Posted Aug 21, 2013 10:37 AM
This is the latest in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2013-14. For a look at other teams in the series, click here.
Jrue Holiday could have been shocked, angry, disappointed or any number of other adjectives when, after his first season as an All-Star in Philadelphia, he found his life suddenly changed by a trade to New Orleans. Instead, he was too busy laughing at the name change by his new team.
"I mean, it's funny, I'm not going to lie," Holiday said at the Team USA training camp last month in Las Vegas. "It's funny saying it: 'We're the Pelicans.' But I've said it about half a million times now, so I'm used to it."
What new club owner Tom Benson did not want to get used to was having his team -- by any name -- taking up residence at the bottom of the standings. So after two straight trips to the lottery, the Hornets/Pelicans made one of the biggest surprise moves on draft night by trading the rights to No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel and a protected 2014 first round pick to the Sixers to get the rising 23-year-old Holiday.
For a team that spent the past two seasons reeling in the wake of Chris Paul's departure, it was a statement that said the mourning period is giving way to a new morning. The move positions the up-and-coming team to challenge for a playoff spot even in the crowded and contentious Western Conference.
"They want us to be competitors," Holiday said. "Starting off this year being the Pelicans, starting off something new, I think we're doing it the right way.
"I'm pretty sure I know what they'd like, for me as a point guard, is to know what [head coach] Monty [Williams] likes. I'm supposed to be a mirror of him on the court. I think Anthony Davis and even Ryan [Anderson] are like two different positions. I have to feel them out and learn their game even better so it's like second-nature.
"Anthony is the franchise guy. I just want to bring some heart. Not saying that there wasn't heart there, but heart, hard work, defense...Trying to be a point guard, trying to be a leader."
You couldn't help but think that any music from a jazz funeral heard in the air of New Orleans was directed at the NBA franchise after its pair of All-Stars, Paul and David West, left town prior to the 2011-12 season. Making matters worse, Paul brought credibility to the Clippers while West helped turn the Pacers into real Eastern Conference contenders at the time the erstwhile Hornets were plummeting.
A series of injuries has limited the playing time of Eric Gordon, who was supposed to replace Paul as the main cog in the offense. Davis, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft, had his moments as a rookie, but also had too many nights when he simply blended into the scenery. Anderson, who was signed as a free agent from Orlando, was able to fill his role as 3-point shooter and Greivis Vasquez passed through town for one season and made a run at the Most Improved Player award at point guard.
However, the defensive identity that coach Williams has preached for three years virtually vanished as the club had a rating of 110.1 points a game, which ranked 28th in the league and made for another bottom-feeding finish.
If every player hits his high notes and every move works out exactly as planned, the core of the young Pelicans would rise to its potential and make a run at one of the final playoff spots in the West.
The acquisition of Holiday was not the only bold move of the summer. They also landed former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans in a three-team trade with Sacramento along with shot-blocker Jeff Withey from Portland. Adding Evans gives the Pelicans a dynamic backcourt, a potential three-headed monster to throw at opponents, assuming it doesn't consume itself. The expectation is that Holiday and Gordon will start together and Evans will get to be the top gun coming off the bench.
New Orleans gave up center Robin Lopez in the Evans deal, but brought in free agent center Greg Stiemsma and still has Jason Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu up front. What's more, their five players -- Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Davis -- are all 25 or younger, meaning there is room for growth.
While Holiday, Gordon and Evans can all pack an offensive punch when taken individually, the biggest question is whether the threesome can coexist without egos. Each one of them performs best with the ball in his hands.
Gordon arrived two years ago to be the marquee replacement for Paul and promptly spent most of his time on the shelf with injuries, and in the summer of 2012 even signed a free agent offer sheet with Phoenix and said he wanted out. So just how committed will he be to the Pelicans if he starts playing too much second fiddle to Holiday?
The sky was thought to be the limit for Evans when he broke in as a star with the Kings, but his game and his reputation have declined along with his scoring average the past three seasons. The Pelicans can bank on Davis and Anderson delivering up front, but there will have to be harmony in the backcourt if the team is going to sing.
The conservative approach would have been for the Pelicans to be happy that the big man Noel fell into their pouches at the No. 6 spot in the June draft and to slowly wait for his knee to mend. But with a new nickname, a new team color scheme and a brand new outlook, the team went more for the microwave approach and is hoping to vault back into the playoff hunt, albeit at one of the bottom rungs.
There are still questions about where the lanky Davis is going to establish his permanent position. He played at the 3, 4 and 5 spots last season. It would help for him to carve out a permanent identity and for high-scoring guards to look to him. If there is any squabbling among the guards, it will likely inhibit Davis' development as an offensive weapon.
The truth is, the playoffs are probably a reach this season. It would be a step in the right direction for the Pelicans to simply be competitive again.
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