With new key players to go with their new name, Pelicans have high hopes this season
NEW ORLEANS – The NBA franchise in the Big Easy has a new name, new color scheme, new practice headquarters, newly renovated arena and most importantly, some new players who are proven producers.
So after a couple years at the bottom of the Western Conference, the team formerly known as the Hornets — and rebranded as the New Orleans Pelicans — aims to transform its on-court identity from that from cellar dweller to playoff contender.
"I believe we can make the playoffs," said power forward Anthony Davis, the first overall draft pick in 2012. "We know it's going to be a lot of hard work, but we're prepared for it."
Last year, the franchise went 27-55 and wound up with a lottery pick, which it traded to Philadelphia for 2013 Eastern Conference All-Star Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans followed that up with a three-team trade that brought in Tyreke Evans, a former rookie of the year in 2009-10 who has demonstrated his versatility in playing the point, shooting guard and small forward.
Davis said offseason moves like that showed players that general manager Dell Demps, coach Monty Williams and owner Tom Benson are "doing everything they can to try to win."
Benson, who also owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints, bought his NBA franchise in the spring of 2012 and quickly moved to rebrand it with a mascot and colors tied to the heritage of his city and state. The red, gold and blue color scheme is similar to the New Orleans flag. The brown pelican is the state bird.
Benson also built a new practice center on the same campus that includes Saints headquarters. The new digs seem more attractive to pro basketball players than the wing of a community recreation center that had served as the Hornets' practice home since they moved from Charlotte in 2002.
"Obviously, there's something new here and I'm really excited to be a part of it," Holiday said.
Here are five things to know about New Orleans' new-look NBA squad in 2013:
UNIBROW NOW: The Pelicans expect the Davis to be a force inside this season. Coming off a rookie campaign in which he averaged 13.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, the 6-foot-10 Davis has gained both weight and confidence. His offseason workout regimen helped him put on 15 pounds of bulk. He also spent part of the offseason with Team USA. "You're going to see a more confident Anthony," said Williams, who witnessed Davis' development while serving as a national team assistant coach. "Last year I thought he was trying to do the right thing and please everybody. Now he's just learning that you just got to go out there and play."
GORDON'S FLASH: The Pelicans have one of the best one-on-one players in the NBA in shooting guard Eric Gordon, but he's been sidelined by knee problems much of the past two seasons. In the 42 games he played last season, he averaged 17 points. Only time will tell how Gordon holds up, but he sounds optimistic about both his health and his team.
"I've been dealing with injuries and so forth, but when you have a lot of talented guys, where you have a chance to grow together ... anything can happen," Gordon said. "We have the talent to be a playoff team."
GOING SMALL: Williams plans to have the 6-6, 220-pound Evans to come off the bench, but still play his fair share of minutes, particularly when the Pelicans opt for a smaller, quicker lineup that could allow them to play Evans, Gordon and Holiday together.
MIDDLE MEN: The Pelicans lack an established center, a sacrifice they made to strengthen their backcourt. The projected starter is Greg Stiemsma, who's spent parts of three seasons in the NBA with Minnesota and Boston. Last season, he averaged 4 points and 3.4 rebounds. "There's a variety of ways to win in the NBA," Demps said. "The path we've taken is we've got a lot of guys who can handle the ball, a lot of guys who can create. I think we have some pretty good shooters as well."
SCORING OPTIONS: The Pelicans will have a variety of ways to score, with five regulars who averaged double-figure scoring last season: Davis, Evans (15.2), Gordon, Holiday (17.7) and 6-10 forward Ryan Anderson (16.2), who can spread defenses with his 3-point shooting.