It’s been a while. Time to dust off the conspiracy theories, nickname generators and test my girlfriend’s patience over the next few months. The offseason started with the excitement of unclasping your first bra (we actually did remove a piece of unnecessarily bad clothing), but has since been tempered by bad brand building decisions and the injury bug that seems to just keep skipping on the needle like a scratched record. It’s cool though, I just lit some mountain sage, boiled some eye of newt, listened to a Judas Priest record backwards (and it still isn’t good), mowed my lawn in full King Diamond makeup, took a morning after pill and removed my own wonky knee cap with an Abita root beer bottle cap in a ritual designed to refurbish Tyreke’s knee. My knee hasn’t worked in full capacity since around 2005 anyway so I’m not giving up much, but it’s the thought that counts I hope.
When we last spoke, I was dancing on the grave of the Monty Williams tenure. Seriously, is anyone sad that that guy is gone? Maybe the Burlington Coat Factory and definitely Anthony Morrow (I just poured out some Pineapple CÎROC for your gain(?) and to relive that moment on your Instagram when you filmed the guy getting arrested for stealing Pineapple CÎROC), but he and his Carl Smith-like offense will soon become a distant memory — like affordable rents in the Bywater.
Still my enthusiasm for the start of the season has been tempered by the terrible decision to black out the preseason. What kind of marketing strategy is this? How many times have we heard, "New Orleans will always be a football town?" How many times have we seen the bobble heads on TV questioning our ability to support a basketball team and keep our superstar? How does the team respond to such charges? They moved training camp to Virginia, and played all but one preseason game in other cities while also not bringing a camera crew for those road trips.
In what started off and may revert to — despite a two-game winning streak — an off year for the Saints, the Pelicans could have seized the city’s heart with the greatest athlete New Orleans has ever seen dominating while Sean Payton was still refusing to run the ball or use his best running back (how’s Chris Ivory doing this year?) on the roster. This needs to be corrected next year.
If the Pelicans’ injury bug was a made-for-TV movie, it would be, "from the minds that brought you Sharknado and Meglasquid vs Giantconchshellasaurus" — as intense as it is ridiculous (and Mark Cuban may somehow be involved). Maybe Morris Bart can get back into film production and pitch this to the Sci-Fi channel. I can’t remember a team that has lost so much of its core before the start of the season. I’ve heard people claim that the arena was built upon ancient Native American burial grounds causing our misfortune, but I think the root of the issue is more obvious, less supernatural and more easily remedied.
It’s been two off-seasons since we somehow pawned Jon Ishop off on the Detroit Pistons, yet the last two editions of NBA2K still have him listed as the Pelicans’ trainer. He and his virtual bag of misdiagnosis need to be cut out like the scar tissue in Tyreke Evans’ busted knee. I’m drafting a petition to get this done, and to also get Randy Ayers (you know, they guy that told Kyle Korver to stop shooting threes) properly ousted from our virtual staff. (Also, can we get some of those late ‘90s/early ‘00s Kings’ teams available on there at some point? Who doesn’t want to dish some assists off of Jason Williams’ elbow?)
I started my tenure here at The Bird Writes with a State of the Roster Address in the early stages of the 2014-2015 season — now it’s time to dive into the 2015 - 2016 season edition.
Roster Overview and Final 15 Predictions
With a mostly stay-the-course approach to the roster this off-season, I had contemplated skipping this exercise, but enough has changed in my perception of players, the way the staff will use said players and the lower end of the roster to warrant another boasting and roasting.
If there were a memoir written about the Holiday era thus far it would be titled, "Trials and Tibialations: Stressing Over the Holiday Season." If we only knew his leg came with a fault line, maybe this roster would look very different. It’s not so much that I have buyer’s remorse — because I do believe that Jrue is a very good player — I just need him to not be sitting on the sidelines in a perfectly tailored suit. The good news is that in very limited minutes this preseason he’s looked (well, sounded and box score read, since we haven’t been able to actually see most of these games) great — though I would like to see more assists from the main distributor.
Our glut of injuries at guard will likely force him to play more minutes than coach Gentry would like early in the season, so hopefully he can handle the load. If he can, I’m positive that he can return to his, "Anonymous Donor" form — doing all of the little things to make everyone around him better. With Evans out 6-8 weeks we need Holiday to become that steady 16 and 8 kind of player that Tyreke was down the stretch last season. We also need him to anchor our perimeter defense with Pondexter and Cole also on the mend. He has the length, athleticism and IQ to be that lockdown guard we need, but with Holiday — like too many of his teammates — it all comes down to if his leg will hold up. Personally, I believe it will. I think Jrue will have a Grant Hill-like phoenix rising from the ashes second half of his career. I just knocked on every piece of wood in my house and broke into the one I’m about to move into and knocked on all of its wood.
