Steven Adams (12) and Jaxson Hayes leap for a rebound last season

Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams enthusiastic about talented roster they’re joining in New Orleans

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Eric Bledsoe has been an opponent of Steven Adams for the past seven NBA seasons, but now he’s a teammate, with both players joining the New Orleans Pelicans in a multi-team trade last month. Bledsoe is quite certain he’ll enjoy competing with Adams much more than against him, particularly since it means no longer running into brick wall-type picks set by the 6-foot-11, 265-pound, former Oklahoma City center.

“I always liked Adams’ game,” a smiling Bledsoe said Tuesday. “Playing against him, he always set hard screens.

“He’s a team-first guy. It’s a great group of guys here (in New Orleans) who are trying to change the culture and get to a playoff spot. (Adams) played with some great, potential Hall of Fame players (in OKC). To have him over here as well to help, with the young guys, is amazing.”

Bledsoe and Adams held their initial press conferences Tuesday with local reporters, albeit via a virtual Zoom call. Adams described his enthusiasm for joining the Pelicans in similar terms.

“You have great talent all-around,” Adams said. “A new coach. It’s not a completely new rebuild, but it’s something (where) you can see where this could potentially go. Great talent, great young players, some good vets. Exciting stuff.”

Adams was looking forward to becoming more acquainted with his new Pelicans teammates as soon as possible, but that won’t happen on a larger scale until the weekend, when the NBA allows group practices. For now, Pelicans players are participating in staggered individual workouts, due to league-wide COVID-19-related rules.

“We haven’t even met together as a team,” Adams said, when asked about his fit next to Zion Williamson in the New Orleans starting frontcourt. “I can say I’m excited and I’m happy, but that’s about as far as it goes. In terms of strategy or coming together as a team, you’ll have to ask me that next week or whatever. I’ll give you a better answer then, mate.”

It’s so early in the acclimation process that Adams did not want to even assume that he’ll be in the first unit, with the New Zealand native saying, “At this point, I’m not even sure if I’m starting. I haven’t actually gotten any sort of (assurance of that), so let’s just keep that off the table for now. You can’t assume, mate. That’s what comes with trying to do whatever you can do for the team.”

On Monday, David Griffin said the Pelicans “envision being able to start (Bledsoe) and (incumbent point guard) Lonzo (Ball together in the backcourt),” which could mean Bledsoe spends a significant amount of time playing off the ball. The former Milwaukee guard pointed out that it’s a comfortable role for him, given that Bucks “point forward” Giannis Antetokounmpo often spearheaded the Milwaukee offense.

“I’m excited,” the 6-1 Bledsoe said of teaming up with Ball. “I just played with Giannis. Giannis had the ball in his hands. It’s an adjustment for me, but I think Lonzo is a great, talented player. He knows how to play on the ball or off the ball. He does whatever it takes to win. He doesn’t have to go out and score 30 points every night. He has to do what he does to make an impact on the game.”

Joining Bledsoe, Adams and Ball in the potential starting five will be Williamson and 2020 All-Star forward Brandon Ingram, the NBA’s Most Improved Player. The latter recently signed a multi-year contract extension to remain in New Orleans long term, while Williamson is back for his second pro season, after showing immense upside and ability in 24 games.

“His potential is definitely up there,” Adams said of the 20-year-old, Rookie of the Year runner-up. “He’s an amazing athlete, an amazing player. And he’s built like a brick… you know the rest. It’s going to be good.”

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