Where sports are concerned the New Orleans community’s strongest ties have long been to the Saints. Now, however, the sports scene is on the verge of an abrupt, significant shift. Specifically, it’s about to become a basketball town.
This doesn’t mean that the Saints’ standing in New Orleans will decline. However, it is now undeniable that the Pelicans are about to become the hottest show in the city.
Not very long ago, people were speculating that the Pelicans could leave New Orleans. The team was bad, attendance was poor, and superstar Anthony Davis seemed destined to leave. That’s not to say there weren’t some occasional bright spots – but overall, the scene was bleak, and offered the community little incentive to get involved.
The 2018-19 season didn’t help. The Pelicans missed the playoffs, and along the way Davis demanded a trade, setting the stage for a full-fledged disaster: a bad team with poor attendance, actively declining and set to surrender its best player. Continuing on this path, New Orleans very well might have been in a position to lose its NBA franchise.
But things changed quickly.
First, the Pelicans got lucky: The team won the lottery for the first pick in the 2019 draft, and zeroed in on Zion Williamson – a Duke University freshman hailed as the best prospect since Davis, if not LeBron James.
On June 20, the organization made it official and made the Duke product the number one pick. Williamson, in addition to being thrilling to watch and flat-out lovable, is viewed as a can’t-miss star. Following the draft, U.S. gambling sites (which can’t be used in Louisiana yet, but can be viewed) included some NBA previews among their tips and news pieces – and pegged Williamson immediately as the Rookie of the Year favorite.
In between winning the lottery and drafting Williamson, the team completed a Davis trade also – and received an unprecedented return of players and picks. In exchange for Davis, the Lakers sent New Orleans three good, young players (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart), the number-four pick in the June draft (which the Pelicans traded for additional picks), and multiple future picks. It was a deal that set the Pelicans up with one of the best collections of youth and assets in the league.
It may be a few years before all of this manifests in a winning team. But one need only look to the public celebrations that occurred during the June 20 draft to see the potential impact this will all have on the community.
New Orleans is now on its way to becoming a basketball town.