Wow, things have changed quite a bit since the last roster overview. Gordon was miserable at the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, but the post-All Star break Gordon became a valuable player. We all stopped groaning with every touch, and we began to drool with our eyes as wide as the zero on Big Baby Davis’ jersey when a driving Tyreke kicked it out to Gordon for a catch-and-shoot three, from which he shot nearly 45%. I don’t think he’ll ever be that penetrating bowling ball that we saw with the Clippers (though that dunk against Miami was pretty sweet), but this gummy bear version of Kyle Korver can play a major role in the Pelicans becoming a championship contender.
He’s only shooting 32% from beyond the arc this preseason, but Alvin Gentry will surely put him in position to get even cleaner looks than he had last year in the running in quicksand scheme Monty Williams employed. I’m assuming we will see Gordon weaving his way around screens to get free like we used to see from Ray Allen, but even if that isn’t the case Gentry will get him open. It’s a contract year for Gordon, so expect him to say all of the right things and to be in the best shape of his career, let’s hope it all works out and his terrible beginnings fade away to the sounds of nylon popping.
I really feel like that guy who woke up next to his prized horse’s decapitated head in the Godfather. I have an unhealthy love for Tyreke. When he went in for another surgery days ago, I wanted to curl up in the fetal position on the couch and eat some creole cream cheese ice cream while watching Bridget Jones’s Diary on repeat.
Tyreke is clearly the soul of this squad — hence my petition to get his scoring clip changed to, "Pusher Man." I think he’s our 2nd best player, and the player who was most likely to flourish in the new offense. Monty Williams had him shackled, yet he flirted with a triple double every night while replacing an injured Holiday at the point. Now it’s Holiday’s turn to return the favor. Watching two seasons of Evans misused and mistreated by Monty was torture. I felt like Milo Aukerman writing songs that pined over girls in bad relationships, whose lives you could make better if you only had the chance. While the Pelicans thankfully lost my job application in the mail, they swiped right into a perfect match for Tyreke’s skillset.
Now that connection has been put on pause. In his limited preseason action, he looked great. The jumper was solid (60% from the floor and 50% from three) and he was getting to the bucket. I thought this would be a breakout year in terms of the general public and the media embracing his play. Evans was working on developing a floater during the offseason, which would have made his drives even more deadly. He could go all the way to the hole, or he could stop on a dime if the defender dropped back and just loft one up over his head. We may not see Tyreke at 100% this entire season, so what could have been may have to wait another year. Until he returns, those visions of triple doubles, most improved player awards and chart-topping All Star Snub lists will dance in my head. However, these things are coming. Tyreke is a beast, and he finally has a coach that understands him.
Anthony Davis took an offense that was possibly more boring than a documentary about a Ken Burns documentary about baseball and made it exhilarating. As a side note, I once saw a truck that had a vinyl sticker across the back window that said, "Baseball is My Life" and I immediately thought, "People think about this guy’s life so they can last longer during sex." Anyway, AD’s historic efficiency rating is only scratching the surface of what he can achieve. He continues to improve his body, add to his arsenal and now has a coach that will play to his strengths.
Anthony Davis took 12 three point shots last season. He’s already taken 13 this preseason and has made seven of them. He also runs like a cheetah mixed with a giraffe. He can clear the court in about 3 strides, yet we rarely ran under Williams. For all of you Monty Williams apologists, these are clear signs that Monty was lacking vision and innovation. Alvin Gentry was hired because he came in with charts, graphs, diagrams, one-man plays, sonnets, haikus and onomatopoeias showing how he would turn AD into the most complete offensive weapon in the league. This is why Williams is surely driving Russell Westbrook mad now. Hey OKC, that’s what you get for trying to steal our team.
Anyway, Davis is probably the best player in the league right now, if not he’s top five without debate, but there are still things I’d like to see him develop. He has added mass, but he still doesn’t set effective screens. He needs to really get his body into the defender — especially since we will be running a lot of pick and rolls. Also, I love that he can shoot from anywhere on the court now, but I would love to see him improve his dribble-drive and post-up games. With his athleticism, this should be nearly impossible to stop, and it should lead to a lot of trips to the charity stripe where AD is very effective.
I think everyone has their own little clever nickname for Davis, but my favorite comes from my date to the final regular season game of the 2014-2015 season against the Spurs (and every day since) — she craftily donned him, "Big Frida" in reference to his size, New Orleans’ own queen of bounce (Big Freedia) and Frida Kahlo’s eyebrow. Feel free to use that, or just call him, "MVP."
