A theme quickly emerged on media day: this latest version of the New Orleans Pelicans is a supremely confident bunch.
“Obviously I feel like we’re a sleeper and people obviously see the roster that we have and maybe even looked at the past that we’ve had. But we’re ready to go.” — Jrue Holiday
The start of every preseason is always filled with optimism around the league. Even mediocre teams feel they have a good chance of exceeding expectations. But that’s what we should expect from elite competitors playing at the highest level. They’re just built that way.
Despite this common notion, a stark difference exists in New Orleans.
For starters, Dell Demps is singing a different tune. The general manager focused exclusively on the importance of the process last September rather than delving into a discussion about New Orleans playoff chances. Yesterday, Demps narrowed the expectations down to a three-letter word: Win. While he stressed the players may need a little time to gel, he believes the new roster will be able to compete in the difficult Western Conference.
As for the players, they all noticed the core pieces are healthy for the first time in years, several of the new additions are loaded with experience and this Pelicans team is probably the most talented group we’ve seen since the Chris Paul era — at least according to Anthony Davis when asked for his opinion on the subject.
“I think so. I can’t remember a lot of other teams. But I think right now, I mean, you look at our roster, all of our guys can easily be in the rotation. So I think this is probably the best, most talented roster we’ve had right now.”
Davis quickly added that it doesn’t mean anything until the team proves their mettle on the court, but his belief in the current group was readily apparent after talking about his summer. He recalled spending countless of offseason hours with DeMarcus Cousins to develop that necessary chemistry for #DoItBig to be successful, engaged with most of the team in Kentucky, and interestingly, worked on his leadership skills with someone outside of the organization.
If you may recall, Holiday and Tyreke Evans — the two best players after Davis one year ago — were unavailable at the start of the 2016-17 campaign and Alvin Gentry had to overly rely on Lance Stephenson and Tim Frazier out of the gates. Not surprisingly, the team managed to eke out just one win in the first ten games of the schedule. Davis admitted that coming into last season was kind of tough, but there was no hint of any excuses by anyone yesterday.
That’s a good thing because the Western Conference is normally filled with a lot of good to great teams, but this season the competition is expected to be far, far tougher. By now you’ve heard of the migrations of Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap to the West. Even if the Utah Jazz or Memphis Grizzlies take a step back, many opine the Timberwolves and Nuggets are ready to take their places in the next postseason.
A sleeper is something that succeeds when no one thought it would. Well, very few have penciled the New Orleans Pelicans inside of their top eight, so if the Pelicans make some noise it’ll come as a surprise to most. How does the team feel about the general lack of respect?
“It doesn't make a difference — I’ve been underestimated my whole life.” -- Rajon Rondo.