Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: Nikola Mirotic happy to make a new home in New Orleans

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Whether it’s getting the chance to play alongside five-time All-Star Anthony Davis, rejoining Rajon Rondo as an NBA teammate, or enjoying the mild winters of his new NBA city, forward Nikola Mirotic has already laid out a list of reasons why he’s happy to be a New Orleans Pelican.

Following Monday morning shootaround – which he and his teammates used to prepare to host the Utah Jazz (7 p.m., Fox Sports New Orleans, WRNO 99.5 FM) – Mirotic smiled when he was asked about the feeling of being under contract with New Orleans through next season. Unlike many NBA players dealt in the days before Thursday’s trade deadline, the four-year veteran won’t be a free agent this summer, allowing him to settle in as a Crescent City resident.

“It is easier. It’s more calm, for my family too,” he said of an option year in his contract being picked up for 2018-19. “We’re looking forward to coming here and setting up everything. The weather is way better than in Chicago, which is good. When you know that you have another year here, there is no rush. Just play simple, work hard and everything is going to be in place.”

Despite having only a few hours to prep for Saturday’s game in Minnesota, Mirotic didn’t look like a brand-new member of the Pelicans, putting up 18 points and 12 rebounds in his New Orleans debut. He said it helped that he’d played last season with Rondo in Chicago, becoming a close friend in the process. Mirotic and Davis also teamed up on a few offensive possessions Saturday, either passing to each other or pounding the backboards together to grab rebounds. It was probably no coincidence that the Pelicans established a season high Saturday by pulling down 18 offensive boards (six by Mirotic, also a season high for him).


Other notes from shootaround and media availability with Mirotic and fellow Pelicans newcomer Emeka Okafor, who’s on a 10-day contract:

Mirotic on his excitement to team up with Davis: “It’s amazing to be by his side and learn from him. The first game in Minnesota was an amazing feeling. I was always really excited playing against him, trying to guard him. Now playing with him, it’s even better. I’m looking forward to learning.

“He can pop, he can roll. I think it’s going to be very hard for defenses when we play together. We’ll need more time to learn to play together, but the first game we had was pretty good. I’m sure it’s going to be better and better each day.” …

Mirotic on Rondo: “I’ve been playing with Rondo, so I know how he likes to play. It’s a big help for me, especially being traded to a new team, new organization. Having somebody like Rondo, he’s a really important guy in the locker room and on the court. It’s just a blessing being with him again and trying to play good basketball.” …

A question was directed to Mirotic that alluded to but did not specifically mention his preseason incident with Bobby Portis that caused Mirotic to miss 23 games of the regular season (Chicago went 3-20 without him). The 26-year-old on turning the page from his four seasons with the Bulls organization: “I felt it was the time for me to move on and (be in) a new spot. But I had a great time there. I learned a lot. They did treat me well, too. I also had a few issues, but it’s life. Things happen. All focus is on my future, which is here and doing the best for the organization.” …

Okafor is nearly five years removed from his last official NBA game on April 15, 2013, an incredibly long span between stints in the league. The 6-foot-10 center did not expect to be out of the NBA for this long, but also took a methodical approach to making sure his body was ready for basketball.

“It was essentially a four-year process,” Okafor said. “I just took my time to make sure not only the initial injury (was resolved), but reconditioned, rehabbed, everything.” …

The former No. 2 overall draft pick – behind Dwight Howard in 2004 – provided several interesting comments about how his viewpoint changed from spending time in the G-League, with Philadelphia’s affiliate.

“Perspective is a blessing. My time in the G-League was all about perspective,” he said. “After spending 10 years in the NBA, I gained a greater appreciation for the grind. I always knew how fortunate I was to be able to make it to the NBA, how difficult and special it is, but to see the grind from the other side, with undrafted players, non-guaranteed contracts, guys trying to fight. It’s really a dogfight trying to get in. The NBA is more or less like fantasyland. Everything is at your disposal, the facilities are top-notch. Whatever you want, you can just have. The G-League is exactly the opposite. It’s the land of scarcity. The model is just make do and figure it out.” …

Okafor on what he can bring to the Pelicans: “I think I can come in and provide some size and strength. I can set some good screens, play great defense, rebound, finish around the rim, shoot some perimeter shots within the flow of the offense, provide some energy. …

Although he didn’t get in the game Saturday at Minnesota, Okafor was impressed by second-year Pelicans reserve big Cheick Diallo, who registered a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“Very efficient, 10 and 10, played within himself, and he still has so much more to go to improve,” said Okafor, who noted that Diallo was the first player to arrive at practice this morning. “He’s a hard worker. He has a good attitude and a good work ethic.”