Asik and Gordon are the two players who really changed how the Pelicans’ fanbase perceived them by mid-season. Unfortunately for Omer he wasn’t being embraced, he was being given the old, "talk to the hand." And in fairness his hands do need a good talking to. They need a convincing argument to hold the basketball in them firmly, and to be more accepting of basketball’s in general. Weirdly, it seemed that Eric Gordon was the only Pelican that could send Asik a pass without him fumbling it away. In my head I have this romantic vision of a baby Asik clutching an Eric Gordon looking teddy bear in a bombed out building in a wartorn Turkey that would later be used to film a Jason Bourne film. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Asik feels safe when he sees Gordon, EG is Asik’s Linus van Pelt blanket.
I’m an Asik fan, but I’m not so much a fan of his contract. Despite what David Fisher says, I’m not sure it’s such a bargain. He provides great defense and elite rebounding. He can take some lumps away from AD, and he sets solid screens. However, he’s aging with an already wonky back, provides nothing offensively and becomes a liability down the stretch in close games due to his poor free throw shooting. There’s certainly a role for him on this team, but I don’t think that role is valued at 12-million per year. Bismack Biyombo is a very comparable, much younger and more athletic player who signed with Toronto this off-season who we could have took a stab at or used his contract (under three-million per year) to lower Asik’s price-tag. Biyombo is shorter, isn’t as good of a passer and isn’t as seasoned, but he still has potential to improve.
I still believe we will see a lot of AD at center this year, limiting the impact of the other five spot bodies. While I’m a fan of what Asik does well, his limitations and our style of play will have him playing much fewer minutes in our rotation. I would have liked to have seen him on an Ajinca type of deal, but he is a good puzzle piece to have to counter the various line-ups and playing styles we will face throughout the season. While I would temper my enthusiasm for Asik in last year’s roster overview, I wouldn’t change a thing about this:
"I actually think he looks a lot like Judge Reinhold if he ate one of the growth mushrooms from Super Mario Brothers. I wish they’d play the Beverly Hills Cop theme when he scores instead of the Turkish national anthem. My partner in season tickets has taken to calling him, "Wild Turkey" which is pretty solid."
Ryan Anderson gives me so many mixed emotions. He’s struggled a lot with consistency since his injury. I’m hoping that his improved health and physique make him a more consistent threat this season. We will certainly need his scoring in the early weeks until the bandaged brigade return to form. I guess my main gripe with him last season was that he would continuously take ill-advised shots when he was ice cold. I’m hoping that not only does his shot return to form, but that Alvin Gentry’s emphasis on ball movement persuades him to pass the ball more often.
I always thought Monty Williams messed up by not employing a three big lineup for stretches. We have interesting pieces that we could mix and match that would give us size and rebounding while not cramping the floor. With Anderson’s deep ball threat and Davis’ improved range they can be paired with any other big man (Asik, Ajinca, Perkins, Cunningham or Babbitt) to throw other teams off balance. Gentry is the type of coach who will likely experiment with such lineups, and I’m looking forward to seeing if they work.
Do you remember that Dave Chappelle bit where he said he wanted to botox his balls so they’d be smooth as eggs, shave little goatees on them and then draw mean faces on them with a Sharpie? That’s Dante Cunningham. He was our lone enforcer last season, leaving a trail of blood and cotton all over the court. Tyreke’s our soul, but Cunningham is our testicles.
That being said, I’m not sold on him being an effective starting small forward in this system. Some people view him as our Andre Iguodala, but until I see him prove he can hit that corner three consistently I’m skeptical. I have a feeling that once Babbitt comes back healthy he will begin to pry the SF minutes away from Dante. I do believe there are lineups where he fits in, but the current Holiday - Gordon - Cunningham - Davis - Perkins blend doesn’t seem to mesh all that well. Once Davis shifts to the five and Anderson comes to the floor Cunningham becomes more effective. Still, he was never meant to be the starter at the three, and you have to appreciate his toughness and all the grunt work he provides.
If I were doing a, "key losses/key additions" segment to this preview, Luke’s gorgeous mane would have been at the top of the "key losses" column. With the loss of his hair, he also loses the, "My Chemical Small Forward" monaker and all of the screamo records I had imagined him listening to in the locker room. It’s cool though, he’s now rocking a classic riot grrrl look — and I can get behind some Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill. While he’ll no longer clutch his hand to his chest to the sounds of Sunny Day Real Estate in my head, I’m down for watching the Kathleen Hanna documentary with him and critiquing the next, "Not Enough Fest."
