Pelicans enter camp with reasons for cautious optimism
Monday marked the official Media Day for the New Orleans Pelicans for the 2018-19 season.
The team is coming off of a winning season, playoff appearance and first playoff series win since 2008. That, alone, should foster optimism.
Then, there is the presence of Anthony Davis.
That, alone, should be reason for optimism.
Then, we remember how Jrue Holiday finally became the excellent two-way player everyone envisioned he would be in his fifth year in New Orleans. That is reason for optimism. Of course, that happened largely after Demarcus Cousins was injured.
Then, we recall how the addition of Nikola Mirotic gave the Pelicans a 3-point option, stretching the floor, creating better spacing for Davis and Holiday to do their thing. Mirotic also turned out to be a better defender than many envisioned. He needs to shoot the long ball in New Orleans (33.5%) like he did in Chicago (42.9%) earlier in the year but that is still reason for optimism.
Then, we saw E’Twaun Moore become a competent player and very good 3-point shooter, making 42.5 percent of his attempts from distance. That is reason for optimism.
Then, we witnessed the return to New Orleans of Darius Miller and he looked like a different player than the one we last saw in the 2014-15 season. Miller shot 41.1 percent from 3-point range, giving the Pelicans a designated sniper off the bench. That is reason for optimism.
Then, we saw Ian Clark average a career-best 7.4 points per game, despite not shooting well from distance. That is reason for optimism.
Then, we saw Cheick Diallo increase his workload from 17 games in his rookie season to 52 games a year ago and saw flashes of being a solid player with length, athletic ability and lots of energy. That is reason for optimism.
Then, there is the addition of Frank Jackson, who missed his rookie season and has promise as a combination guard. Can he stay healthy? If he can, that is reason for optimism.
Then, there are the additions of young players with talent in Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. Randle is a banger, a low-post presence who can score and occupy a bigger defender, perhaps giving Davis more of an advantage on matchups. Payton is a penetrator and distributor and he is back home. That is reason for optimism.
Then, there is center Jahlil Okafor, who got off to a great start in the league in 2015-16, averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds for Philadelphia. Can he stay healthy and return to that form or close to it? If so, that is reason for optimism.
Then, there is the veteran, calming presence of Jarrett Jack, who has 14 years in the league and knows how to play. He is a pass-first player who averaged 5.6 assists per game a year ago, reason for optimism.
Add Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca and you have another pair of veterans who could provide some valuable minutes for Alvin Gentry, who proved he can coach a winning team, an exciting brand of fast, open-floor basketball that he prefers and excel.
All of this sounds like a pretty picture, doesn’t it?
So why should be temper that enthusiasm?
Start with the departure of Cousins.
Is that a positive or negative? We will soon find out. The team played much differently, style-wise, without him and arguably played better but there is no denying that they are not as talented without him.
Add the subtraction of Rajon Rondo.
While he will never be confused with being a shooter or a defender at this stage of his career, he was a leader, conductor, with tremendous vision. Rondo made players around him better, particularly late in the season and in the playoffs.
Then again, Rondo is entering his 13th year in the league and one must begin wondering how many minutes he can log and remain an effective force.
The other cause for pause is the Western Conference, as a whole.
The Lakers are vastly improved with LeBron James.
Jimmy Butler wants the Clippers. If he gets there, the Clippers are clearly better. If he does not and stays put, Minnesota is a young, talented playoff team. The Clippers still had a winning record a year ago.
Utah is very good, perhaps one player away from being a title contender.
Houston may have won it all a year ago if Chris Paul had been healthy for game seven against Golden State.
Oklahoma City kept Paul George and subtracted Carmelo Anthony, addition by subtraction.
Denver won 46 games and still missed the playoffs a year ago and may be better this season.
Portland won 49 games and still has a terrific guard tandem.
The Spurs learned how to play without Kawhi Leonard but must learn how to play without Manu Ginobili. Still, they are the Spurs.
The Suns will be improved.
Then, there are the Warriors.
New Orleans won 48 games and still only got the sixth-seed in the conference playoffs a year ago. It may take that many wins just to get into the playoffs this season. Las Vegas has the Pelicans at just under 46 wins this season.
Then, there is the news of Anthony Davis changing agents to the agent representing LeBron James. While Davis still has two years left on his contract, the panic and exasperation of fans has already begun.
As has been the case for the past few years, the future of Davis in New Orleans is directly tied to how good the Pelicans are and how confident Davis is in the leadership of the franchise and the ability to translate that expertise into being a championship contender.
Davis is a great player. He is a competitor. He wants to win a championship. His services will be in incredibly high demand, barring any significant injury between now and 2020.
Sifting through the chatter on social media, the conjecture of analysts and the optimism surrounding Media Day annually, there is reason for optimism heading into training camp and the upcoming season. Just remain cautious until we see how well Randle and Payton blend with Davis, Holiday and Mirotic and whether Jackson can be a factor and whether Okafor can rediscover the form of his youth in the league. That is a lot to chew on.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…