Keys for New Orleans Pelicans to Do What the Hornets Couldn't
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The New Orleans Pelicans must use this offseason to right all of the wrongs from the Hornets era and establish themselves as a new entity. The team can reach new heights by making a commitment to doing things differently than the old regime.
The arrival of new owner Tom Benson should be seen as the dawning of a new era. Benson is the antithesis to former owner George Shinn. As evidenced by his run as the owner of the New Orleans Saints, Benson is a man who isn't afraid to spend a few bucks to turn his team into a winner.
In 2006, Benson gave the Saints the green light to sign quarterback Drew Brees. Almost immediately, Brees and head coach Sean Payton transformed the Saints from a stepping stone to a NFL contender. Four years after signing Brees, the team won its first Super Bowl.
The hope is that Benson can do the same for the Pelicans. The team wasted no time rebuilding itself last summer. Of the 2012-13 opening roster, only six players were on the team during the 2011-12 season.
New Orleans also added a potential cornerstone in No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis as well as fellow rookies Austin Rivers and Darius Miller. The result is a young team stocked with emerging talent that may be just a couple pieces away from contending.
With the team bidding adieu to the old "Hornets" moniker, the switch to "Pelicans" should signify more than just a name change. It should be a symbol that says the franchise has evolved from the old ways of doing business.
Here are a few keys the Pelicans should follow to help them move exceed what the Hornets achieved.
Keep The Core Intact
The biggest problem with the George Shinn era was the revolving door of talent that frequently came and went. From Larry Johnson to Alonzo Mourning to Kobe Bryant to Baron Davis, you could build a dream team just out of the guys that were traded away.
It is tough for fans to get behind a team that routinely trades its stars. How can you convince someone to spend their hard-earned money on a jersey when there's a real possibility it will become a throwback in a couple years?
The current regime has a solid, young core already in place. Anthony Davis played well down the stretch, averaging 17 points and nine rebounds in the month of April before injuring his knee.
Ryan Anderson contributed 16.2 points and 6.4 rebounds a night. He also finished second in the NBA in three-pointers, making 213 of them. He shot 38 percent from behind the arc and 42 percent from the field this season.
The team also received career years from point guard Greivis Vasquez (13.9 points, nine assists per game) and center Robin Lopez (11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per night).
Then, there's shooting guard Eric Gordon.
Gordon led the the team in scoring, averaging 16.2 points per game. He also missed 40 games with a knee injury and butted heads with head coach Monty Williams late in the season.
When healthy and happy, the former Indiana Hoosier is a dynamic guard with the talent to be a catalyst for this team. However, since coming over in the Chris Paul trade two seasons ago, Gordon hasn't shown any signs of being a reliable cornerstone.
This summer, the team should make a decision on its 24-year-old star. The team needs to either deal him and choose to build around Davis or find a way to make Gordon happy in the Big Easy.
The team can't continue to rebuild every year. A core of Davis, Gordon and Anderson is a nice trio to build around. The franchise can really send a message to fans that things are different by opting to keep that group intact long term.
Even if the team deals Gordon, it should be for someone it can put alongside Davis and build around. Regardless, this regime needs to make it a point that the days of stars coming and going are old hat.
Traditionally, New Orleans has never been a major player in free agency. George Shinn spent so much of his time trying to save money that he never dabbled much in making big signings (save for a Peja Stojakovic or Bobby Jackson every now and then).
With just under $35 million committed for next season, the new regime has the money to address some of the team's glaring needs. The biggest hole the Pelicans have is at small forward, where incumbent Al-Farouq Aminu is a free agent.
Depending on how the team fares in the lottery, that need could be fixed in this year's draft by selecting someone like Georgetown's Otto Porter or Indiana's Victor Oladipo. If not, the team could use some of its cap space on a low budget signing like Denver's Corey Brewer.
The team could also aim a little higher for someone like Brewer's teammate, Andre Iguodala (if he chooses not to exercise his $15.9 million option for next season).
Some of the team's other needs include finding a point guard who is a better defender than current starter Greivis Vasquez. According to 82games.com, Vasquez allowed opponents to convert 52.6 percent of their shots. When he was off the court, that number decreased to 50.6 percent.
Vasquez also had an assisted field-goal percentage allowed of 62 percent, which is one percent worse than when he's on the bench.
The top point guard in this year's free-agent class is one that should be familiar to Hornets/Pelicans fans. Chris Paul is on the open market, and owner Tom Benson should treat him like his own personal Drew Brees.
While it is tough to fathom a situation where CP3 would leave Los Angeles to come back to New Orleans, Benson and GM Dell Demps should do whatever it takes to bring him back. With Paul and this year's lottery pick, the Pelicans could become instant contenders.
Beyond being a six-time All-Star and arguably the best point guard in the game, Paul is a fine defender. He has led the league in steals six times during his eight-year career. He's also made the All-Defensive Team four times.
The return of Paul would bring the team full circle. With a roster that is significantly better than the one he left in 2011, Paul could pick up where he left off and elevate the team to heights he was unable to bring them to under the old regime.
It would be a great sign of how things have changed if Paul is willing to come back to the team he was so desperate to leave two years ago.
Get More Exposure
The New Orleans Pelicans have a fancy new logo. They have a new color scheme and new jerseys. They have a bright, young star in Anthony Davis as well as a couple accomplished veterans in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.
What they don't have is a ton of exposure. You could count on one hand how many nationally-televised games the Hornets received this past season, despite having the No. 1 overall pick on the roster. The lack of recent success and bad luck with injuries made it tough to put the team on national television.
However, with another big offseason, the Pelicans can be a sleeper team next season. With cap room and a high draft pick, hardcore fans have a reason to be excited for the upcoming year. What about casual fans or, more importantly, people outside of New Orleans?
The Pelicans should spend the summer marketing themselves as the next big thing. After all, they have the potential "next big thing" in Anthony Davis. In "The Unibrow", they have a 20-year-old kid with a unique skill set that is worth the price of admission.
Davis wasn't just drafted to be the franchise's cornerstone on the court. He was brought in to be the face of the franchise, along with Eric Gordon. Together (assuming Gordon isn't traded), they need to be the image of New Orleans basketball.
They need to be what draws the attention of outside fans to New Orleans. That kind of attention will help bolster New Orleans as a sports city. It will help the team sell T-shirts and jerseys, not just locally, but across the country.
At one point, it was hard to imagine Oklahoma City becoming a basketball hotbed. Now, thanks to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are a household name.
That's what Davis and Gordon (as well as the marketing team) needs to do for the Pelicans. The change from Hornets to Pelicans gives the franchise the opportunity to have a clean slate. They should take advantage of it with the young collection of talent that they have on the roster.
Inevitably, winning will solve everything. A hot start or a playoff berth will help the team get some of that nationwide attention that the elite franchises have at their disposal. At the very least, it will get them back to the buzz that they generated during the Chris Paul era.
For 25 years, the Hornets were a team that had a few notable stars but never registered much of a blip on the national radar. The need to save money by constantly shuffling the roster made it hard for fans to latch onto a particular player.
That kind of mismanagement hamstrung the franchise and hindered the team from reaching the heights it should have.
That's why this summer is so important for Tom Benson, Dell Demps and everyone involved with the Pelicans. They have the chance to start anew and atone for the mistakes made by the old regime.
It is time for the Pelicans to re-introduce themselves. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
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