The Saints and Pelicans are built nearly identically, and they’re getting similar results.
A superstar at the center of a team with big contracts, too many injured players and marginal hopes for the playoffs: That’s the basic description for New Orleans’ major professional franchises, both owned by Gayle and Tom Benson and run by Mickey Loomis, Saints general manager and Pelicans head of basketball operations.
The Saints are led by quarterback Drew Brees, who in his decade as the black and gold’s field general has become a lock as a first-ballot pro football Hall of Famer. He carried the team to it greatest height, winning Super Bowl XLIV.
Since then, as the team chased a second championship in a quickly closing window of opportunity, misses on veteran players and draft picks and the piling up of dead money have put the club in financial dire straits and limited its ability to build a deep, talented team. The lack of financial resources has meant the Saints have been forced to depend on a greater mix of draft picks, journeyman players cast off other teams and undrafted free agents joining the dwindling number of recognizable players on the roster. That has led the team to finish 7-9 in three of the last four seasons. Through late October, the team hasn’t had a winning record this season.
When Forbes released its annual listing of the most valuable teams in the National Football League, the Saints ranked 29th out of 32 NFL franchises, with an estimated value of $1.75 billion. It was a 16 percent increase over last year, when the team ranked 23rd in the league, with an estimated value of $1.52 billion. According to the magazine, the average NFL team is worth $2.34 billion, 22 percent more than last year.
In the ranking of NBA teams, the Pelicans ranked 30th out of 30 teams with an estimated value of $650 million. Forbes estimated the franchise did not increase in value, while the average team saw 13 percent growth.
That was a bit of surprise. Entering the 2015-16 season with new head coach Alvin Gentry and All-Star power forward Anthony Davis, the Pelicans were considered one of the NBA’s up-and-coming teams. But they started the season 1-11, and finished 30-52, winning just 37 percent of their games.
Davis averaged 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and two blocked shots per game last year. But he only appeared in 61 of the team’s 82 games, causing him to miss making one of three All-NBA teams, thus missing out on a $24 million bonus. Don’t feel too bad for him, though. This season, he began a five-year contract extension worth an estimated $145 million.
But, like Brees, Davis can’t do it alone.
Shooting guard Buddy Hield, the Pels’ first-round draft choice, has a talent for knocking down threes. The long-term hope is that he can become a back-court threat who can stretch defenses and open room for Davis to work along the baseline.
For now, though, expectations for the Pelicans have slipped from a year ago. Where a playoff climb was thought to become the norm, the team will be a surprise if it makes it to the postseason this year.
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.