Anthony Davis optimistic about Pelicans’ chances after summer of improvement

by Jim Eichenhofer

As a late-blooming basketball prospect who wasn’t nationally-ranked as a youngster, Anthony Davis is a real-life example of how not every NBA star became one overnight. That’s part of the message Davis tries to relay to children at the summer basketball camps he hosts, including this week’s two-day event at the University of New Orleans.

“I actually stressed that to them, about chasing their dreams and how I ended up where I am,” said Davis, who experienced a well-chronicled growth spurt in high school. “(My background) relates to them a little more, because most of them probably aren’t prodigies. They have to go out and get it, grind even harder than the next man. Any time I talk to kids, I try to bring that up. No matter who you are, or where you come from, you always have a shot.”

In very general terms, the same theme could be applied to Davis’ NBA team as it prepares for the 2017-18 campaign. Coming off a 34-48 record and second straight non-playoff year, New Orleans is regarded by many as only a fringe playoff team ( and both recently tabbed the Pelicans ninth in the Western Conference), despite the presence of perennial All-Star bigs Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. During a break at his basketball camp Tuesday, Davis said he’s not concerned about predictions that list New Orleans shy of its goals for the upcoming season.

“I don’t really care what anyone says,” the four-time All-Star said. “We know what we’re doing, especially having an entire training camp with me, (Cousins), Jrue (Holiday), (Rajon) Rondo, and all these guys we have on our team, we feel like we have a shot against anybody. That’s our mindset coming in. We’re not worried about all the white noise and what other people are saying, more so what we’ve got to do in the locker room and on the court together.”

For two straight seasons, New Orleans has dug a hole with poor starts, partly due to widespread injuries (in 2015-16) or the absence of a key player (Holiday missed the first dozen games of 2016-17 for family reasons). The Pelicans later put together some excellent stretches during both seasons, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to overcome opening 0-6 and 0-8, respectively, before finally posting a victory. After making the playoffs just once in Davis’ five NBA seasons, he’s stressing the considerable urgency for New Orleans to win now.

“We’re tired of losing,” Davis said. “I think we’re doing the right things to try to make sure our chances are very high. We look good on paper. The entire organization – players, front office, coaches – we think the time is now. So we’re treating this like this is the season.”

In addition to signing Rondo and picking up Duke guard Frank Jackson early in Round 2 of the draft, the Pelicans improved their depth in recent weeks by signing guard Ian Clark and forward Darius Miller.

“We’ve got a lot of great talent coming off the bench,” Davis said of his team’s summer additions. “(Clark is) a great shooter, and of course brings a championship mindset to our team. Any time you can get a champion to bring what he’s learned from those guys, who have a phenomenal team over there (in Golden State), he picks up stuff, can bring it to us and tries to steer us in the right direction.”

Some of Davis’ optimism for ’17-18 comes from the opportunity for the Pelicans to be together in training camp, with Cousins on the roster from Day 1, instead of trying to be integrated halfway through last season. Davis has worked out extensively with Cousins this summer, as the duo gains a better understanding of how to complement each other on the court.

“He’s gotten a lot better with the weight loss,” Davis said of Cousins, who only played 17 games for New Orleans post-trade last spring. “I haven’t seen him play yet, but he said he’s in the best shape of his life, so I’m excited about that, (to) come out guns a blazing to start the season.

“(A playoff berth is) what we are expecting. We definitely believe we have enough pieces on paper to make the playoffs, and not just make it, but actually make a run in the playoffs. Everyone is excited and everybody is prepared. It starts in training camp.”