New Orleans Pelicans GM Dell Demps visited with the Black and Blue Report, Pelicans.com’s daily podcast show, on Tuesday. Here is a comprehensive transcript of Demps’ entire interview with host Sean Kelley, the Pelicans’ radio play-by-play broadcaster.
I haven’t seen you in a while now. I know you’ve been busy. And our paths crossed around Las Vegas but otherwise we haven’t talked in quite some time.
Demps: “That’s a good thing. No, just joking. We’ve been pretty busy. We’ve been trying to improve the roster, get ready for next year. We’ve still got a little bit of time. The guys are starting to mingle into town right now and we’re starting to begin our offseason workouts.”
Where are we on your calendar as far as general manager-ship if you will? I know we go through these phases, but where do we find ourselves, mid-August, at this point?
Demps: “You know it’s pretty quiet in the NBA mid-August. One way you can see it, you talk to people around the NBA, most of them get married in August. So it’s pretty quiet in August. As the month goes, most players start to come back in, start the offseason workouts. We’re about six weeks away from the start of training camp. In the old days, guys came to training camp to get into shape. Now, guys pretty much come to training camp in shape. I think we play our first exhibition game four or five days into camp.”
This is the second camp we will have in the new practice facility. Has having that facility had an impact on your ability to get guys in early to work?
Demps: “Oh absolutely. We think our facility, if not the best, is one of the best in the NBA. A lot of guys on the team purchase homes near the facility so they can get the access to it. You’ve got to thank the Benson family, Dennis Lauscha, Mickey Loomis, and everybody for giving us a facility like that. It can only make us better.”
You mention building the roster, are you done or do you have to be done at this point? And therefore, are you pleased with how it went?
Demps: “We’re excited about where we are. Obviously, you can make changes at any time if an opportunity presents itself to improve your team. But on the most part, I think this is the group we’re going to head into the season with unless some surprises or something happens in the next six weeks. It all starts with Anthony. He is with Monty right now with USA Basketball. He played great the other night. One of the good things – a lot of people don’t know this – but before Monty was the head coach, he was a really good player development coach. He was one of the best, if not the best, in the NBA. I talked to him on the phone the other night. Him and AD, Anthony Davis, have been working out a lot together. That’s going to do nothing but great things for the Pelicans for the upcoming season. It’s exciting to see those two guys representing our country and also the Pelicans and hoping they bring back gold.”
I thought last year that when we saw him scrimmage during that USA mini-camp it was almost an Anthony Davis coming-out party; it was a real sign of growth and what we were going to see last season and that proved to be correct. If you were to look now on what he’s done with this team USA experience this summer and the way he played against Brazil the other night, are you seeing another step from him? And if so, what is it?
Demps: “Absolutely. I think the big thing for him is his preparation, the time he puts in before he gets there. He’s been in the gym, he’s been working, he’s been in the weight room. You can look at his body, and when we weighed him a couple weeks ago, he was already at 242. And it’s muscle; it’s good weight. He’s out working with the coaches and he’s putting the time in. He’s definitely getting the dividends and the fruit from all his labors.”
There are folks saying right now, since this has gotten a lot of coverage especially with him taking a bigger role with Team USA, that Anthony can be an MVP, if not once, maybe multiple times. Can you help us put that in perspective? I’m one of those that kind of likes to stay back a little but I can’t help hear the noise right now.
Demps: “You hope so. I’m not good at predicting those things, but he has the tool set. I think the big thing for us is going to be how, as a team, we develop and grow. All the accolades come with winning. The next step for us is establishing a winning culture. Anthony is definitely the person to lead us in that direction.”
Did the Paul George injury scare you?
Just because it was a player, a member of the team or just the whole process?
Demps: “No, just the injury itself. When you see that type of injury, it’s a freak accident. Just to see something like that, it’s scary.”
