NBA PM: Pelicans Add Talent, Expectations
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Pelicans Add Talent and Expectations
Everything you know about the franchise in New Orleans will change next season.
The team name, jerseys and color scheme will all be different. The Honeybees – the franchise’s dance team – is no more. Hugo, the team’s mascot, will surely be replaced. The New Orleans Arena will no longer be dubbed the Hive because, well, that wouldn’t make any sense. We’ve seen the last of the New Orleans Hornets as we know them, and the last of those teal, purple, gold and white jerseys.
While change is difficult, it’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case. The Pelicans are ushering in a new era, and the changes are positive ones that should pay off in the long-term. No, I’m not talking about the superficial switches like the moniker and uniform. I’m referring to the franchise’s personnel moves – the bold acquisitions that made the Pelicans’ offseason one of the most intriguing in the league. Amid all of the organization’s rebranding, the basketball operations staff did a makeover of their own.
This summer, perhaps the biggest change the Pelicans made is their approach to rebuilding. Rather than continuing to stockpile young assets and remaining patient while those players grow, Pelicans general manager Dell Demps decided to speed up the development process and change his philosophy. The Pelicans – particularly owner Tom Benson – wanted to be competitive sooner, so they went all-in.
In a matter of weeks, New Orleans added two star-caliber players, both of whom are 23 years old and still have plenty of upside. Jrue Holiday was acquired in exchange for Nerlens Noel and a future first-round pick. Tyreke Evans was signed to a four-year deal worth $44 million.
Now, the Pelicans are suddenly relevant, with one of the more interesting lineups in the NBA. Holiday and Evans will start alongside Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson. While that looks like a NBA 2K14 fantasy team, it’s the actual lineup that Pelicans head coach Monty Williams will roll out every night, barring an injury or change. Off the bench, New Orleans will have Brian Roberts, Al-Farouq Aminu, Austin Rivers, Anthony Morrow, Jason Smith, Greg Stiemsma and Jeff Withey among others.
New Orleans won just 27 games and finished with the second-worst record in the Western Conference last season. Now, after the busy offseason, expectations are obviously much higher in the Big Easy. A win will no longer be viewed as a pleasant surprise amid the team’s rebuild – it’ll be expected. In fact, just about everyone in the organization is talking about making the colossal jump into the West’s playoff picture as early as next season.
“Our expectations are always high,” Davis said. “We definitely want to make the playoffs, and beyond. … We’re not sure how it’ll all fit; we’ll have to wait until we get into training camp and get to play with each other. Coach is still working it out, but whatever it is, I know that they’re going to help us make a push for the playoffs.”
“We have higher expectations for ourselves than anyone else can have for us,” Williams said in July. “So we don’t pay much attention to that stuff. We’ll evaluate where we are by December and then we’ll understand what kind of team we have, but as of right now we’ve got to put it together.”
“For one, we want to have fun,” Holiday said earlier this offseason. “I think that’s the biggest part; having fun with your team. I think I’ve done that every year, especially making it to the playoffs, which were an awesome experience. Getting back there is the ultimate goal.”
“We’re a better team,” Rivers said. “Everyone’s like, ‘Well, what do you think of the trades?’ Well, we’re better, man. We could be a playoff team. This year sucked. It was the first time I did not enjoy watching the playoffs. I’ve always loved watching the playoffs, but this year I didn’t want to watch it because I wasn’t in it. I was jealous seeing my other peers who were rookies last year get to play in the playoffs. So, these offseason trades have been great and this gives us a chance to be able to compete in the playoffs and give me a chance to where I could play there, so I’m excited. … We’ve got great players on the team. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We got Jrue Holiday, we got Tyreke Evans, we got Eric Gordon at the guard position. Those are all monsters down there.”
“Oh yeah, in my mind, most definitely [we can make the playoffs],” Anderson said in July. “For this team, it’s really how hard we work and how we jell as a group. There are a lot of new guys, a lot of new faces and I think we have a lot of young veterans, young guys that can really play the game. It will be really fun to be mixed into this group and really see how good we can be because, for me, really the sky is the limit.”
The offseason acquisitions were huge for the Pelicans, but internal improvement will also play a role in the team’s progression next season. Every member of New Orleans’ starting lineup is 25 years old or younger so the group is expected to continue to grow.
Davis, in particular, could be poised for a huge season as he makes the leap from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign. Coach Williams is actually looking forward to the development of Davis more than he is the addition of new players.
“I’m more excited about Anthony Davis’ progress,” Williams admitted. “And yet we’re adding some really good guards and wings.”
Davis has been working extremely hard this summer. He was in attendance at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, supporting his young teammates, and then participated in the Team USA minicamp shortly after. He has also been training on his own, expanding his game.
