Dell Demps: Injuries cloud analysis of 2013-14 season (4/16/14)

by Jim Eichenhofer

The Pelicans rarely had the group of (left to right) Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon on the floor together in 2013-14

In the days and weeks following the long six-month, 82-game regular season, NBA teams begin analyzing numerous big-picture issues, including their key roster pieces, overall talent base, coaching staff and what lineups may or may not have worked. However, when a club experiences as many injuries as the 2013-14 New Orleans Pelicans did, that process becomes significantly more complicated – perhaps even a bit futile in some respects.

“I didn’t think we got a good sample of the (core) group playing together,” Pelicans GM Dell Demps said Wednesday, during his season-ending press conference. “We still like our core and we’re still confident with the core we have, but obviously we want to continue to do everything we possibly can to improve this team.”

When Demps assembled the inaugural Pelicans roster last summer, some NBA analysts projected New Orleans as a sleeper in the Western Conference, based on the talented and high-scoring quintet of Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, that fivesome rarely was able to get on the floor at the same time. For instance, due to overlapping injuries, Anderson and Davis only played 15 games together (New Orleans went 9-6).

“We like our core, (but) we’d like to have a bigger sample size of seeing them playing together,” said Demps, who wants to continue adding contributors that surround All-Star Davis. “We’re thrilled with (Davis’) progress. He’s everything we thought he would be and more. He’s a cornerstone of what we’re doing here. We want to put pieces around him to make this a successful team.”

Along with Anderson’s season-ending herniated disc injury, Holiday also was sidelined for the remainder of 2013-14 in January, with a stress fracture in his right tibia. Gordon couldn’t play after March 21 due to left knee tendinitis. Another key contributor, center Jason Smith, only played 31 games before he needed right knee surgery. Davis and Evans both missed double-digit games due to a variety of injuries.

Demps said Wednesday that he expects each injured Pelican to be ready for training camp in the fall, provided Anderson’s recovery goes as planned. Smith will become a free agent July 1.

“We’re expecting to have everyone healthy at the start of next season in training camp,” said Demps, who noted that Gordon is undergoing arthroscopic left knee surgery today. “But we also want to add to it, because the West is tough. You have to win 47, 50 games just to make the playoffs. (And) our goal is not to just make the playoffs. We want to have sustained success and play at an elite level.”

Demps said it was not fair to try to assess Pelicans Coach Monty Williams based on the extreme short-handed nature of the team’s roster for nearly the entire season. Although the Pelicans are disappointed with the bottom-line outcome of this season, injuries were an overwhelming factor.

“I think it’s tough with all of the injuries,” said Demps, who arrived in New Orleans during the same ’10 offseason as Williams. “It’s unfair to give a true assessment (of Williams). With the pieces that he’s had and the way they’ve developed, I think that’s a definite positive. We’ve had a number of players improve. Obviously we want to get all of those improvements on the court at the same time. I think he was put in an impossible situation, with the injuries we’ve had. I thought the way our guys competed, I am happy with that. Every game we came into, I thought our team was prepared, played hard and gave maximum effort. I think we have established a culture of a blue-collar mentality, and I think Monty definitely gets the credit for that.”