I believe Babbitt will see a decent amount of minutes this year. In fact, I think he will soon replace Dante Cunningham in the starting line-up — anchoring himself at the arc until Pondexter is set to return. Luke is a phenom of a shooter. He converted 78% of catch-and-shoot opportunities last season. He also shot 51% from three. Monty never seemed to appreciate this skill, and Luke’s teammates often froze him out while he was on the court. However, I can’t see Coach Gentry ignoring it. This is the year that Babbs wins the hearts of the Smoothie King Center with daggers from deep. The casual fan will be won over, too bad the hair is gone or we may have seen Babbitt wigs on sale in the Bird’s Nest.
Ajinca was made famous for collecting three fouls in player introductions and having to hire a psychiatrist to deal with Monty Williams’ weird rotations and irrational stints in the doghouse. Towards the end of the season, when injuries forced Williams’ hand and made him play Ajinca for longer stretches we began to see a decline in his foul rate and got a good look at his impressive offensive arsenal. He’s a very solid face-up big. He’s not great with his back to the basket (but he gets the job done), and while he can give you a standing-ovation dunk every now and then, he’s extremely lead footed.
Down the stretch I began calling him, "Zombie-Bite AD" but perhaps, "The Walking Davis" is catchier. His offensive game reminds me a lot of Anthony Davis’ if Anthony Davis had been bitten by a zombie. There’s very little hop and no speed. Also, Davis’ smooth stride is replaced with a lumpy oatmeal spill of a gallop. However, their long and slender body styles are eerily similar. He also kind of looks like he was an enforcer for the DHARMA Initiative with his awkwardly long body and that symbol tattooed on his neck.
I really like Ajinca, and I hope that his lack of speed does not impede him from being a valuable contributor to this team. He has the tools to work in the offense, but can he handle the tempo? If not, look for him to be moved for depth at wing...perhaps for KJ McDaniels if Howard has injury issues again this season.
Q-Pon is another classic Dell Demps midseason get. He’s a solid two-way player that can also shoot the rock. He converted 47% from three after the All-Star break. To me, he’s more of our Iguodala than Cunningham. He may not be as athletic or as good of a defender (but he is still quite athletic and solid defensively), but he stretches the floor better, is unselfish and is a great locker room guy. I don’t think anyone expected the impact that Q-Pon brought to the Pel’s last year, but he was extremely crucial to our playoff push. He’s a guy who can thrive while being low usage, which is tailor made for this team. Once he is healthy I expect him to pick up right where he left off. I just hope Dell Demps’ contract doesn’t expire before his Q-Pon does.
Speaking of classic Dell Demps gets… Cole was a lost man in the post-LeBron Miami Heat apocalypse. With Jrue Holiday out, he became the second point guard to Evans, which has proven to be a very effective rotation. Once all three PGs get back on the court we could have the best depth at the one in the league. He’s a scrappy defender, who is great in transition. He also has a great haircut. His jumper is still suspect, but it did improve during his tenure in New Orleans last season — shooting a respectable 37% from three and 44% from the field. Travis (my partner in season tickets) likes to say, "we got a No-No going" when he’s on the floor. I’m not really a fan of any reminder that baseball exists, but I allow it because that Doc Ellis LSD no-hitter story is mind blowing.
Hopefully Cole has a speedy recovery because we are thinner than the cut of Lil Wayne’s skinny jeans at the point. Now that Holiday is on a minutes restriction we need more bodies to round out the rotation.
I’m not sure what member of our crew labeled Perkins, "Puffy Dracula" but it dates back to his time with the Boston Celtics. Perkins is currently manning the starting five slot and he’s extra puffy this year. In fairness to Perk, he was meant to be a mentor and maybe a guy to get in people’s faces if they start hard fouling AD. Injuries have forced his role to change. I don’t see this lasting very long. Ajinca could be back for opening night and Asik’s return is rumored to be right around the corner. Perkins can safely return to the bench to eat his Dip’n Dots out of a Gatorade cup in peace.
If our top two centers take a bit longer to return or have setbacks, I’d expect to see Anthony Davis playing more at the five, as I just don’t think Perkins can play at this pace. There was a moment in the Miami Heat preseason game where AD found Perkins under the basket for an open dunk. In that moment I really expected his knees to explode like dying suns hovering over a fictional planet in a pulp fiction sci-fi Star Trek rip-off. All that being said, I believe Perkins was a smart signing and a guy that will fill out that John Salmons role much more effectively and at a better price.
