While the timing of Dell Demps' dismissal by the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday came as a surprise, the act itself did not. Demps had been criticized throughout his nine-year tenure as general manager, but what ultimately cost him his job was a failure to meaningfully augment the Pels' roster around its stars.
Not that it was always Demps' fault. When former NBA commissioner David Stern nixed the Pelicans' trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers in 2011, he blocked New Orleans from receiving Goran Dragic, Lamar Odom, and Kevin Martin - a better haul than the package of Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman, and the draft pick they received from the Clippers.
Demps drafting Anthony Davis first overall in 2012 was a no-brainer. What followed, however, was up and down.
Demps' acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings in 2017 for Buddy Hield and a pair of picks was widely hailed as a grand theft by the Pelicans. And for 65 games, the unorthodox pairing of Davis and Cousins paid off. With two top-10 players up front, New Orleans was a real threat.
Then, like a Bourbon Street voodoo curse, Cousins ruptured his Achilles, ending his 2017-18 season and ultimately his tenure in New Orleans. Yet it's worth asking now: Had that catastrophic injury never happened, would Boogie have signed a max contract, and how would that have impacted Davis?
With the Lakers eyeing the coveted 2019 free-agent class, the club was unwilling to commit long-term years and money to Julius Randle. As a result, the Pelicans swooped in and signed him to a bargain two-year, $18-million deal. The 24-year-old is averaging a career-high 20.2 points and 9.1 boards per contest and will likely opt out of his $9-million player option for the 2019-20 season.
With Jrue Holiday coming off an All-Star season, Demps acquired the emerging guard from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-round pick, which ultimately turned into Dario Saric. While the Sixers arguably won the deal since Saric became a key piece in the Jimmy Butler blockbuster trade, the Pelicans also benefited.
Holiday has developed into one of the best two-way guards in the NBA after an injury-plagued start in New Orleans. The 28-year-old was named to the NBA All-Defensive first team last season. He's currently averaging a career-high 21.1 points per contest and is third in the NBA with 7.9 assists per game.
Demps acquired Omer Asik in a three-team deal before the 2014-15 season and inexplicably handed the Turkish native a five-year, $60-million contract the following offseason. Pairing the 7-footer alongside Davis in the frontcourt was a disaster. Asik offered little offensively and ranked toward the bottom on the Pelicans in net rating over his last two seasons in New Orleans.
Moreover, in one of his first moves as GM, Demps dealt the club’s 2011 first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for guard Jerryd Bayless, who lasted 11 games with the Pelicans and never amounted to anything more than a journeyman. The pick was eventually used on Tobias Harris, who has blossomed into a borderline All-Star this season.
Above all, Demps' failure to surround Davis with quality players who could stay healthy was his undoing. The Pelicans have only made the postseason twice during The Brow's tenure.