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New Orleans Pelicans

Trying to Win the Waiting Game

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Just wait.

That has been a fan, team, and media refrain for the New Orleans Pelicans and Hornets since I became hooked during the magical 56-win 2007-08 season and subsequent playoff run. In other words, for about a decade.

Just wait until Chris Paul, David West, and Tyson Chandler get playoff experience.

Just wait until Paul and Chandler are healthy.

Just wait until Jeff Bower is gone.

Just wait until George Shinn sells the team.

Just wait until the NBA finds a long-term owner.

Just wait until Chris Paul gets more help.

Just wait until Eric Gordon is healthy.

Just wait until Anthony Davis matures.

Just wait until Austin Rivers learns to play point guard.

Just wait until Eric Gordon is healthy.

Just wait until Anthony Davis gets some help.

Just wait until we get a more experienced coach.

Just wait until Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, and Omer Asik are healthy.

Just wait until Davis and Demarcus Cousins have a chance to get on the same page.

You get the idea.

The team was always a victim of some horrible, unavoidable circumstance. True greatness was always just around the corner, just out of reach.

This week saw the culmination of the latest just wait. Just wait until Rajon Rondo returns. To be fair, the anticipation surrounding Rondo’s return from a preseason core muscle injury is warranted. The 2017-18 Pelicans were clearly constructed under the assumption he would be the team’s floor general. The 31 year old Rondo may not be the athletic spark he once was, but he remains one of the brightest basketball minds in the league. Sliding Jrue Holiday back to point guard and signing Jameer Nelson were never meant to be long term replacements for what Rondo brings. Rondo was a bigger signing than most realize, giving the Pelicans the championship pedigree, veteran leadership, steadying locker room presence, and elite basketball IQ the team so desperately needed coming into this crucial season.

Rondo’s abbreviated Monday night return against the Atlanta Hawks provided justification for the excitement. He cruised to a layup in his very first possession on the floor, and he assisted on three’s for Cousins and Dante Cunningham in subsequent offensive plays. On defense, he was aggressive, getting a hand on passes and giving the Hawks guards fits. In short, Rondo was the true floor leader this team was clearly lacking since his injury.

On Wednesday against the Raptors, Rondo played closer to 14 minutes in the first half, and the team responded. Davis and Cousins were out due to foul trouble, but Rondo was driving and dishing to keep the Pelicans essentially even with Toronto. As expected, Holiday looked better. Diallo and Cunningham also had meaningful points. We saw what Rondo can do even without the team’s two best players.

And yet, I still can’t shake that this could be yet another just wait. It remains to be seen if Rondo’s return will reduce the nagging turnovers currently plaguing this team, and some of Alvin Gentry’s rotations with Rondo (particularly pairing Rondo and Nelson for an extended period of time) seemed…odd. But the excellent ball movement and flowing offense during Rondo’s limited minutes are cause for excitement and hope. Maybe this will be the start of the Pelicans’ ascension into the NBA elite. Maybe a (mostly) healthy roster will prove that Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry’s vision for this team was right all along. Or maybe this just wait will collapse into more disappointment, stars leaving, and rebuilding. Maybe the future of basketball in New Orleans will be jeopardized. Again.

Only time will tell if this franchise has truly turned the corner or if this is just another empty promise. We will find out one game at a time, perhaps even one offensive possession at a time. In the meantime, we all have to just wait.

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Rory Callais is a New Orleans-based writer and musician. In addition to covering the Pelicans, Rory's work has been featured in Offbeat, Antigravity, and Where Y'at? He is also the lead guitarist for Darcy Malone and the Tangle and Vox and the Hound, who provides the theme music for the Locked On Pelicans daily podcast.

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