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Let the good times roll for Zion’s Pelicans

With Anthony Davis heading to the Lakers, a new era begins in New Orleans

The New Orleans Pelicans are hosting a draft party at beautiful Fulton Street Square on Thursday night that will include performances from Pierre The Pelican, the Pelicans dance team and drum line, the New Breed Brass Band and, of course, the Zion Harmonizers. While the forecast might call for thunderstorms on this hot and humid night, the Pelicans and their fans will have reason to dance and wave their celebratory handkerchiefs to officially welcome Zion Williamson to their franchise. Furthermore, there won’t be the dark cloud of Anthony Davis hanging over the city.

As they say in New Orleans, Laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll).

On June 15, Davis and the Pelicans finally said goodbye as the team agreed to trade the five-time All-Star to the Los Angeles Lakers, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. It was a deal that was great for both parties. The roller-coaster Lakers got their coveted co-star for LeBron James while holding on to forward Kyle Kuzma. And the Pelicans were able to move on from the Davis Era.

While Davis had an amazing run in The Big Easy, averaging 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game during his seven seasons, his trade demand during the season hurt New Orleans. What stung the locals even more was when he wore a T-shirt with the words “That’s All Folks!” during his last game as a Pelican at Smoothie King Center.

It wasn’t that long ago that Pelicans owner Gayle Benson had no interest in giving in to Davis’ wish to be a Laker, sources said. But after a cooling-off period, she made the right move for her franchise by agreeing to first-time Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin’s call to move on and push the button with the Lakers.

In time, the disappointment will subside and perhaps Davis’ No. 23 jersey will be retired in New Orleans. But it might be too soon for the Pelicans and their fans to acknowledge it.

What the franchise can look forward to is the notable haul the Pelicans received in return for Davis. Griffin landed forward Brandon Ingram, guard Lonzo Ball, guard Josh Hart and three first-round picks, including the No. 4 pick in Thursday’s draft. Add it all up and the Pelicans are ready to usher in a new era starring Williamson.

Williamson was the darling of college basketball last season with his high-flying dunks, underrated passing, dominating rebounding, diverse scoring and all-out effort at Duke. And word is that Williamson was excited and very much at home during his recent two-day trip to New Orleans to visit the Pelicans. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward, along with his parents, dined with Benson, Griffin, head coach Alvin Gentry and Saints and Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha at the world-renowned Commander’s Palace restaurant. The Pelicans loved his down-to-earth attitude and believed he was wholeheartedly interested in being there.

It would have been understandable if the social media sensation (3.3 million followers on Instagram) initially was stung by the Pelicans winning the No. 1 pick over the Lakers and New York Knicks. One NBA general manager said Williamson lost out on about $100 million in marketing by going to New Orleans over Los Angeles or New York. But being the face of a small-market team in the South will be a good entry into the NBA for the South Carolina native, who doesn’t turn 19 until July 6. James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have proved that you don’t have to be in a large market to get attention. Ultimately, it’s your game that speaks loudest, and Williamson’s will blare like Wynton Marsalis’ trumpet in The Big Easy.

Williamson’s excitement about coming to New Orleans certainly had to be enhanced with the pending trade. He’ll get to team up with one of the best alley-oop passers in the world in Ball, who will join Pelicans star Jrue Holiday to form potentially the best defensive backcourt in the league. The Pelicans’ fast-pace philosophy will also be music to Ball’s ears.

Ingram, who averaged 27.8 points per game after the All-Star break before missing the final 19 games of the season with a shoulder injury, will be able to take pressure off Williamson with his scoring ability. Hart is a tough guard whom Pelicans fans will love for his all-around play. And the depth at guard could also make Holiday more effective.

Word is that Ball, Ingram and Hart are all excited for a fresh start in New Orleans playing with Williamson, too.

As for the No. 4 pick, the Pelicans want to compete and make the playoffs next season. So don’t be surprised if New Orleans moves this year’s first-round pick for a starting-caliber player by Thursday’s draft. If not, the Pelicans will be looking for size or shooting with the fourth selection, a source said.

Yes, there is good reason for the Pelicans and their fans to party on Thursday in New Orleans. The Zion Harmonizers will be ready to croon in celebration as the Zion Era will soon begin free from the bad vibes of the past season. Davis, too, can now pack his bags and be happy.

Laissez les bons temps rouler for all.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.