The New Orleans Pelicans are an entirely different team when Ryan Anderson is on the court. The former All-Star, who provides elite spacing as a three-point shooter and overall scorer, immediately takes the Pelicans’ offense to the league’s upper echelons with both his presence and the inevitable 41 percent-strong three-point swooshes. And, when paired with second year phenom Anthony Davis, Anderson’s relative youth (at age 25) and popularity amongst teammates have the NOLA front office thinking big things about the team’s future.
This is part of the reason they took a chip out of the team’s future last June in sending draft pick Nerlens Noel, thought by many to be the best prospect in the 2013 draft, to Philadelphia for former All-Star guard Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans had to give up a conditional first round pick in the loaded 2014 draft along the way, but with a healthy Davis, Holiday and Anderson out there, alongside a returning Eric Gordon and newcomer Tyreke Evans, the playoffs were a certainty, right?
Not yet. Davis has missed time with a broken left hand. Holiday was recently diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right leg, and Anderson has been on the shelf for over a week after a nasty collision with Boston’s Gerald Wallace.
Mostly as a result of this, the Pelicans are stuck at 15-22, six games out of the Western playoff bracket. On Monday the team announced that Anderson, who has been in the hospital following that collision with Wallace, would be out another one to two months while he recovers, and that his injury status after that bout of rest would then determine whether or not he’ll need back surgery.
“I’m going to get another MRI within the next month or two months, depending on how the healing goes,” Anderson said. “I will either get surgery if it’s not healing properly, or if my body (heals the injury naturally) – which the doctors say there’s a good chance it will – then I’ll get back to normal exercise and get back on the court, hopefully.”
The 6-foot-10, 240-pounder’s injury is to his C5 and C6 discs. If Anderson does need surgery, he was told by doctors that it is a relatively safe procedure, similar to what NFL quarterback Peyton Manning underwent in 2011, prior to excelling for the Denver Broncos the past two seasons. Doctors do not believe Anderson’s injury is a career-threatening one.
Even if surgery is the worst-case scenario, Anderson doesn’t mind the Peyton Manning comparisons. From the Associated Press:
"That's kind of the person they over and over talk about," Anderson said of Manning, who set single-season NFL records for yards passing and touchdowns in 2013 and will play in the AFC championship this Sunday. "He's having a pretty good recovery, I'd say."
Anderson went on to say that he was not unhappy with Wallace, even if Gerald’s move may end his hoped-for playoff season, telling reporters that Wallace is “a great guy” and that “it was a normal basketball move.”
It’s a move that could upend two seasons’ worth of New Orleans Pelicans basketball, though.
We don’t mean to get overwrought with things, but the Pelicans will probably not make the loaded playoffs in the West, and as a result likely send their first round lottery selection to Philadelphia. The only technical way out of giving up a lottery pick is if the Pelicans make the playoffs (at 15-22 and without Anderson and Holiday, that’s not happening) or to hope the pick (currently statistically slated to be the 12th overall) vaults up in the lottery into the top five, where the Pelicans have protection and would be allowed to keep the pick.
Though the team is replete with young talent, this would mark three consecutive potential lottery selections that New Orleans would have potentially bungled. Grabbing Davis first overall in 2012 was the right move, but fellow 2012 lottery selection Austin Rivers still looks like a fringe NBA player a year and a half into his career. Nerlens Noel could still (hell, “probably will”) emerge as the best player from the 2013 draft; and his only contender for that crown is fellow 76ers Michael Carter-Williams, currently the favorite for Rookie of the Year.
On top of those two, Philly will probably then receive another solid lottery pick in a loaded 2014 draft. All for Jrue Holiday, who everyone in this league likes to a degree, but we can’t shy away from the fact that this was still a dangerous deal that many among us criticized back in June, 2013.
With all these setbacks in mind, the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Jimmy Smith is taking the cerebral approach when it comes to Anderson’s recovery. From his column on Tuesday:
And now that we know Anderson has not one, but two discs herniated in his neck, C-5 and C-6 in the cervical region, and that he won't even be medically re-evaluated for two months, it should be clear that he won't play again this season.
More emphatically, he shouldn't play again this season.
Even if these two months pass and Anderson's body heals itself, the preferred rehabilitative protocol at this point, there shouldn't even be a thought about returning to the court for what would be the final month of this season.
When the spine is involved – and Anderson said physicians told him a similar blow to the one he absorbed could prove career-threatening if he wasn't completely healed – there should not be any consideration of Anderson coming back at all this year.
It just seems far too risky
While Anderson's injury is a devastating setback to this team, it has been clear that the Pelicans aren't playoff-worthy.
With a healthy core in place? The team has playoff potential, to be sure, but technically – no, the Pelicans have not proven to be a playoff team. And we agree with Smith, there’s no point in bringing Anderson back in mid-March just to have him on the floor for the last month of a lost season.
We also believe the Pelicans agree, mostly because they fear for their big man’s health, but also because they know that the more losses accrued between now and late April mean more chances at lottery odds that could give their draft pick right back to them. The Pelicans are currently tied with the Nets and Knicks, who will improve, in terms of winning percentage, with nine NBA teams beneath their current. .405 mark.
Of course, with Holiday and Anderson out, that will drop. Especially if the team finds a taker on Gordon’s massive contract before the trade deadline, though we’re not sure exactly who would be lining up to pay Eric Gordon more than $30 million combined over the next two seasons. And if the Pelicans do luck into a top five pick in this year’s draft, the same restrictions are in place for 2015 and 2016 – they owe Philly a first rounder if theirs doesn’t fall into the top five.
All is not lost, though. Even with Gordon, Anderson, Evans and Holiday all on their second contracts – and Davis making a relatively hefty rookie salary as the top overall pick – the team will have a slim amount of cap space should they decide to look the other way when it comes to the expiring contracts of Jason Smith, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Greg Stiemsma, and the group is far away from luxury tax considerations.
On top of that? Anthony Davis! Ryan Anderson! Jrue Holiday! Tyreke Evans has bounced back this year, and there’s still the chance that some team will overrate Gordon and deal for him. This is a young and developing team, and despite the worst-case scenario with three major injuries this season and the bungled deal with Philadelphia, one that still has a core that can overcome things.
Ryan Anderson just may not be a part of it, for the rest of this year at least. And while that may not be the right move, he’s not exactly happy with how things are going right now:
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