NEW ORLEANS - When one door closes, another opens. That's how the saying goes, at least.
And there's another saying about history repeating itself.
Is it a coincidence that this franchise won the No. 1 selection in the NBA Draft under similar circumstances than it did the only other time in its 17-year history?
On June 28, 2005, I was on hand for the draft party at New Orleans Arena as the Hornets used the No. 4 pick to draft future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, the silver lining to a dark cloud of the team having gone 18-64 in its first-ever season in the daunting Western Conference.
Prior to his seventh season, Paul's request for a trade was acquiesced as he was traded to Los Angeles.
The silver lining to that dark cloud? Winning the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft which they used to select future Hall of Famer Anthony Davis who just months earlier took the NCAA by storm and captured a national championship with Kentucky right here in New Orleans at the Louisiana Superdome.
Selecting Davis as the franchise saviour was a moment that I again witnessed firsthand at a draft party held in New Orleans Arena in late June of 2012.
Surely Davis would be the mainstay, the rock to serve as a foundation for the next decade.
During his seventh season, however, Davis would request a trade himself - a request that was again acquiesced as he was sent to… Los Angeles.
To say what would come next is a silver lining would be quite the understatement.
New Orleans won the draft lottery again, this time in a year that features the league's biggest prospect since LeBron James in 2003, even more hyped than Davis himself seven years ago.
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It makes sense that being on hand at the New Orleans Pelicans headquarters as they selected Zion Williamson first overall on June 20, 2019, it felt different than the first two generational talents I witnessed this franchise take in years past.
Williamson is unlike anything this league has ever seen before. He's as can't-miss of a prospect as there's ever been.
An all-world athlete in a 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame with the speed and quickness of a guard and leaping ability to make any help side defender reconsider his other options.
If he wasn't already, the 19-year-old ensured that he was a household name through his body of work in his lone season at Duke University. Zion would sweep every attainable award in averaging 22.6 points (on 68.0% shooting), 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks over 33 games.
He did it loudly, too.
The dunks. The blocks. The inexplicably athletic highlights. We ran out of words to describe what we watched Williamson do because quite frankly, we didn't know what we were seeing at times.
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This moment felt different from the first two because it was different, and it extends much further beyond the franchise's centrepiece in the respective situations.
From the moment he put his New Orleans Pelicans draft cap on, the franchise's fortune had officially changed, though we knew it was coming since the lottery was won.
What we didn't know, however, was how the team would come together around him.
A month after the lottery was won, reports surfaced that the Pelicans would acquire the young talent of former No. 2 picks Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, talented guard Josh Hart and this year's No. 4 pick and a plethora of future picks in exchange for Anthony Davis. Newly-hired executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin was at work already.
Quite the haul. Only Griffin wasn't done yet.
As new reports surfaced that the No. 4 pick would become the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks in this year's draft and more cap relief, this team suddenly had one of the most intriguing young cores in the league and the assets to build around them even more.
Paul spent six seasons in New Orleans, a tenure highlighted by his second-place MVP finish in the 2007-08 season, a year in which the team went 56-26 and came within one win of the Western Conference Finals but suffered a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the defending champion Spurs.
Davis spent seven seasons in New Orleans, a tenure highlighted by his two top-five MVP finishes and peaked with the sweep of the No. 3 Trail Blazers that then led to a loss to defending champion Warriors in five games.
The two stars were at the forefront, but the team's shortcomings weren't necessarily the fault of their own; while the aforementioned teams featured the likes of David West, Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler (2008), Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins (2019), none ever possessed the depth that will come from this monumental year.
Zion Williamson begins his tenure in New Orleans alongside multiple players who are not only talented but are on the same timeline as he is developmentally. Next season, Ball and Ingram will be 22-years-old, Josh Hart will be 24.
The No. 8 overall pick was used to take 19-year-old Jaxson Hayes and the No. 17 pick was used to take 20-year-old Nickeil Alexander-Walker. While he'll spend next season playing in Australia's NBL, No. 35 overall pick Didi Louzada is also just 20-years-old.
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Jrue Holiday, the one remaining big piece from the past era of New Orleans basketball, will be 29 and is in the prime of his career. Is there a better veteran to bridge the gap?
It's hard to argue that there's a team better set up for success than the Pelicans, an incredible development given where this franchise stood just several months ago when all appeared lost.
Wherever he landed, there was no way Zion Williamson wouldn't have found success at the next level.
By putting him in the perfect spot with the talent this team has acquired to place around him, the New Orleans Pelicans have just fast-tracked his path towards superstardom.
Still, it shouldn't be lost that Williamson just turned 19, and expectations should be tempered.
There will be growing pains. There will be bumps along the way.
But by year seven, the outlook of this franchise will be much different than it was when Paul was dealt in December 2011 or in January 2019, when Davis went public with his trade request.
A banner hanging from the Smoothie King Center by then is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, either.
It will be different from anything this franchise has ever seen.
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