
Former lottery pick Austin Rivers is already fighting the "bust" label in just his sophomore season. He's seeing only 12.3 minutes when he makes it off Williams' bench, and he's not exactly demanding more time with his play (4.2 points, 37.8 percent shooting).
Rookie Pierre Jackson has been making serious noise in the D-League (30.0 points with a .455/.383/.752 slash). Enough noise that he reportedly requested a trade, via Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears. But he should have a chance to prove his worth to the Pelicans now, who can then start lopping off some of their excess backcourt weight.
Once New Orleans knows who is and who isn't indispensable, then it can start working toward a brighter future.
There are short-term and long-term avenues toward assistance, both of which should at least be explored.
In fact, that process is reportedly already underway.
Sources told Sporting News' Sean Deveney that the Pelicans have been actively pursuing trade options for guard Eric Gordon.
Gordon, you may recall, doesn't have the most stable foundation in the Big Easy. He signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns in 2012 and made his desire to depart very clear.
"After visiting the Suns, the impression the organization made on me was incredible," Gordon said back then, via ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard. "Phoenix is just where my heart is now."
A burning bridge may not be the reason that the Pelicans are shopping him, though. An injury-riddled past (he played 51 games total over the last two seasons) and an expensive future ($14.9 million for next season, $15.5 million player option for 2015-16, via ShamSports.com) are responsible for him sitting on the trade market.
Unfortunately, he's no more valuable around the league than he is in New Orleans.
"He has been healthy and he has played better,” a league executive said, via Deveney. “But he is a still a long way from living up to what you have to pay him."
Of course, if the Pelicans are ready to start looking forward, maybe they'll lower his price enough that they'll find a package worthwhile.
New Orleans could have another trade chip in Rivers. Two sources told B/R's Jared Zwerling that he's "unhappy with his playing time and would be open to a trade."
His value isn't high, either. But some team could convince itself that it has the right system for the 21-year-old to realize his potential.
Dealing Gordon and/or Rivers would be cleaning up loose ends, though. The real potential prize for this team—if it can be patient and lucky—could come this summer.
It would take some work to crawl down to the bottom five. The Pelicans are tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the 13th-worst winning percentage in the league (.441).
Take two of their top offensive weapons (and their best defensive guard) out of the picture, though, and this team could start its descent:
As of today New Orleans is 4.5 games ahead (behind?) the fifth worst record in the NBA. That team is....... Philly! Let the tanking BEGIN!!— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) January 10, 2014
It might seem like a long road, but the trip would be worth it.
The Pelicans Are Close...
...but not quite there yet.
Should the Pelicans tank the rest of this season?
Landing Davis was an absolute gift. He should be the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year and averages 19.2 points a night. Two-way talents like him don't come around often.
But it feels like a piece is still missing from this puzzle.
Holiday and Anderson are great supporting players, but both fall short of elite status. Gordon and Evans are gifted, but there's a wild-card factor with both. The gap between their ceilings and their floors is enormous.
If the Pelicans could somehow climb near the top of this star-laden draft board, a step to championship contention might not be that far behind.
New Orleans picked a great year to cash in on the draft lottery before. One more jackpot pull could push this franchise over the top.