Difficult start to 2016-17 proved insurmountable for Pelicans, but Dell Demps says team has bright future

As he addressed the media Thursday inside his team’s practice facility, New Orleans point guard Tim Frazier couldn’t help but think, we shouldn’t be here right now. When he looks back on the Pelicans’ 2016-17 season, the third-year NBA veteran rues the way it started – 2-10 without Jrue Holiday, who was on family leave – as well as a 2-6 span immediately following the DeMarcus Cousins trade.

If not for those costly stretches, Frazier pointed out, instead of a season-wrapup press conference Thursday, New Orleans (34-48) could’ve potentially been preparing for a first-round playoff series vs. Golden State.

“We wouldn’t be having this meeting right now,” Frazier said. “We’d be in the playoffs, and guys would still be getting in the gym, getting ready for practice.”

As the Pelicans provided their perspective on a non-playoff year, that was a common theme Thursday. For a second straight season, New Orleans put itself behind the 8-ball right off the bat, struggling to secure victories while fielding short-handed lineups. The Pelicans began 2015-16 at 1-11, then were 0-8 to open ’16-17 before breaking through for a win at Milwaukee on Nov. 10. By the time Holiday returned to the team Nov. 18, New Orleans was already facing a major deficit in the Western Conference.

“I felt like this year we were always playing out of a hole,” New Orleans GM Dell Demps said. “We got off to the 0-8 start, which was tough, with Jrue missing those first games. I never felt like we got out of that hole.

“When we started to finally figure it out and gel and put it together (in March), it seemed like we needed more games (to have enough time to reach the postseason).”

“It was a disappointment overall,” Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry began his press conference. “It was extremely tough at the start, because of Jrue’s situation (taking care of his wife, Lauren) and not having Jrue. But it was one of those things you can’t do anything about.”

After a poor start sans Holiday during the first month of the season, the Pelicans enjoyed several strong stretches, including separate four-game winning streaks in November and December. They also put together an 8-3 span over the final three weeks of March, but couldn’t sufficiently close a gap on eighth-place Portland and Denver.

New Orleans finished 32-35 in the 67 games Holiday played; for comparison’s sake, the Trail Blazers went 41-41 overall en route to claiming the final Western Conference playoff berth. The Pelicans came up just shy of posting a winning record in a season for the first time in games Holiday played. The four-year Pelican and eight-year NBA veteran will become an unrestricted free agent July 1; Demps and Gentry reiterated Thursday that re-signing him is a top priority this summer.

Until Holiday’s status is determined in the offseason, it may be difficult for New Orleans to pinpoint specific goals for 2017-18, or where it expects to land in the pecking order of the rugged West. The Pelicans’ best play of ’16-17 arguably took place in March with Cousins and Anthony Davis producing simultaneous big individual performances; the club will try to build upon the chemistry that duo seemed to find not long after coming together.

“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but I think we want to put ourselves in the position to compete at the highest level,” Demps said, when asked if the Pelicans should be viewed as a playoff or championship contender next season. “We’re going to look at all options. We are going to be broad in our search, to find the best possible outcome for this team.

“We feel like we positioned ourselves moving forward. Obviously with DeMarcus and Anthony – and hopefully we can re-sign Jrue, to keep that group together, build the chemistry – we feel like the future is bright.”