Pelicans fire longtime general manger Dell Demps

Posted at 11:13 AM, Feb 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-15 17:00:09-05

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The Pelicans have decided to fire ninth-year general manager Dell Demps and start the process of finding someone to deal with the fallout of All-Star Anthony Davis’ recent trade demand, said a person familiar with the situation said.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Friday because the club had not announced the decision. Demps did not immediately return messages.

Demps’ firing comes after Davis said in late January that he would not sign an extension with New Orleans and wants to be traded to a contending team. Davis has another season remaining on his contract after this one and this season’s trade deadline has passed, meaning no trade will happen until summer.

If hired soon enough, the new general manager also would oversee the upcoming draft and decide the future of coach Alvin Gentry, who for now is being retained.

Davis was the first pick in the 2012 NBA draft out of Kentucky and has been named an All-Star six times in his first seven seasons, so the return on a trade for him should be considerable and could set course for the Pelicans for seasons to come.

Demps received his only general manager position with New Orleans in the summer of 2010 and the Pelicans have made the playoffs three times during his tenure, advancing to the second-round once.

The Pelicans enter this season’s All-Star break at 26-33 and unlikely to make the Western Conference playoff field this season.

Demps’ last game in charge was Thursday night, a 131-122 victory over Oklahoma City that was overshadowed by Davis leaving the game with a left shoulder injury at halftime. Davis could be seen leaving the arena during the second half with his agent, Rich Paul, to get an MRI exam that a person familiar with the situation says revealed he has a muscle bruise. The injury makes his availability unclear for this weekend’s All-Star game and related events.

New Orleans hired Demps in large part because of his front office and scouting experience with San Antonio, widely seen as the model for contending in a small market.

He arrived during uncertain times for the franchise. Star point guard Chris Paul, a 2005 New Orleans first-round draft choice, was already determined to leave the club because of ownership uncertainty. After Demps was hired, the NBA bought the club from then-owner George Shinn, who was having cash flow problems.

When Demps tried to trade Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA rejected the deal, and Demps ultimately settled on a trade with the Clippers that brought in Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu – none of whom remain with the club. Gordon tried to leave as a restricted free agent in 2012, signing an offer sheet from the Phoenix Suns. But Demps said at the time that the Pelicans could not afford to lose Gordon and matched the four-year, $58 million offer.

Saints owner Tom Benson stepped in to buy the NBA club in the spring of 2012 and later renamed it. Benson died last March, and his third wife, Gayle, a New Orleans native with a background in the interior design business, inherited sole ownership of the Saints and Pelicans.

The Benson purchase gave the Pelicans stability and deeper pockets to build around Anthony Davis, but the fact that Benson was then in his 80s increased pressure to win quickly.

Demps traded most of the Pelicans’ draft picks away for more proven players during his tenure, but those moves often did not live up to their billing – at least not initially. Demps traded two first-round picks for Jrue Holiday, who missed most of his first two seasons in New Orleans because of recurring setbacks with a lower leg injury though is the Pelicans’ second-best player.

Demps also gambled on DeMarcus Cousins and lost.

He traded 2016 first-round pick Buddy Hield along with a 2017 first-round pick for Cousins – a move that fizzled when Cousins tore his Achilles during his first full season with the club and then decided to leave last summer in free agency.

New Orleans traded away its 2018 first-rounder last season to acquire Nikola Mirotic, who was traded to Milwaukee at this season’s trade deadline, shortly after the Davis fallout forced the Pelicans to start planning for a future without their marquee player.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans have been saddled by salary cap burdens resulting from free-agent signings that didn’t pan out.

It all added up to Demps’ dismissal.