Since Dell Demps' arrival, the Pelicans have had one prerequisite for inclusion on their roster: players needed to epitomize the definition of high-character. This included but was not limited to exemplifying descriptions like team-first, coachability, hard-working and humility.
The reason for this is simple. Demps came from San Antonio where he was a disciple of the Spurs' Way, and his ultimate goal was to recreate that system in New Orleans. Successful franchises across all sports have a lot in common and enviable traits are evident within every single one of their employee's. For instance, the Spurs have respect for themselves, their organization and their fans. Unruliness, disturbances or other types of bad behavior are not tolerated.
Case in point, do you remember how the Spurs waived Stephen Jackson during the 2012-13 season, just days before the start of the playoffs? Although Popovich has gone on record since stating that he loves Jackson as a person, things got too heated between the two of them at the time. Consequently, Pop simply eliminated the distraction and off the roster S-Jax went, despite the fact that he had been an integral part of the rotation.
Prior to landing in San Antonio, Jackson had worn out his welcome in other cities.
He brawled in Auburn Hills, fired a gun into the air and got run over by a car in Indianapolis, and drew suspensions from five different teams.
Yet, because the Spurs are such a tight-knit group, RC Buford took a chance on bringing back a possible locker room distraction. Although Jackson already had a history with the Spurs (he started his career there), it was no guarantee they'd be getting back the same player that had left 9 years earlier. Sure enough, it didn't work out, but it didn't jostle their squad. That 2012-13 season was seconds away from adding another championship trophy to their revered mantle.
Similar to Jackson, Bryce Dejean-Jones is coming into a stable situation carrying a lot of personal baggage. He played for three college programs and walked away from each of them with troubling stories. There's no need for us to go in-depth into each incident, but it's safe to say trouble always found or followed Jones. If you're interested in learning more, make google your friend as content is certainly not lacking.
Despite all of his missteps, it's important to clarify that Jones does not have a criminal record. Perhaps this is why his last coach, Fred Hoiberg, compared him to JR Smith, a talented but but oft-troubled player, both on and off the court.
Fred Hoiberg has said repeatedly that Iowa State's Bryce Dejean-Jones has reminded him of J.R. Smith -- certainly looked like it last night.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 5, 2014
Why has Demps decided to take a chance on Jones?
For the same reason why at least five other NBA teams brought him in for workouts prior to the 2015 draft. The same reason other colleges were willing to give him a second chance after he left his previous stop. Bryce Dejean-Jones oozes talent and it was quite evident during the most recent Summer League schedule.
There's a few interesting names at the top of our NBA Summer League offensive efficiency leaderboards. pic.twitter.com/BPaW0o0ufi— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) July 20, 2015
BDJ finished with the 2nd highest PER among qualified SF's (28.5), finishing behind only Kyle Anderson, the 2015 Summer League MVP. Jones had the 5th highest eFG% at 72.6% and the 6th best Offensive Rating (139.8) in Las Vegas. Perhaps best of all, he showed his collegiate ball-hogging ways might be fixable as he had a friendly 18.3 usage%, a mark that placed him behind 6 of his summer teammates. He most definitely deferred to Seth Curry and Larry Drew II.
Apart from the talent level of Jones, Demps must feel it is safe enough to give a young player with a checkered past a chance at making the roster. First, this isn't Dennis Rodman, Stephen Jackson or some other NBA veteran who is set in his ways. Second, Demps believes the roster has matured enough, both individually and collectively, to be able to withstand any theatrics without it derailing the team's overall focus.
At the start of Monty Williams' reign, the Pelicans planted the seeds of their future culture. Hard work, mental toughness and other traits were cultivated and stronger characters slowly emerged from their cocoons. When a particular player fell out of line, say Al-Farouq Aminu with his infamous trips to the doghouse, his role was momentarily reduced but the rest of the team proceeded.
We are now beginning to see some of the fruits of that labor; the team's core can be trusted. They are no longer wide-eyed kids looking to find their place within the NBA, rather, they are young men understanding they all share a common goal. One need to look no further than their levels of commitment this offseason: Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, Alonzo Gee, Dante Cunningham, Alexis Ajinca, Eric Gordon and Norris Cole have all been caught working hard on their craft.
A 23-year old isn't going to be able to negatively influence this dedicated group. Rather, the ultimate hope is probably that the young leaders among the Pelicans will be able to make an impression on Jones.
Transferring to Iowa St, a school renowned for turning troubled transfers into productive players, might have signaled Jones understands his problems and is looking to work on them. Although Jones went from a prominent starter to a reserve role during the course of last season with the Cyclones, he accepted it without any fanfare. At both USC and UNLV, minutes were a source of conflict.
Perhaps the most telling display of how his antics are not all that cumbersome occurred during the 2015 Summer League games. Having played for the Running Rebels several seasons ago, Las Vegas fans remembered his familiar face when he took the court with the Pelicans. However, instead of giving him a hard time, they cheered him on as though he was one of their own.
BDJ returned to UNLV this week for the NBA Summer League as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. In his first game back at the Thomas & Mack Center Monday, he had arguably his most memorable moment in the arena in a 26-point effort in his quest to make an NBA roster.
And, get this: Rebel Nation, the same people who one year ago called him a cancer, surprisingly cheered his performance. When he transferred out, you were quick to say he was a problem. But score 26 points in a Summer League game, a celebrated scrimmage, and he’s one of us again. What gives?
Let's hope that Bryce Dejean-Jones is serious about putting it together and he won't waste yet another chance to utilize his God-given abilities. Don't be surprised, though, if it doesn't work out, one way or the other (whether he performs poorly or his troubled past resurfaces). In the game he dropped 26 points against the Brooklyn Nets, I witnessed several face-palm moments.
First, he made too flashy and quite unnecessary of a pass between his legs on a fast break at the 52-second mark of the video. A short while later, he picked up a technical foul after he was fouled on a three-point make by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Shake my head is right, but I hope Jones' character issues isn't what you take away from today's column. Sure, it would be fantastic if Demps turns up unearthing another diamond in the rough; however, BJD's partially guaranteed contract is important to recognize because it shows the New Orleans organization appears more confident on taking a chance on talented individuals despite any makeup issues.
The training wheels have been removed, it looks like we're about to see how far the Pelicans can ride without them.