Pelicans prove Lakers plans could take time

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
12:16
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Now that the Los Angeles Lakers' unexpected two-game win streak was snapped by a that's-more-like-it 132-125 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, Lakers fans can get back to what they've become quite adept at over the past several months: looking ahead to the NBA draft.

And while those fans would rather not have to think twice about seeing a Pelicans team that came into the game on an eight-game losing streak completely take it to their team by shooting 59.7 percent from the field and lead by as many as 21 points, there was actually a lesson to be learned in observing New Orleans.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesAnthony Davis is having a stellar second season for the Pelicans, which prompted coach Monty Williams to say, "Who at 20 is playing like him?"
You see, the Pelicans struck it rich in the draft only two years ago, securing the crown jewel in the 2012 draft by making Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick.

Davis isn't just any No. 1 pick, either. His 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting, 15 rebounds and three assists Tuesday was a mere taste of what the second-year big man can do. Heck, it wasn't even his best game against the Lakers this season. The 6-foot-10, 220-pounder put up 32 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks against them back in November.

Talk to people around the league and they'll tell you that Davis is one of a handful of young players they could envision being the linchpin on a championship team.

This isn't meant for the Lakers' faithful to lust over Davis' services (he won't be leaving New Orleans until 2019 at the earliest, unless he's traded), but rather realize that the road map to the future can be a bumpy one.

Even if the Lakers somehow out-tank the four teams with worse records than them down the stretch -- Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando and Boston -- and end up with the best player the draft has to offer, be it Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Dante Exum or somebody else, there will still be a growth process to endure.

Starting with the draftee himself. Davis had a solid rookie campaign, averaging 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, but Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he didn't stand out as the team's best player until New Orleans started to struggle with injuries this season.

"I think this has been a blessing in disguise in that he's been able to stamp his claim as the franchise player," Williams said before Tuesday's game, citing injuries to Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday that have thrust more responsibility on Davis' broad shoulders. "Now, when those guys come back, I think they have to adapt to his game. So, with all the stuff that we've been through this year -- no tragedies, just a lot of injuries and things that we can't control -- that's the one thing that, among other things, we can go into the summertime and say, 'We know he is the guy.' "

Davis has been downright phenomenal this season, averaging 20.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks, causing Williams to gush after the game Tuesday, "Who at 20 is playing like him? In the history of the game, there are very few." But even someone like Davis, whom Williams also lobbied to win the most improved player award, doesn't have all the answers as a young player. He went 5-for-21 from the field in the Pelicans' two games before Tuesday -- two games which, not surprisingly, ended up as losses.

The point is, even if the Lakers' upcoming first-round pick pans out and becomes a budding star like Davis, New Orleans proves there are so many factors that go into building a contender. Health, sure, is always something to consider -- and Lakers fans know that all too well after the past two seasons -- but everything else has to go right, too.

You have to trade for the right players, as the Pelicans thought they did by acquiring an All-Star point guard in Holiday last summer. You have to know when it's right to re-sign a player instead of trading him, as the Pelicans thought they did by inking Eric Gordon to a new deal the summer before that. You have to pursue the right player in free agency when you have a chunk of cash to spend, as the Pelicans thought they did by bringing in Tyreke Evans. You have to put your team in the hands of the right coach, as the Pelicans thought they did by keeping Williams at the helm during the post-Chris Paul years.

When you consider all of the machinations that need to occur before the Lakers could be considered in the title hunt again, a recent comment made by Kobe Bryant sounds mighty curious.

"Let it sit in now," Bryant said at a Nike event last weekend, imploring Lakers fans to revel in the hard times so they will appreciate the good ones. "Because revenge is sweet and it's quick."

There doesn't seem anything quick about the transition the Lakers are going through. And even if they get their guy come June 26 at the draft, that's no guarantee the process will speed up, either.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0