Five burning questions and answers about the New Orleans Pelicans' immediate future in the wake of their season-ending loss at home Saturday night to top-seeded Golden State that completed a first-round sweep:
1. Wasn't the playoffs, for these Pelicans, just about getting to the playoffs?
Of course it was.
You were never going to hear any of the Pels admit such a thing while they were still engaged with the Warriors, but a sweep doesn't really diminish the most notable achievement of the season, which was catching and then overcoming Oklahoma City for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
They couldn't have done it without OKC's many injuries, true, but don't forget that the Pels had their share. Jrue Holiday missed 42 games during the regular season and Game 2 of this series. Ryan Anderson missed 21 games. The otherworldly Anthony Davis missed 14 for a franchise that had to bring a halt to mighty San Antonio's 11-game win streak on the final night of the regular season just to claim its first playoff berth since Chris Paul's farewell season in town in 2010-11.
In Davis' third season, New Orleans found a way into the NBA tournament and played the Warriors tougher than the series scoreline would suggest. They'll have to live with pain that lingers from squandering that 20-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3, but make no mistake: The 67-win Warriors had to work to shake these guys.
They had to work even on a night like Game 4, which saw Stephen Curry shoot a ridiculous 5-for-5 on contested 3-pointers. The Pels, even with their spirit presumed to be broken after the Game 3 heartbreaker, scrapped to within eight points of Golden State in the fourth quarter after falling behind by 21.
They got broomed, in the end, but they battled.
2. Will the Pelicans sign Davis to a max contract extension this summer?
That is most certainly the plan.
League sources say that the Pels will be as aggressive as possible on July 1 in presenting Davis with a five-year maximum contract that makes him New Orleans' designated player.
Given that the 22-year-old was voted to start in February's All-Star Game and will likely earn All-NBA first-team status when voting results are announced in coming days, Davis would be in line to start his max deal at 30 percent of the league's salary cap as opposed to a mere 25 percent as long as he earns just one of those same honors next season -- or if he is named the 2015-16 MVP.
Based on the league's most recent cap projections, Davis will thus be presented with a five-year pact that will eventually top $30 million annually and could exceed $140 million in total value in a deal that kicks in beginning in 2016-17 and run through his 28th birthday.
Can he really turn down those sort of riches and that level of security in the name of flexibility?
Would he turn that down when he's clearly comfortable in New Orleans and, by all accounts, highly engaged as the young leader of his team?
Hard to see Davis resisting such lucrative insulation, though he certainly does have the option of signing a shorter extension to keep his free-agent future more open.
3. Is Monty Williams' job safe?
It's the most interesting question on the board.
And the most complicated.
For all the heat he takes from some sections of the Pels' fan base, as well as the Twitterites who convene nightly to second-guess (or downright mock) his decisions/rotations/adjustments, Williams has received strong public support from his players and is said to be well-regarded throughout the organization.
His bond with Davis, in particular, has been well-chronicled. Bear in mind, furthermore, that Williams essentially has two years left on his contract, with a team option in 2016-17 to follow next season's guaranteed campaign in 2015-16.
To his credit, Williams is clearly able to get a good response from his players, given how the Pels never surrendered in the chase for the No. 8 spot, no matter how far back they were ... and no matter what sort of ridiculous numbers Russell Westbrook was throwing up to try to single-handedly drag the Thunder to the playoffs without the help of Kevin Durant or Serge Ibaka.
Yet there's no escaping the fact that Williams has occasionally been booed by his own fans during introductions at home games -- it even happened during the playoffs -- and absorbs lots of local criticism. It's a level of noise that can sometimes drown out the national perception of the Pels as overachievers.
Williams unexpectedly acknowledged the heat early in the series against the Warriors, telling reporters after the Pels' Game 1 defeat that his advice to Davis before the series even started was to keep tuning out the static.
Said Williams: "I just wanted to remind him, 'Don't forget, nobody thought we'd be here, so let's just be us. No need to reinvent yourself today. I'm going to be me -- an idiot. You be you -- a great player. And we'll be in good shape.'"
Let's be clear: Williams is no idiot. He has built undeniable ties with Davis over the past three seasons and through their time together with Team USA, prompting Davis to recently profess his "love" for his coach. And as my ESPN.com colleague Tom Haberstroh noted in his fine series wrap-up piece late Saturday, Williams is also savvy enough to remind us on occasion how connected he and his star are.
The chatter will nonetheless persist about what Davis could do playing for a more decorated coach. It is on Williams, meanwhile, to improve with his on-the-fly moves and dealing with crunch-time complexities far better than he did in Game 3, when the Warriors wiped out such a big deficit in the final five minutes. It's also fair to wonder: With the otherworldly Davis' ability to run the floor and the youth that surrounds him, shouldn't the Pels be regularly playing at a much faster pace?
But the Pels' season, by any measure, will be recorded as a success. So doesn't Williams deserve his slice of the plaudits?
It's a question only Williams' bosses can answer. And it's not yet clear how the ongoing battle for long-term control of franchise, among members of the Benson family, factors in.
4. What about the status of Pels GM Dell Demps?
New Orleans Saints officials who oversee the Pelicans, through team spokesman Greg Bensel, have been adamant in recent weeks that neither Demps nor Williams was given a "playoffs or else" mandate entering the season.
Yet it's fair to say Demps, with or without such an edict, did as much to help his team achieve its goals during the course of the season as any executive in the league.
Demps found ways to acquire each of those handy bench contributors midseason to fortify a reserve unit that had to compensate for the lengthy absences endured by Holiday and Anderson.
The Pels, furthermore, happily watched Tyreke Evans -- Demps' big free-agent signing from the summer of 2013 -- assemble his most impactful season since Evans' rookie of the year campaign with Sacramento in 2009-10. Eric Gordon, entering the final season of his controversial contract, also quietly contributed to Davis' cause as consistently as any Pelican in Round 1.
Like Williams, Demps actually has two years left on his contract, with a team option in 2016-17 looming after next season. There have been no tangible signals that his job is under any real threat.
5. So what's missing?
The Pels, with a focal point of Davis' ability, versatility and size, can't have enough good shooters around him.
There's also undoubtedly room on the roster for a veteran with certifiable playoff know-how in the mold of a Paul Pierce, given that the Pels' current cast features no one older than 29.
But the biggest source of uncertainty, in the short term, is how New Orleans handles Omer Asik's forthcoming free agency. The Pels surrendered a first-round pick to acquire the 7-footer from Houston last summer, only to finish in the league's bottom third in defensive efficiency despite the imposing interior duo Asik forms with Davis.
In this series in particular, New Orleans was minus-36 with Asik on the floor ... and plus-4 with Asik on the bench.
The vibe I get, though, is that the Pels attribute a lot of that to matchups, since the Warriors are so good small-balling someone like Asik right out of the game. He still fits next to Davis as a bulkier rim protector who, in other matchups, would certainly add value to the lineup. As Haberstroh also noted in his piece, it can be argued that it's up to Williams to build a better team defensive scheme around Asik and Davis when he's blessed to have the tandem of elite defensive big men.
The initial signals thus point to Asik coming back.
Other notable items of roster business: Eric Gordon is expected to exercise his $15.5 million player option for next season as he and Anderson enter the final year of their respective deals, Cole will be a restricted free agent and the Pelicans' 2015 first-round pick will be conveyed to Houston as part of the Asik trade.