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A successful core, good roster depth and maintaining new identity will be key to New Orleans Pelicans upcoming 2018-19 season

Dell Demps preseason press conference offered plenty of hope but also reminded all that nothing will be a given in a tough Western Conference.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

As an upcoming scouting trip was in conflict with Monday’s main media day event, General Manager Dell Demps answered questions ahead of original scheduling this morning, and he gave plenty of insight as to the what we can expect from the 2018-19 New Orleans Pelicans.

Fast becoming a custom around these parts, Demps kicked off his preseason presser by talking about the ridiculous depth of the Western Conference. Nearly every team is positioned to make a run at the postseason. For instance, take these three non-playoff teams from last year: the Los Angeles Lakers added LeBron James, the Memphis Grizzlies are expected to bounce back behind a healthy Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr and the Dallas Mavericks landed heralded rookie Luka Doncic and longtime target DeAndre Jordan.

Demps noted the importance of securing victories in close and winnable games (below .500 teams, some Eastern Conference matchups and home games), but the one area that stood front and center for him: the ability to close out games.

Last season, the New Orleans Pelicans were one of the best teams in the clutch, winning a league-tying best thirty games (out of a possible 50) in which the score was five points or less within the last five minutes of the game. While the offense more than held its own in crunch time (112.1 Offensive Rating — 9th best), the defense really put the clamps on opponents (100.6 Defensive Rating — 5th best). In comparison, the Pelicans won just 17 of 44 clutch games during the 2016-17 season and 18 of 46 in the previous campaign.

As Demps made mention, DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo impacted winning by a great deal, but the GM is confident that the remaining core — don’t forget the incredible seasons posted by Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday — and the new additions like Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton will be able to keep pace. When I specifically asked him about whether he considered this season’s roster to be an improved version of last season, he had this to say:

“You know, that’s a question I ask all the time when I’m sitting by myself: Is this year’s team going to be better than last year’s team?” responded Demps. “And I really don’t have a definite answer, but what I will say is that the key I think for us will be how we come together. Those guys obviously really impacted winning last year. But I think the guys we have this year will as well.”

If you may recall, New Orleans didn’t get off to the hottest of starts last season despite finishing with a record of 48-34. Through New Year’s Day, the Pelicans had accumulated 18 wins and 18 losses — .500 ball. Even if this group requires time to gel, realize there exist other positives that this latest version can at least follow in the footsteps of last year’s group.

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans played their best brand of basketball — one that led to a newfound identity, after Cousins was lost for the season. Nikola Mirotic arrived shortly thereafter and fit seamlessly with Head Coach Alvin Gentry’s desire to push the pace with the greatest of frequency while maintaining the versatility to adequately cover several positions on defense.

“It was fun to watch last year,” stated Demps. “It was fun to watch how the guys were playing fast, sharing the ball, and defending, and flying all over the place. When you feel like you’ve established an identity that has success, you want to continue along those lines.”

Another developing story: the Pelicans expect to have the privileged use of being able to depend on the most of the roster for production when needed.

“The good thing is, we feel like we have a deep team,” said Demps. “We’re going to have depth. We’re going to play at a fast pace. It’s important to have depth playing at a fast pace. And hopefully, we’ll stay healthy.”

Not only did Demps express optimism about not needing to play key figures extended minutes, he’s really happy about the new group of players who have been added to the core. He also happily reported that Gentry will have a chance to utilize two key bodies who have returned to health and are now ready to contribute.

  • Jarrett Jack: “I’m a big Jarrett Jack fan...He’s been a leader his entire life.” Demps is cognizant of the leadership vacuum following Rondo’s departure, and he likes Jack for his experience as well as his current abilities — he did help the Knicks beat the Pelicans in the closing minutes of a game after Christmas. Demps also made reference to that memorable playoff game-winner over Kobe’s Lakers during CP3 era.
  • Jahlil Okafor: As social media has already shown, Okafor is in fantastic shape and he’s been playing at a real high level in workouts. Although Demps alluded to the fact that the staff still wants to see how Jahlil looks in training camp (Does he fit well with the Pelicans style and strategies?), he was confident in the potential results. “He is definitely coming in to prove something, no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
  • Elfrid Payton: Demps was particular ecstatic about the Pelicans young point guard. “I couldn’t be happier. His commitment, he comes in the morning and works out and then comes back and works in the afternoon with the staff...He has a quiet leadership that has been underrated.”
  • Frank Jackson: Although Jackson will have some minor restrictions during training camp to be safe, the whole organization is excited about his potential.
  • Solomon Hill: “He’s in phenomenal shape right now, he’s energetic and he’s coming into camp prepared.” Demps expects Hill to provide a significant boost to the defense and add positives to shooting and play-making. After coming back before he was 100% last season, Demps “can’t wait to watch him integrate with the guys” now that’s in a good place both physically and mentally.

If you’re interested in hearing the full details of Demps presser from this morning, go ahead and watch the video clip below!