“I’ve been getting stronger, working on my shot, post moves, everything like that,” Davis said. “Just becoming a better basketball player so I can help my team win.”
Because the Pelicans have so many young players, Holiday is looking forward to developing alongside his new teammates over the next several years.
“I’m excited, man,” Holiday said. “Obviously, I’m in the right place. … I feel we’ll grow together because all of us have three- or four-year contracts and all of us are going to learn with each other, learn each other’s ways and tendencies. From there, big things can happen.”
Holiday can’t wait for the season to get underway, as he’s anxious to follow up the best campaign of his career. Last year, the point guard averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals en route to his first All-Star appearance. Now, in New Orleans, he believes he could be even more successful since he’ll have plenty of offensive weapons around him.
“All I have to do is pass; I got the easy part,” Holiday said with a laugh. “They have the part of shooting the ball, grabbing the boards, lobs and all of that. I just have to get them the ball where they want to get it.”
Holiday says that he’s determined to “be more efficient” next year, which is a good goal for the young point guard, who last season averaged a career-high 3.7 turnovers and had an efficiency rating of just 16.74 (barely above the league average of 15.0). He believes that the change of scenery, another year of his experience and his work with Coach Williams should help him achieve that goal.
“He had Chris Paul,” Holiday said of Williams, who coached Paul in New Orleans during the 2010-11 season. “So from a coaching standpoint, he can help make me more efficient and better as a point guard. I’m just going to continue learning every day.”
Gordon is perhaps the happiest player when it comes to New Orleans’ moves. When he was initially acquired by the franchise, the roster was depleted. Even Davis hadn’t arrived in town at that point. The team’s core was made up of Jarrett Jack, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor among others. Now, not only is Gordon excited to play with fellow stars, he’s thrilled that it’s Holiday and Evans on the roster since he has had close relationships with those players for years.
“I’ve known those guys since high school and it’s good to be with those guys on this level,” Gordon said. “It’s nice. It’s always good to have good, up-and-coming guys. That’s the point of us coming together, seeing how we can grow toward the future. We have a lot of good guys, a lot of talent, and probably more to come. It’s good to see the team make some good changes in a good, positive way. For me, it’s just about looking forward to getting this year started. This team can be really good. It’s all about clicking early and keeping everybody healthy during training camp and seeing where we can go from there.”
The Pelicans’ future is certainly bright and Demps has done a terrific job navigating the franchise in the post-Paul era. When the team initially traded the superstar point guard to the Los Angeles Clippers, it seemed like it’d be a long time before the organization was relevant and competitive again. Now, the team is made up of developing stars and could end their two-year playoff drought sooner than later – maybe as early as this season if all goes as planned.
The Remaining Free Agents
Which free agents are still available? Here’s a position-by-position list.
POINT GUARDS: Sebastian Telfair, Rodrigue Beaubois, Delonte West, A.J. Price, Keyon Dooling, Jamaal Tinsley, Mike James, Bobby Brown, Chris Duhon, Daniel Gibson, Gilbert Arenas, Royal Ivey, Chris Quinn, Kris Joseph, Scott Machado, Ben Hansbrough, Diante Garrett, Charles Jenkins
SHOOTING GUARDS: Richard Hamilton, DeShawn Stevenson, Dahntay Jones, Marquis Daniels, Leandro Barbosa, Lester Hudson, Elliot Williams, Dominique Jones, Daequan Cook, Terrence Williams, Roger Mason, Sasha Vujacic, Jerry Stackhouse, Michael Redd, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Cartier Martin
SMALL FORWARDS: Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, Linas Kleiza, Josh Howard, Mickael Pietrus, James Johnson, Sam Young, Josh Childress, Luke Walton, Mickael Gelabale, Damien Wilkins, Luke Babbitt, Sasha Pavlovic, Vladimir Radmanovic, James White
POWER FORWARDS: Lamar Odom, Tyrus Thomas, Drew Gooden, Shavlik Randolph, Hakim Warrick, Louis Amundson, Chris Wilcox, Yi Jianlian, Troy Murphy, D.J. White, Kurt Thomas, Malcolm Thomas, Jared Jeffries, Ike Diogu, Kevin Jones, Juwan Howard, DaJuan Summers
CENTERS: Jason Collins, Joel Przybilla, Johan Petro, DeSagana Diop, Cole Aldrich, Earl Barron, Hamed Haddadi, Henry Sims, Eddy Curry, Hilton Armstrong, Kyrylo Fesenko, Darko Milicic, Dwayne Jones
Which free agent do you want on your favorite team? Leave a comment below.