Pelicans GM Demps excited, moving ahead with Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton
METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Pelicans welcomed their two highest profile additions, Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle with a press conference at the team’s Airline Drive practice facility.
Essentially, the duo steps in for Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, two players who left indelible marks during their brief tenures in New Orleans.
While Rondo and Cousins were big parts of last season’s playoff team, General Manager Dell Demps isn’t looking back. As far as he’s concerned, Payton and Randle can be foundational players that help continue the Pelicans’ ascent in the Western Conference.
“I’m excited to have these guys with me right now, I really am,” said Demps. “Things work out for a reason, and I wish [Rondo and Cousins] the best…I’m thinking forward. I’m moving ahead.”
“Obviously we want to build off of the success we had last year. Both [Payton and Randle] are two-way players; they both can push the ball in transition. They both have the ability to create plays for their teammates and for themselves. Everyone knows how competitive it is in the NBA, particularly in the Western Conference, and these guys are gonna help us.”
Payton, a native of Gretna who prepped at John Ehret, was the team’s first target when the free agency period began at midnight Eastern time on July 1, but he’s been on the Pelicans radar for awhile now.
“He was our first meeting,” said Demps. “We’ve been studying Elfrid for a long time. Our coaching staff did a great job showing him some video and analytics that showed that the way he plays, he can elevate our group. He’s a guy that we’ve been targeting, all the way back when he played USA basketball when he was younger.”
For Payton, it was an easy decision. After finding limited success with the floundering Orlando Magic, his career seemed off track. Following a trade that sent him to the Phoenix Suns for a second round pick, Payton needed an opportunity to revitalize his career. He believes he’ll have that with the Pelicans. And he’s prepared to work.
“I’m coming in to compete for the (starting point guard) job,” Payton said. “I don’t expect anything to be handed to me, but my mindset is to be the starter.”
Interestingly, coming back home was not a major factor in his decision. It was about finding the right fit, and from a basketball standpoint, New Orleans was that place.
“I feel like this was the best fit,” said Payton. “It didn’t matter if this team was wherever, I just felt like this was the best fit for me right now.”
Julius Randle’s path to New Orleans was much different. Though the Pelicans had been interested in the forward, they didn’t expect him to be available this summer. But once he was, Demps pounced.
“We didn’t expect Julius to become available,” said Demps. “As soon as he became available we jumped on it as fast as we could because we definitely wanted to get him here.”
Loaded with skills and potential, Randle brings plenty to the table. He might also be the team’s toughest player since David West was running up and down the court as a New Orleans Hornet.
If Randle lives up to expectations he, Davis, and Niko Mirotic will form one of the most versatile and intimidating front courts in the NBA.
“I told [Davis] I’ll be there on the front line with him every game. You won’t have to worry about me bringing my hard hat.”
Both players fit the mold of what Demps and Head Coach Alvin Gentry need to maintain the identity of the team that finally found one last season. Both are also hungry to reach the postseason for the first time.
“It’s important to me,” said Randle. “I’ve never experienced it. Seeing what this team did last year, how they they play and how I figure into that; for me it was super important to be able to build on that and carry it even farther.”
“They’ve got experience, they’ve been in the league and they’ve had success,” added Demps. “We just feel like they’re ready to go. They’re ready to play. You could feel the energy in the building after we got the commitment from both of these guys.”
Demps smiled broadly throughout the presser; his excitement impossible to conceal.
“These are guys that we always wanted, and that’s where the excitement comes from,” he added. “We feel like these guys are going to make us better.”
Though both are signed to one-year deals, if things go as well as Demps believes they will, Payton and Randle should be part of the Pelicans core for years to come.
“I’m looking towards the future,” added Randle. “This is not about this season or next. I want this to be home and to be a long term thing.”
So do Pelicans fans, Julius.
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Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter
David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…