In anticipation of tonight’s preseason opener with the New Orleans Pelicans, I got together with Jason Calmes of Bourbon Street Shots, the TrueHoop Network’s official Pelicans blog.
Rahat: I’ve been telling anyone within earshot that the Pelicans are my “it” team for 2014 – I can’t think of a more intriguing roster outside of the elite contenders. After a summer which saw your home team acquire two All-Star level talents for the backcourt while the resident franchise player reportedly packed on some extra layers of muscle, what’s the feeling like amongst the faithful heading into the preseason opener?
Jason: Thanks for having me on Red94. The fanbase is curious, excited, and hesitant.
Curiosity stems from a few sources. I could go on and on, but let it suffice to say that the Pelicans have made the transition from Chris Paul leaving to pushing for the playoffs in just 2 seasons by drafting Anthony Davis then trading draft picks; buying out after trading for Rashard Lewis, then matching the contract on underachieving and injury-prone Eric Gordon; trading away a guard who was runner up for Most Improved to acquire a former Rookie of the Year guard who has shown a decline in performance after acquiring another guard who cost ten times what the player in trade did.
Excitement stems from much the same sources on the court, including curiosity about how Davis will progress. Factor in a number of organizational changes such as the rebrand, their first practice facility, and arena renovations, and the team certainly has some attractive points to tout: Come see the Pelicans’ first game! Come see your newly renovated arena! Watch your new team push for the playoffs in their first step to winning a title for New Orleans! Plus, the team is just going to be fun to watch.
Hesitance comes from so many years of uncertainty with the franchise, and for others, old wounds from the Jazz’s departure. This franchise has had a star, then watched him play in another city for two seasons and start to force his way out after just 3 seasons in New Orleans. Prior ownership harped on attendance while the national media denigrated the market as unsuitable for the NBA while it was going above and beyond in its support of the NFL, which really stung fans in the region. In summary, the hesitance is a learned response: wait for the other shoe to drop.
Rahat: How soon do the Pelicans expect Anthony Davis to become the best big man in the league? And how do you see Tyreke Evans filling his new role off the bench? That signing was one I never would have touched in normal circumstances, but actually absolutely love just due to the presence of Davis. You can take risks when everything is tied to basically the perfect prospect.
Jason: Davis is clearly being given time to develop. He was reportedly still growing and is still gaining weight. He also faced a minutes limit for a stretch of the season following a stress reaction (a pre-fracture). He was also held back against the biggest big men in the NBA. Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that the team is taking care with his development. If he shows his incredible potential is being realized by the end of the 2014-2015 season, the Pelicans could give him their Designated Player extension, placing him under contract through the 2020-2021. Thus, I expect the basic milestones are that he show capacity against big men by the end of 2014-2015, he’ll be locked up as soon as possible, and that the team’s expectation would be for him to fully blossom through the extension, say, 2017.
As far as Evans goes, I have been intrigued by Evans for a while, as he seems so capable compared to his performance. Evans’ contract is a calculated risk: It’s a fair contract if his performance improves compared to that of the past year or so. This may seem a big if, but the distraction and turbulence permeated the situation in Sacramento. Tyreke’s role in New Orleans will likely be two-pronged, with each prong being defined by Eric Gordon.
When Gordon is healthy, Tyreke will likely get his minutes by more-than-leading the second unit. Coach has said that he likes a Smith-Anderson-Evans trio in the second unit, in fact. Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith both have nice shots from long range (Smith’s limit is a long 2), which will open up the floor for Tyreke. He should be complemented in the backcourt so that he can be at his “Reke-iest,” and there are enough guards to do that. Then, he can close the game with Holiday and Gordon in the backcourt. When Eric Gordon is not healthy, he’ll likely start with Holiday and Aminu in the backcourt and the second unit will be far less interesting.
Rahat: How do you expect the West to shape up this year and of more relevance, when do Pelicans observers expect that team to begin its ascendency?
Jason: I was overly down on the team last season, and perhaps I’m too high on them this season, but here’s how I see the West. At the bottom are the Jazz, Kings, and Suns. At the top are the Spurs and Thunder. Below them are the Grizzlies, Clippers, Warriors, and Rockets. This leaves a middle ground of 6 teams looking for 2 playoff spots: the Lakers, Mavericks (I hate the Mavericks) Nuggets, Pelicans, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers.
I think the Pelicans will make the playoffs this season, but others see the situation as slightly worse. I think the Pelicans can be the best in that group of 6, and likely stand to be in the top two slots . . . so making the playoffs . . . if there are no major injuries. If Gordon or someone else misses significant time, they may still be able to fight for the eighth seed, but it would be a fight. A problem with one of the teams in the second tier . . . say if the Clippers go all “Lakers” on themselves or Howard is not as dominant in year one with the Rockets as some hope . . . the Pelicans could rise to the sixth seed. The number of if’s here is large, I know.
In the long run, it’s all about Davis. Any rise that isn’t tied to the potential Anthony Davis becoming the real Anthony Davis is hollow, ephemeral, and useless at best, counter-productive at worst. “Playoffs,” in the immortal word of Jim Mora, one-time New Orleans Saints head coach, is the goal of the franchise, but that result depends luck and how others teams do. What is agreed upon is that this team is one with some interesting talent, relatively healthy books, is moving in the right direction in the long-term.
If the team misses the playoffs in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 season . . . Laissez les bonnes têtes rouler . . . administratively speaking, of course . . .
Nice chat, Rahat. Best of luck to you and the Rockets, less in Pelicans games, more in Mavericks games (I hate the Mavericks).