Veteran trade additions for Pelicans come grateful for new opportunity
METAIRIE – “I want to be in New Orleans.”
New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin quoted Josh Hart from a conversation the pair had shortly after the new Pelicans guard was sent to the Crescent City as part of the Anthony Davis trade.
There’s been a dramatic turnaround in the perception of the Pelicans over the last couple of months, and Hart’s words just reinforced it even further.
Sitting alongside Derrick Favors as well as fellow former Los Angeles Lakers Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram on the dais in the team’s media room, Hart seemed genuinely excited about beginning a new phase of his career with the Pels.
“I think this is an amazing place, where people generally love coming to work every day,” Hart said. “The talent that we have now is amazing, and it’s something that’s up and coming. I think that’s the reason why JJ (Redick) wanted to come here, why Derrick wanted to come here. You see the potential that this organization has, and the city behind them, that’s something that you want to be a part of and grow with.”
As he said those words, team owner Gayle Benson, president Dennis Lauscha and head coach Alvin Gentry beamed with excitement.
Favors had his choice of destinations, but directed the Jazz to help him find his way to New Orleans. After playing in the immense shadow of two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the 28-year old will take over as starting center for the Pelicans. He, too, is excited about the future of the franchise.
“I was playing behind probably one of the best defensive players is the league for a long time, and I wasn’t able to do a lot of things that I can do on a daily basis,” said Favors. “When (Griffin and I) spoke, he said that ‘you have an untapped offensive skill set,’ and I was excited about it. That’s one of the reasons I chose to come here; because I knew the position I’d be in, the guys I’d be playing with … the organization and the team, I just thought it was a great fit.”
Ball and Ingram were less ebullient than their counterparts, but both seemed to welcome the opportunity to get back to having basketball as the main topic of conversation rather than their tumultuous final seasons in Los Angeles.
“In L.A., people are looking at you, and I think we had a big responsibility over there,” said Ball. “But I think just growing up, being in the league two years, you find ways to block it out. I know I was doing it myself before I got hurt, the last five games I played. I know B.I. was. I know J-Hart was. It comes down to playing basketball. That’s your job. Everything else is extra.”
Ingram, looking very slender in the midst of rehabilitation for shoulder surgery, looks forward to building of the abbreviated end of his 2018-19 campaign. During his final eight games, he averaged 25.6 points, 6.9 boards, and 2.5 assists, while shooting 56 percent from the floor.
Since then, he hasn’t been able to engage in much physical activity, but the team believes Ingram is right on schedule medically.
With the Pelicans uptempo attack and Ingram’s ability to play multiple positions, he could reach the potential that made him the second overall pick in 2016.
“I’m just eager to pick up a basketball period,” Ingram said of his readiness for this season. “The last time I picked up a basketball, and actually played a game of basketball was in March, so, every chance that I get, I’m just going to continue to work to get better in the gym and continue to train my mind.”
Griffin reiterated that these players meet the criteria that he’s established in both talent and character. He sees the Pelicans as a ferocious defensive tenacity that leads to his wings running the lane for easy transition baskets. He can visualize the open looks for Hart, Redick, and the rest of the roster. He can visualize winning.
And he believes this quartet can help make that vision a reality.
“What I’m excited about is not just that we’re really deep, we’re deep with selfless winners,” he said. “We’re deep with selfless high-character guys who want to play any role they need to, and that’s important.”
“I think the fit of our pieces is potentially really good. Coach Gentry and his staff are going to have a challenge just finding the right mix, I think, in minutes for everybody.”
That’s a challenge that Gentry and Pelicans fans are happy to face.
From no help to true battles for playing time, these are not last year’s Pelicans.
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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…