When you saw it, were there phone calls racing around the league? Did you hear from guys saying ‘Wow this is our worst nightmare’ or was it less played among those who make decisions around the league than in the media?
Demps: “It’s tough because guys are going to work out in the summer. There are two arguments on it. One argument is ‘do you want guys playing pick-up basketball’ and if that injury happens playing pickup basketball, you don’t have the medical attention needed. I thought the medical group got there pretty quick, and that’s one of the advantages of having it. Two is to say do you not want the guys to play all summer. Or three, do you want to play in a controlled environment like USA Basketball? There’s an argument for each. We’ve got half of our guys playing around the country right now in different areas. It could happen to anyone. I don’t think it happened just because of USA Basketball."
Can you play too much basketball? And I guess from the AAU level all the way to the NBA there’s been this conversation about how durable guys can be.
Demps: “Yeah, it’s different now. I think 20 years ago, 30 years ago, athletes played two or three sports. You play football, you play baseball, you play basketball. Now it’s so tough because when you’re playing on your high school basketball team, your season ends in February or March and then AAU starts right there. If you’re going to play AAU basketball, and get seen by most of the college coaches, it’s pretty hard to play baseball. And then those guys, they’re playing AAU basketball from March all the way through July, August. Then school starts again and you’re back playing with your school team. And so it’s different now. Burnout has impacted a lot of players. You know over-usage. Now, the thing is about being efficient and being smart – understanding when you don’t work out, people see it as a sign of weakness, ‘how come he’s not in the gym’, but sometimes you’ve got to be smart about it.”
You have a tremendous training and strength and conditioning staff in this program. I’ve had a lot of fans ask me about, over the last two years, this rash of injuries, and most of them in kind of a freakish nature. When you’ve talked to your staff in the offseason about let’s keep our guys in better injury prevention mode, is that possible? Has that prompted you all to re-examine things, improve things? What’s the latest on that front? I guess it’s not just your team but everybody.
Demps: “We have what we call a “medical protocol” and it’s continuous. It starts with each player and you want to do preventive care. We have a pretty good group. I think some of the injuries, like you said, happened to us last year. With Ryan Anderson with a herniated disk just doesn’t happen very often when a guy who’s just standing there and someone kind of runs and plows him in the back. I don’t think it was an intentional play, but it happened. It was a freak injury. I think with Jrue Holiday it’s another situation where he played over 93, 94 percent of his games in the NBA and then to have that injury which he had with his tibia which is a bone, it’s something that’s unexpected. With those two guys, you really wonder. Eric was relatively healthy last year. At the end of the season, he has a little swelling in not the knee that kept him out before but the other knee. He had elective surgery to clean it out and make sure everything was ok. The plan was to make sure he was ready to go at the beginning of this year. ”
The schedule came out a little later than we all thought it would, and I’m sure there are a lot of good reasons for that. When it did come out, what was your take on how the Pelicans schedule looks?
Demps: “You look at it and see some good spots, you see some ‘Hey these are going to be some tough games here and it’s going to be a key part of our season’. The one thing I’m hoping for is that we’re healthy. And two, I like the age of our team. Most of the guys are in their mid-20s or kind of in their prime. We should get to respond to back-to-backs. I like that we have a few home back-to-backs, which is interesting for us to do this year. I’m hoping the fans can come out to support us on back-to-back nights. We’re pretty excited about the schedule. We feel like the West is loaded no matter how you look at it. It is what it is. You’ve got to go deal with it and we’re excited to see what happens.”
The West didn’t seem to change that much. It just stayed really good.
“I think Denver’s going to be better. I think Sacramento’s going to make a jump. I think some teams like Dallas, you know they add Parsons, I think it might even be stronger this year than last year.”
That’s crazy to think. And now the landscape in the East is now changed. How so in your eyes?
