After missing the playoffs the last two seasons, the New Orleans Pelicans are hoping for a turnaround in 2017-18.
The squad enters the year with one of the top frontcourts in the NBA led by Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Davis is coming off the best season of his career with averages of 28.0 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, while Cousins averaged 27.0 points and 11.0 rebounds between two teams.
With an entire offseason to grow acclimated to one another, this duo could become lethal in the upcoming season. Adding Rajon Rondo to the equation could help guide New Orleans back to the postseason.
Between now and then, the Pelicans will have to slog through a long season with plenty of tough opponents on the schedule. The question is whether this group has the depth to survive.
Season Opener: Oct. 18 at Memphis
Championship Odds: 150-1 (via OddsShark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Sacramento Kings: Oct. 26, Dec. 8, Jan. 30, Mar. 7
Cousins spent almost seven seasons with the Sacramento Kings, dealing with trade rumors for years before the team eventually dealt to the Pelicans in what he called "a coward move," per Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated.
In his lone game against his former squad last season, he seemed intent on revenge. The center tallied 37 points on 12-of-21 shooting, 13 rebounds and three steals in a 28-point win.
The Pelicans can't expect that type of production from Cousins on a nightly basis, but with the big man heading into a contract year, he'll want to replicate that output whenever possible.
Meanwhile, Buddy Hield will likely have a similar motivation against the Pelicans, as they drafted him but traded him away in his first season.
Although this matchup won't necessarily register on a national scale, there are plenty of storylines at play.
Memphis Grizzlies: Oct. 18, Jan. 10, Jan. 20, Apr. 4
The Western Conference is loaded going into next season. If the Pelicans are going to make the playoffs, they will have to win a number of tough games.
The Southwest Division features two legitimate title contenders in the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, and winning any games against these squads will be a serious challenge. As such, New Orleans should set its sights on a more reasonable goal for the upcoming year.
While the Memphis Grizzlies have made the playoffs for seven straight seasons, they are far more vulnerable than the other teams in the division. Earning wins in this series could be a stepping stone for New Orleans toward a successful year.
If the Pelicans focus heavily on these games and take care of business against their weaker opponents, a playoff berth could be in their imminent future.
The Pelicans should certainly improve heading into next season. Davis and Cousins playing together for a full year presents a matchup nightmare for every opponent on the schedule, and these two can win plenty of games on their own.
While Rondo has had an up-and-down career, he is still capable of making a positive impact and should help everyone on the floor get better. With Jrue Holiday and others returning to the lineup, this team will threaten for its second playoff appearance in the last seven years.
Unfortunately, there seems to be simply too much competition in the Western Conference to finish among the top eight spots.
New Orleans finished 10th in the standings last year, and most of the other West franchise took bigger leaps in the offseason. The Rockets and Thunder made big trades to turn themselves into contenders, while non-playoff teams like the Nuggets and Timberwolves brought in significant additions as well.
With an inconsistent backcourt, the Pelicans will flirt with the No. 8 seed, but they are unlikely to finish above .500.