Pelicans Counting on Players to Step Up
The summer of 2015 brought a lot of promise to the New Orleans Pelicans organization. Once free agency began, Anthony Davis was among the first players to agree to a new contract, reaching an extension with the team. Now, Davis will be under contract with the Pelicans for the next six seasons.
Davis re-signing with the Pelicans alone would have been enough to celebrate this summer. However, the team also added a new head coach in Alvin Gentry, and it seemed as though the team’s core was poised to take the next step this season after their surprising playoff run last year.
With the regular season less than one week away from tipping off, that strong 2015-16 campaign now doesn’t seem as promising as initially thought. The team suffered a huge setback when it was announced that Tyreke Evans underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this week and is reportedly on a six-to-eight week timetable to return.
The Pelicans were already operating at less than full strength due to a minutes restriction placed on Jrue Holiday. The team will be imposing a 15-minute restriction on Holiday during the regular season until around January. He missed 49 games last season due to a right leg injury and underwent surgery in May to remove a screw inserted into that leg.
Both players are an integral part of the team’s offense. They combined for 31 points per game for the Pelicans last season. With the injuries to both starters, Gentry estimated that it wouldn’t be until around January that the team would be back at full strength. Despite the team heading into the season opener next week without two key players, the team seems ready to step up.
“It’s nothing new for us,” Ryan Anderson told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve had injuries in the past. We have guys that battle through it; guys that are going to step up. The Western Conference is great. We want to win, especially early to set the tone. Regardless of who we have in the game, we’re going to be ready to go. I know the coaching staff, as well as the players, have complete confidence in that.”
While the players seem confident they’ll be able to still compete at a high level in the Western Conference, it’s easy to see a cause for concern. The West has been so competitive in recent years, and would have already been tough challenge even if the Pelicans were at full strength. Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder suffered injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that ultimately held the team out of the postseason, despite posting a 45-37 record.
With the team’s backcourt without one player, and another on a minutes restriction, the coaching staff will be tasked with integrating new players into the rotation. In addition to Evans and Holiday, several other players have been limited this preseason due to injuries, including Eric Gordon, Luke Babbitt, Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca.
“It’s tough, but when you play hard you always give yourself a chance to win and we got guys who play hard,” Davis told Basketball Insiders. “We got Bryce [Dejean-Jones] coming in doing a great job. [It was] a great pickup with Nate [Robinson]. We got a lot of guys who can fill them shoes until the guys get back healthy. We just got to fight and play hard and that’s what Coach has been preaching since day one.
“The toughest part [about integrating new players in] is the defense because we’ve been working on it since August. It’s just tough because they’re coming in to a new defensive system. We only got like three terms that we use on defense, but it’s so much movement and I think they’re picking it up, especially Nate. He’s a great basketball player and he’s not going to have a problem on the offense, it’s just the defense that we’re all struggling with; it’s not just him.”
Of course, having Davis on the team will certainly help the Pelicans until they get back to full strength. The team will be counting on Davis to lead them without some of the other key players. He’s coming off of a monster third year in the league after averaging 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and nearly three blocks per game. He elevated those numbers to 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game in four contests in the playoffs. He’s considered by many to be a top candidate for the Most Valuable Player discussion this season, and the team will need him to play at an MVP-level to stay around in the West.
“I’m always ready,” Davis said. “I’m going to go out there and play basketball and let the rest handle itself. I know I got a great team behind me and a great coaching staff and we’re going to go out there and fight each and every day.
“I’m going to find a way to try to perfect my game within the system so whatever the system is, I’m going to try to do the best I can in that system to try to be a great teammate and try to lead this team to something special.”
Although he’ll be counted on to do a lot early in the season, it seems Davis will have other help available to him. Alonzo Gee seems to be a good fit with the team’s up-tempo offense so far this preseason, and could have a bigger role than initially thought due to the injuries.
The team brought in Robinson last week, and he appears to be a lock to make the roster to provide point guard depth despite signing a non-guaranteed deal. One big surprise so far has been the conditioning of Anderson. He looks to be in the best shape of his career and is visibly slimmer than he’s been in the past.
“The past few years, it’s been tough for me with injuries and personal things,” Anderson said. “I haven’t really had much time to work on myself, my body or diet. Last summer, I was restricted from doing anything. I couldn’t even lift weights or do anything. [This summer] was a great opportunity for me to come in great shape and feel good.
“I feel lighter on my feet. I feel more explosive. I feel like myself a little bit more out there. There were so many times, especially the last few years where I felt so winded; I felt heavy. Every game there was a point where I felt like I was pushing it. I don’t feel that way; I feel great.”
Only time will tell how the team can respond to these injuries. Many were projecting the team to challenge for a top-six seed in the West after grabbing the eighth seed last year, but those aspirations will be tougher to reach than first thought. It’s clear that Davis will be able to do a lot this season, but will he be able to get the help that he needs? The Pelicans will be tested right out of the gate with two out of their first three games against the Warriors.
Tristan Thompson Reaches Agreement with Cavaliers
The long standoff between Tristan Thompson and the Cleveland Cavaliers is finally over. It was reported on Wednesday night that the two sides agreed to a five-year, $82 million extension that is said to be fully guaranteed with no player or team options.
The move will ensure that four of the Cavs’ top players will be under contract for at least the next three years. In addition to Thompson, both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are fully guaranteed for the next four seasons. Iman Shumpert just re-signed this summer as well, but is guaranteed only through the first three seasons with a player option for the fourth. Of course, LeBron James will likely remain on the team during that time as well, but is only signed for the next season.
The agreement between Thompson and the Cavs has yet to be officially announced, but Thompson confirmed the deal on his Instagram account. “It’s been a long summer of grinding and hard work but now it’s back to The Land to take care of some unfinished business,” he posted.
Many around the league expected Thompson to re-sign early this summer, but after several weeks of no deal in place, his future in Cleveland became unclear. Thompson was reportedly seeking a five-year max deal in the neighborhood of $94 million, but the team was only willing to pay around $80 million.
Thompson’s side held firm that he would sit out the year without a max deal, but the team believed his side would eventually accept the lower deal.
By bringing Thompson back, the team has gone all-in with this roster. Now with 14 guaranteed contracts on the books for the 2015-16 season, the team will be expecting to pay a $60 million tax bill at the end of the campaign. Between salaries and luxury taxes, the total bill is estimated to be around $170 million.
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