Demps: “I think it’s some shifting. You know Cleveland with the pieces that they’ve added. I think one of the teams that did a really good job was Charlotte. I think they were a good team last year that made the playoffs and now they’ve added some pieces. It’s just going to be interesting. Obviously Chicago is going to be good. It’s tough. I even think some of the younger teams, like if you go to Milwaukee and you have to deal with some of the young guys they have, it’s going to be a tough game.”
Do you feel pressure at this point based on what you’ve been trying to grow around Anthony and the fact that we anticipate better health with this team and all that? And because the West, as you said, is stronger, and I’m probably not asking this the right way, but I get the sense in talking to Coach and the players that they’re as optimistic as they’ve ever been and that now may be the time to make a significant move, do you feel a pressure to have that happen?
Demps: “I don’t know if pressure is the word. Obviously, there are expectations. I’m more excited about the opportunity. I think we’re right there. A big thing for us is going to be chemistry. Health is going to be big. And I think defense and sharing the ball. Those four things are going to be the key to our season, but I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait. Sometimes when people say pressure, they don’t want it like you don’t want the last shot; you want to hide in the corner or go somewhere else. I can’t wait for the six weeks until the season starts. ”
You had concerns at what you wanted to do at the starting center position. And then the 3 has always been kind of this topic of conversation. If you take Asik and then the other moves you’ve made, do you feel like you’re better or in better shape or how do you want to characterize where you are now in those two areas of need?
Demps: “Well we had to make a choice. There are a couple choices we could have made. Do you allocate all your resources to the center? Do you allocate it all to the small forward position? Or do you do a combination? We elected to go in and get Omer Asik, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. He’s a top three forward/center in the league, one of the best defensive centers in the league. When we looked at our team and did the overall evaluation of our group, we figured the places we wanted to improve the most were defense and rebounding. He checks that box the moment he steps onto the floor. He was down in New Orleans three days prior to going with the Turkish national team right now. I got to spend a lot of time with him. And as good of a basketball player as he is, he’s a better person. It was unbelievable, the time, spending with him and talking with him and getting to know him. It was incredible. People told me before ‘he’s a good guy’ but this guy, he’s a great guy. I think he’s really going to fit into our culture and that the people and our fans are going to fall in love with him. He plays so hard and plays so smart and he does all the intangibles. He’s going to be our dirty work guy and he’s going to be the anchor on our defense. Monty’s excited to have him. And another guy, who might be more excited, is Anthony. He knows that he has him so it works out there. For a small forward, I think we’ll have an opportunity to see Tyreke play some there. I thought he did well when he played there last year. When you look at some of the games he’s had and what he did playing at the small forward position, I thought he’s a little undersized there, but with all the intangibles and things he does, I think that will be a bright spot. We’re going to have John Salmons come in as a veteran. We’re finalizing his contract right now. That should be soon. I’m not supposed to talk about that. Guys like Darius and Luke; they’re going to have an opportunity to compete. There are minutes there. Eric came out to summer league on his own, voluntarily. He just came out to hang out with the guys in summer league. I missed him because I was still here finalizing the Asik trade. From what everybody’s told, he looks like he’s in great shape. He’s ready to go. Talked to Jrue a few times, he’ll be back and healthy. I actually talked to Ryan yesterday. He’s back on the court, he’s running and shooting. He’s going to be back in town this week. We’re getting close. We’re almost there. One of the guys I’m really excited to see is Austin. I’ve been hearing some stories about him around the country playing in different places and playing well. I’m excited to see what Austin looks like when he gets back to town.”
It’ll be a very entertaining training camp.
Demps: “It will be very competitive. We’ve got some games really quick. I think we practice on Tuesday and our first game is Saturday. I think we’ll get a chance to see some of our young guys. I’m excited about Russ Smith. Russ Smith played very well in summer league, making the All-Summer League team. There were 21 or 22 teams in summer league and they only selected 10 players. For him to make the All-Summer League team was good. I think he led the summer league in assists. He’s a little fighter guy. I don’t know what’s going to happen with him as far as playing time, but he’s going to bring it.”