Pelicans start new season with elite Anthony Davis and another new look
It seems as if each of the last three seasons has been “the most important season in Pelicans history.”
We may as well make it four in a row.
Ultimately, the stakes haven’t changed. The New Orleans Pelicans are not truly in pursuit of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, they are on a mission to retain the self-proclaimed “best player in the game,” the one and only Anthony Davis.
That mission starts anew Wednesday night at the Toyota Center in Houston as the Pelicans face the Houston Rockets.
For the uninitiated (maybe you just moved here or fell asleep under a tree for a couple of years), Houston versus New Orleans is the basketball equivalent of Saints versus Falcons.
Last season, the Rockets paced the NBA with a 65-17 record and advanced to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Golden State Warriors in seven games. James Harden was named league MVP. They also took 3-of-4 from the Pelicans, and for good measure they ended DeMarcus Cousins’ career in New Orleans (that’s not exactly true, but let’s stoke the flames a bit).
“It’s a great challenge for us in playing (Houston),” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry after practice Thursday afternoon. “We were a pretty good road team last year (24-17), and obviously we’re going to have to be a good road team this year also.”
“It’s a monumental challenge for us but you just have to go out there and play and see what happens.”
The Pelicans are coming off the second most successful season in franchise history after winning 48 games and sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round before they were victims of those same Warriors.
But these aren’t the same Pelicans that walked off the court together back in May.
The core of Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, and Niko Mirotic is back. As are reserves Ian Clark, Solomon Hill, Darius Miller, and Cheick Diallo.
Gone are Rajon Rondo, the aforementioned Cousins, and, as of Monday, Alexis Ajinca. In their place are three former lottery picks: Elfrid Payton, Julius Randle, and Jahlil Okafor. The Pelicans will also finally get to take new toy Frank Jackson out of the box after he was shelved all last season by injury. They also added a trio of small forwards in Wesley Johnson, Troy and Kenrich Williams (no relation).
There are a couple of things I can say about this team with certainty: Davis is one of the very best players in the league; a generational talent that still hasn’t maximized his potential. Jrue Holiday has emerged as an elite two-way guard; capable of both shutting down any perimeter player on one end, and scoring 30 on the other.
We also know that the Pelicans want to play fast. They led the NBA in pace last season and Alvin Gentry wants to increase the tempo even more this time around.
What I don’t know is if Moore and Miller can be superlative outside shooters for a second consecutive season. Or if Solomon Hill and Cheick Diallo can contribute at all. I don’t know if Frank Jackson is as good as fans hope he is, or just another rookie who will have as many maddening moments as he does thrilling ones.
How will Davis, Mirotic and Randle mesh? Can Elfrid Payton and Jahlil Okafor rediscover the talents that made them so coveted when they entered the league?
We get 82 games to find out if this year’s edition of the New Orleans Pelicans is better or just different than last year’s.
“I know I like our team,” Gentry added. “I think we’re going to be a good basketball team, now how long that takes I’m not for sure, and I think everybody is going to go through growing pains.”
“It’s going to be a challenge for us, and what we have to do is just stay the course and not really get too up or too down. I think that’s the key to having consistency in your play.”
That could be pretty good advice for Pelicans fans this season who may view every victory as another punch in a ticket to the Finals and those who view every loss as a sign that Davis is leaving.
For now, let’s all just focus on the Rockets. The rest will happen when it happens. The players realize last season is far in the rear view mirror and that the Pelicans will have to prove themselves all over again.
They welcome that challenge.
“It’s 0-0 right now,” said Ian Clark. “A lot of people have their picks of who’s going to be the top teams in the West, but we have to come out and show that we deserve to be there.”
Let the show begin.
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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…