Phil Weber recently joined co-hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok for the 51st episode of their Hoopistani podcast, and the former assistant coach went into great detail regarding the front office’s thought process this summer and gave reasons for optimism.
First off, Weber did confirm to listeners that he was promoted to the Pelicans front office for next season. Honestly, that’s good news. After listening to him talk for well over half an hour, his level of understanding about the league and players are readily apparent and it makes you feel he can assist Dell Demps and his existing group in their decision making. Plus, how can you not like a guy who says this about LaVar Ball: “Yeah, that guy’s a nut!”
Following earlier discussion ranging from India’s FIBA team (Weber is the national head coach) to the countryside being littered with monkeys to the 7SOL Phoenix Suns, Weber dove head first into the single biggest key in his mind for the New Orleans Pelicans.
“It’s all going to boil down to — because the league is getting smaller, let’s face it, Kevin Durant was a four and Draymond Green played the five for the Golden State Warriors a lot when it’s winning time — so it’s going to really boil down to what we can do defensively. Can Anthony Davis guard some guards? If we’re able to do it defensively and not give up too much, teams will be really having a hard time matching up to us on the other end.”
Weber went on to reference the Shawn Marion Suns when the entire league was forced to match down in order to try and contain him and his teammates. Now, obviously, this style is more prevalent across the league, but Weber doesn’t believe it will ruin New Orleans experiment centered around two premier big men.
“Because of the athleticism and the skills of DeMarcus and Anthony, I don’t think that's necessarily going to be the case. DeMarcus is 20-25 pounds less. He is going to be in great shape — this is an important time. He’s a great passer. AD is so versatile. So If we can hold our own on the other end, and quickness doesn’t kill us in the transition game and just guarding out on the perimeter, we’re going to be a handful down on the other end."
Of course everyone has noted the Pelicans improved defense. New Orleans went from 28th in Alvin Gentry’s first year at the helm to 9th last season. Weber firmly believes it remains an organizational priority and singled out several key contributors.
"Our defense went way up last year because we had defenders. We signed Solomon Hill; we had Dante Cunningham; we had Jrue Holiday healthy. He is an elite guard defender when locked in and focused. E’Twaun Moore is a good defender. We have a nice team if we can guard down and I think that we have the guys to be able to do that.”
And there you go. If the first 100 reasons didn’t do it for you, here’s #101 on why you should expect the franchise to bring back Cunningham before the start of training camp.
After quickly dropping a prediction that Carmelo Anthony will end up with the Houston Rockets, Weber next discussed the list of priorities for the front office this offseason and touched on the signings of Rajon Rondo, Darius Miller and Ian Clark.
"What we went after this summer, we needed to improve our shooting and we needed to improve our basketball IQ. Our basketball IQ went way up, WAY UP, when we got Rondo. And he has shot the ball better — not great — he shot 37% and with his shooting numbers, he takes good shots. But his basketball IQ will outweigh any of the other stuff because we needed it so badly.”
(Much earlier in the interview, Weber stated one of the most impressive things about the Warriors is their high basketball IQ across the board.)
“We signed Ian Clark who is going to help with shooting,” Weber went on to add. “We got Darius Miller, who is a former player from Kentucky and has had great years over in Europe the last three. 6’-8’’, versatile. So, I think that with what we have coming back and making sure Jrue stays here and Solomon becoming more comfortable in what we do offensively because he took a dip last year offensively; didn't defensively, but he didn’t figure out his role. And with our two dynamic bigs who will now have had... when you don’t have training camp, you can add a complimentary player. But when you add a major piece into a team in midyear, it’s tough. You have no practice time because you have game after game after game.”
Make no mistake, Weber expressed several times throughout the podcast that the Western Conference is going to be incredibly tough, mentioning specifically the Thunder, Timberwolves and Rockets. However, he was able to rationalize hope because the team is on track to enjoy three healthy weeks of training camp, have already spent the whole summer working together and Boogie will be in much better shape than he was when he arrived in February.
Towards the end of his interview, this line rang true for me: “We have a lot of stuff resolved.” You know what, that’s precisely why I feel it’s okay to be optimistic about the team. Too many naysayers have focused on previous records, pulled out certain statistics, or stated other facts that lack enough context in my opinion. Theres no masking all of the disappointments, but a lot of them just aren’t as pertinent anymore. Despite the lack of flashy personnel moves, New Orleans, to me, appears a noticeably different team.
Either way, if you all have the time, I truly recommend you listen this Hoopistani podcast. Listening first hand to Phil Weber break down a lot of important things should help you understand the decisions that were made this offseason as well as give hope to the organization’s big man experiment in the small ball era.