Fans love to speculate, “What if?”
For that matter, so do sportswriters.
But NBA general managers, coaches and players — not so much.
Especially when it involves their own team.
On a night when the Pelicans saw their chance to match last season’s modest victory total with a month left to play effectively denied because of the absence of starters Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans due to illness, a 90-88 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies only served to remind how what was expected to be a playoff season has been effectively derailed because of the absence of frontline players Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith for a total of 105 games and counting.
Just where, one wonders, would this team be had those three guys managed to remain healthy?
Surely in the playoff hunt, even in the loaded Western Conference.
Well, don’t even bother to ask Del Demps.
“I don’t think about it,” the Pelicans general manager said before Wednesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. “Obviously we’re not where we wanted to be.”
Or coach Monty Williams.
“It’s not a luxury that I can dwell on,” he said. “You can drive yourself crazy doing that.
“It’s hard for me to even try to answer.”
Or Anderson, sidelined since Jan. 3 with a herniated disk that presumably will keep the sixth-year forward, who was the team’s leading scorer at the time of his injury, out for the rest of the season.
“I’m just looking forward to the future,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back on the floor with the group because of the potential we have.
“This is such an exciting team. But it’s frustrating because we’ve never been able to explore what we could really be like with a more healthy unit.”
So with 18 games left and just a matter of time before a third straight season without a playoff berth is officially assured, maybe it is better to look ahead rather than to look back.
Certainly with Anthony Davis the team has a rising star, one whose 21st birthday celebration Tuesday was marked with a consensus opinion that he plays with a skill and determination and desire to improve that will make him a franchise player for the next decade.
Of course, just which franchise that might be after Davis’ rookie contract is up in a couple of years will be the topic of increasing speculation as the Pelicans strive to put the pieces of a championship contender around him.
No more how much a professional athlete is paid, nobody wants to spend his career without at least a reasonable chance at a title.
Just ask Chris Paul.
But Demps cautioned Wednesday, don’t expect an automatic rags-to-riches story such as Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City.
“The situation is different,” he said. “Oklahoma City was able to get most of its players through the draft.
“We’ve had to draft, trade and sign free agents.”
Ah, the draft.
Barring a total fail that down the stretch that might return the protected pick that went to Philadelphia in the trade for Holiday, it’s going to be quiet night in June for the Pelicans.
But despite the 2014 draft projected to be exceptionally strong, Demps isn’t committed to move mountains to get a pick.
“You never know. Teams are always looking to get better,” is as far as he will go.
Free agency and/or a trade is a different matter.
“We don’t anticipate any cap situation problems,” Demps said, “So at the end of the year, when we evaluate things, we’ll have the opportunity to do some things.”
There’s almost certain to be movement at center, where Demps didn’t even mention Smith’s absence along with Holiday’s and Anderson’s. And the wing where Evans has thrived since becoming a starter can always use another scoring threat.
Can it be done without losing Evans, Gordon or Holiday, which Demps and Williams see as the key building blocks around Davis? We’ll see.
Certainly money won’t be a obstacle.
The Saints’ signing of Jairus Byrd has shown that Tom Benson isn’t afraid to spend the big bucks for an impact player.
In a conference call with season-ticket holders Monday, Mickey Loomis, who doubles as the Saints GM and the Pelicans’ executive vice-president for basketball operations said, “If the management and coaching staff feel he’s a good fit, no player is off limits for us.”
Loomis also gave the long-awaited vote of confidence to Williams.
“Monty will be back,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of really good things from him, like the character he brings to franchise and the respect and attention he has from the players.
“The record’s not what we wanted it to be, but you can’t hold any coach responsible for injuries. So we absolutely expect him back.”
And as a coda, Loomis mentioned that it took four years for the Saints’ to win the Super Bowl under Sean Payton.
While this is the fourth year for Williams and Demps, this is only the second year under Benson’s ownership.
So should fans look for a title in 2016? Well, in this case, what might be is definitely a lot hazier than what might have been.