Pelicans Hope Short-Term Pain Yields Long-Term Gain

Pelicans Hope Short-Term Pain Yields Long-Term Gain
April 24, 2013

As you watch the 2013 NBA playoffs, you may recognize a few familiar faces during key moments of the first round. New Orleans’ starting backcourt from the 2011-12 season, Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli, has moved on to prominent reserve roles with the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls, respectively. Another member of the ’11-12 squad, backup power forward Carl Landry, is often on the floor with Jack, two key pieces of what’s been a very effective Golden State bench.

Although none of their teams reached the playoffs, Dallas starting center Chris Kaman and Washington frontcourt cogs Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza each logged major minutes during the just-completed regular season. Those three veterans were also part of the ’11-12 New Orleans club that finished 21-45.

What do those six players have in common, other than that they all were members of the team two seasons ago? In addition to being listed under “departures” in New Orleans’ 2012 offseason moves chart, they’re all at least 27 years old. Among the 15 players on the current Pelicans roster, 12 of them are younger.

During Monday’s season-ending press conference, when Pelicans general manager Dell Demps summed up his franchise’s big-picture outlook, those facts were very much worth noting. Although New Orleans made a jump from 21-45 to 27-55 in 2012-13, the leap likely would’ve been greater in the standings if the club had held on to several of its proven, time-tested veterans. From a long-term perspective, however, that would have delayed a large-scale rebuild of the roster.

“We made the decision last year to… go with a young group that set us up for the future,” Demps said. “We actually had to take a step back to take two steps forward.”

The trade of Ariza and Okafor was a vital move in terms of New Orleans’ salary-cap situation, because both players will continue to be under contract next season with the Wizards. As part of Demps’ creative cap juggling, the Pelicans instead will have a significant amount of room to pursue free agents this summer.

“We worked really, really hard to get that opportunity to use that cap space this summer,” Demps said. “We really want to maximize that opportunity. We have some big decisions to make moving forward. But when we did make the decision to have a young group and a young core, it was all for this summer and the future moving forward.”

The departed veteran group of Jack, Belinelli, Landry, Kaman, Okafor and Ariza was replaced almost exclusively by youngsters during the 2012 offseason, a collection that included No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis (20 years old), No. 10 pick Austin Rivers (20), second-rounder Darius Miller (22), invaluable acquisition Ryan Anderson (24) and the much-improved Robin Lopez (24). Greivis Vasquez (26) also was elevated from Jack’s backup to New Orleans starter.

As a result, New Orleans statistically was the second-youngest team in the NBA in 2012-13 (Houston is the youngest, as measured by average age), but will have an optimum opportunity to add talent and experience starting July 1, when NBA free agency commences. The Pelicans also will explore opportunities in the trade market and draft. New Orleans will have a lottery pick and is likely to again pick in the top five on June 27.

Over the past few weeks, Demps and head coach Monty Williams have repeatedly stressed that they consider the 2012-13 season to be “Year 1” of the team’s long-term plan to try to eventually ascend to elite status in the Western Conference. As a result, Demps said he’ll continue to think of the long haul when the team mulls over its “big decisions” this summer.

“I think your competitive spirit makes you want to (accelerate or hurry rebuilding),” Demps said. “But also you have to be smart. You don’t want to rush the process. We’re going to have some opportunities. We’ll have our target list of players we’d like to acquire, and hope to attain them. If you don’t attain them, you have to go to Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. We’re ready for that.

“We’re going to look at every opportunity we can to make this team the best possible team we can make it moving forward.”