We want Gee to be a 3 and D guy so so badly, but I’m not all that convinced it’s working out. It was obvious that CDR was going the way of the laser disc, but I thought Gee could find himself on the chopping block too. I’ve liked him in the past, but I really saw nothing from him this preseason that inspired any confidence that he’d make an impact on this roster. He didn’t look particularly impressive on the defensive end, and he certainly wasn’t lockdown enough to offset his 22% from the field. If I were in Dell Demps’ fine leather shoes I’d have hung on to Bryce Dejean-Jones and perhaps sent Gee packing.
Both guys give you great athleticism and the ability to play two positions, but BDJ gives you potential and offensive firepower — and it hasn’t just been in waves. Dejean-Jones has been scorching the net since Summer League(making him the most tenured in this offense). At some point in this season I predict BDJ will be back on this roster, perhaps at the expense of Alonzo Gee or maybe if we don’t find a viable PG stop-gap for the 15th spot.
I love this signing. I’ve been a big fan of, "The Pocket Hulk" forever. He’s small, feisty, mean and funny. He’s the kind of vet that can inspire and entertain the young core on our roster. He and Alvin Gentry share a personality and I’ve already seen him coaching up Bryce Dejean-Jones on the court. I was really shocked that Chicago didn’t bring him back after the ‘12-’13 season as he was a key contributor to that team’s success. Robinson will help offset the giant gap created by the Evans and Cole injuries, and he’ll provide incredible depth once they return. He’s the kind of player Monty would have abhorred, but he’s perfect for our new personality. Also, who doesn’t love watching a 5’-9" three-time slam dunk champion do his thing.
Honestly, coach Gentry didn’t have me at, "Hello." I was worried that he was basketball’s Norv Turner — a great offensive mind that thrives as an assistant, but falls short as a head coach. However, once he brought in Darren Erman (read Oleh’s great piece on Erman here) to man the defense, I began to froth at the mouth. I watched a pretty ridiculous amount of Celtics games last year because I loved the stuff that staff was running. Erman turned Steph Curry into a viable defender in his days in Golden State and he had the Celtics playing top-notch defense in an up-tempo offense without a rim protector. It may take a few weeks to really take shape, but this season should showcase a vastly improved defense to go along with its offensive innovation.
"Hello" wasn’t the soundbite that sold me on Gentry — it was, "Tyreke Evans is a point guard." I’ve been saying that since his rookie year. Monty didn’t agree, and I hated Monty for it. Everytime I hear Gentry speak I get excited. He says things I’ve thought, he says things that make sense and when he says things you actually see them translate on the court. A Monty Williams soundbite always left me feeling like I was watching Bobby Jindal speak after another school shooting — confused and irate.
Gentry’s brought the 16 second shot clock to practice. He’s added the three to AD’s game. He’s made practice fun by including music. People say that the players — especially Anthony Davis — loved Monty Williams, but I was always skeptical. I think they tuned him out and knew what they were supposed to say to the media. It’s clear that these guys love Gentry and are having fun playing basketball. I can’t wait for the action to begin. See you in section 110.
• It was painful watching Gerald Green go bizerk on us live in the Smoothie King Center. I’ve pined for him for awhile now and knowing that Miami got a player so tailormade for our offense for under one-million a year was just heartbreaking.
• Can we ban all Drake tunes in the arena? My argument is that he’s a Raptor’s superfan and brand manager, but really I just view his music as the soundtrack to a manager at a TGI Friday’s getting bucked up in the kitchen in order to tell a belligerent customer that he won’t take the chocolate margaritas they don’t like but drank to the last sip off of the check, but that he’ll give them a coupon for a free app on their next visit. He feels tough because he’s making them have to come back again and spend more money if they want satisfaction from their irrational claim. You go TGI Friday’s manager. Don’t take no mess.
• I’ve brought this up before, but that, "Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands" song needs to go too. It’s the worst. I’m still all about replacing it with, "Nolia Clap."
• I’m sorry to say that I’m not a big fan of the new overly big videoboard. It’s kind of distracting and for some reason it no longer gives you a full boxscore. I want to see how many steals, blocks and turnovers everyone has. If they reduced it by ⅓ and gave me those stats it could be perfect.
• Bring back old Pierre for games against the Knicks (at least). He’s the one mascot Robin Lopez will not mess with.
• Please, please, please….dim the crowd lights. Give us the drama.
• Travis took one for the team and gave me his ticket for opening night so that I can bring my good luck charm. He’s sitting alone a couple of rows up. He acts like he did it to be nice, but I think it’s all superstition since her first game got us in the playoffs. Give him a high five for his sacrifice. Also, ask him about bees. He’ll blow your mind.
• Come on Philly? You owe us one. Leave Ish Smith alone. He may not be great, but he is maybe the fastest player in the league and that speed will be a huge factor in pushing tempo until we get a healthy rotation.