Dell Demps and the Pelicans were going to have to part ways eventually. But why now, when he seemed to be executing ownership’s plan properly?
The New Orleans Pelicans parted ways with long-time GM Dell Demps this morning, ending the ninth longest GM tenure currently active in the NBA. Demps’ tenure was a rocky one, seeing a combination of bad moves and bad luck torpedo his ability to put a strong roster around Anthony Davis. Ultimately, it culminated in his failure to put together a trade to deal Davis after those moves led to frustration on Davis’ part and a desire to move on.
While the firing makes sense, the timing is off-putting. The Pelicans, in refusing multiple offers from the Lakers, made it seem like they were content to wait until the offseason. They made it seem like they were going to force Boston to put Jayson Tatum in the offer for Davis, and while they were never going to get equal value on a player of Davis’ stature, they certainly had a shot at getting the actual best offer then instead of just sitting on an asset that doesn’t want to be there. Instead, they took one suitor’s offer off the table by refusing to negotiate, knew another suitor was off the table due to CBA restrictions on designated players, and then didn’t make a trade but were still somehow angry about it.
The best case for that scenario is a disconnect between the Demps and ownership, such that one party wanted Davis traded on an immediate timeline and the other thought he was allowed to be more patient. There was likely already existing tension due to the failures to surround Davis with acceptable talent, and even a slight miscommunication might have been enough to tip the balance over into “time to part ways”.
There are Woj-level rumblings that the move was made in the wake of ownership anger over Anthony Davis leaving last night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder with an injury, but those seem unlikely to explain the timing. Even James Dolan is not irrational enough as an owner to make a change like that, and so while there may have been anger over last night’s situation, it seems unlikely that that could be anything more than noise, a sentiment echoed by Mason Ginsberg.
It’s also hard, in the wake of the end of Sam Hinkie’s tenure in Philadelphia, to not question the possibility of Adam Silver stepping in. Rumors that the NBA was forcing New Orleans to play Davis, though denied by the league, have significant credible support behind them, with Marc Stein having referenced it directly and condemned it as well. While nothing there will likely ever be confirmed, by more or less installing the Colangelos in Philadelphia Adam Silver has certainly invited all of the suspicion around moves like this, and given that the Pelicans had already interacted with the league office on this matter, a link to Silver is already in place.
Overall, it’s a move that’s for the best, given that Demps did more or less get the Pelicans into the mess they’re in in the first place, but the timing rings so incredibly strange with so many wild-card players in and around the process that it’s hard to figure out what’s going on and what exactly it means for the Pelicans. It adds an additional layer of complexity to any pending Davis trade, since negotiations may be basically reset from scratch if a GM isn’t hired in-house, although in-house candidates like Devin Booth and Danny Ferry are in contention. But unfortunately, large pieces of the information here are going to be tucked behind organizational structure, and we may never know anything more than that the Pelicans selected a weird time to execute the inevitable.