NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans arrived back home at six this morning after closing the 2016-17 season with a 103-100 win over the Portland Trailblazers.
The victory was a high note for a team that entered its season finale having lost five straight and is missing out on the postseason for the fourth time in the Anthony Davis era.
The Pelicans began the process of closing the book on the 34-48 campaign with players and team officials meeting with the media at their Airline Drive facility Thursday.
“As I reflect on the season, I always come back to the start,” said Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps. “I felt like this year we were always playing in a hole. We got off to the 0-8 start, which was tough…Jrue missing those first games, I never thought we got out of that hole.”
Demps gave plenty of credit to Head Coach Alvin Gentry and his staff for weathering a second straight season filled with injuries and roster upheaval.
This season, New Orleans used 28 different starting lineups. It was a 14-game improvement over the 2015-16 season when the Pelicans trotted out 42 lineups over the course of a 30-win season. However, the increased health led to only a three game improvement in the standings.
“I thought the team showed a lot of resilience,” Demps said. “I think Alvin deserves a lot of credit for keeping the group together. It was tough coming into the season and not having the people you thought you were going to have and trying to figure it out on the fly.”
Demps, who has led the Pelicans to just two winning seasons in his seven years at the helm, stated that evaluation of this season will be difficult, due to the many changes throughout.
The consensus on Airline seems to be that the building blocks are in place to make the Pelicans a truly competitive team in the Western Conference with DeMarcus Cousins in the fold for an entire offseason. That is, if the team can re-sign free agent guard Jrue Holiday. What that end product will look like depends on your definition of competitive.
“I think that we’re still going to be a team trying to find ourselves,” Gentry said. “I think the one thing that we have to do is we have to become more consistent. We have to be able to figure out what we’re going to get every night from certain players. I think talent-wise, with AD and DeMarcus, we have two of the top five players at their position in the league, and I think our perimeter play has to become more consistent.”
“When we made the trade for DeMarcus Cousins, I think we really set ourselves up for the future,” he added. “I think DeMarcus is going to be an impact player here for a long time, and I think that him and Anthony (Davis) paired together…it took a little time, but I think we’re starting to see some of the potential.”
Gentry, for his part, feels like the style of play that he’s wanted to implement since he arrived two seasons ago will work well for Cousins and Davis as they get more practice time under their belts.
“(Cousins) is a very, very talented guy,” Gentry said. “He has the ability to step out on the floor, he’s an excellent passer, he shoots almost 36 percent from three…We were just adding a player who could do the things that we want him to do anyway.”
“The only thing that he has to do coming back in to make it work and fit in is just to be physically in great shape from a conditioning standpoint, and I think he’ll do that.”
The biggest area of need identified by both Gentry and Demps is shooting. The Pelicans finished 26th in the NBA in offensive efficiency this season, down from 15th last season.
“We have to be able to shoot the ball consistently,” added Gentry. “(Davis and Cousins) are going to create double team situations and when that happens, in order to alleviate the double teams, you’re going to have to knock down shots.”
Finding shooters will be a tall task for the Pelicans. The options are limited in free agency as will be the dollars the team has available to them. Especially, if the team follows through on its commitment to re-sign Jrue Holiday. Holiday is clearly the team’s priority this offseason, but the Pelicans also have to plan for the possibility that he could move on.
“We feel like we’ve positioned ourselves moving forward,” added Demps. “I think it will be a different looking team than we’ve had here before. Obviously with DeMarcus and Anthony, and hopefully we can re-sign Jrue and keep that group together and build a chemistry and move forward. We feel like the future is bright.”
Demps and Gentry have to hope that Mickey Loomis and Tom Benson feel the same way. Both the GM and the coach expect to discuss their futures with the top brass soon enough. Until then, the work continues as usual.
“I walk in here every day excited about my job,” Demps said.”I don’t ever feel the pressure or anything like that. We’re in evaluation mode. We’re going to sit back, we’re going to meet with Alvin and we’re gonna go over the whole season.”
“It’s not anything that I spend a lot of timing worrying about,” said Gentry about his job status. “I’m at the office and I’m working and I’m preparing for this summer and everything else like I would normally do. When the time comes, that decision will be made.”
All in all, no news was made at the news conference. Essentially, the case was made for maintaining the status quo with management and hoping that this time it all works out. But even if it does, Gentry had one statement worth holding on to relative to the team’s chances of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy anytime soon.
“There’s a big ladder that we have to climb before we worry about Golden State or San Antonio.”
There are expectations and there are excuses. The question for the Pelicans is what exactly are the franchise’s expectations for building a consistent winner in New Orleans and after that, are Demps and Gentry to pair to do it?
If they aren’t, the rebuilding project that began the day Davis was drafted seems headed back to the drawing board.