Optimism was at the forefront of the this season's Media Day in New Orleans, where the Pelicans celebrated new facilities and new faces to kick off the 2013-14 campaign.
The day started off with back-to-back press conferences by general manager Dell Demps and Pelicans head coach Monty Williams, before the transition was made to the more informal round of player pictures and interviews. There were plenty of takeaways from the day's events, including clarity in how Williams plans to use his new cast of characters.
Tyreke Evans Will Be The Sixth Man
After much speculation over whether offseason signing Tyreke Evans would start at small forward or be utilized in a super sub role, Coach Williams made clear his intentions for the former Sacramento King. Via Times-Picayune writer John Reid:
Pelicans coach Monty Williams said the initial plan for Tyreke Evans is bringing him off the bench— John Reid (@JohnReid64) September 30, 2013
Williams also emphasized that Evans will have plenty of firepower with him on the second unit, according to Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com.
Monty mentioned possibility of Tyreke Evans coming off bench with Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith could be intriguing combination.— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) September 30, 2013
Monty said Tyreke Evans has to be on the floor with shooters to do what he does best.— Bourbon Street Shots (@BourbonStShots) September 30, 2013
It appears as though previous concerns over which wing position Evans would play isn't a question that bothers Williams, who thinks that position and placement in the starting lineup are overscrutinized.
“On most NBA teams the 2 and 3 are the same, nowadays those spots pretty much mesh. I think Tyreke has to be on the floor with shooters because it opens up the floor and helps him attack the basket... I think guys are more concerned with the minutes. If I can get him on the floor 28-30 minutes a game that would be ideal. I think guys are more concerned with finishing the game.”
Monty Williams just suggested that playing the 2 or 3 doesn't really matter & that they're interchangeable. Like it.— Mason Ginsberg (@MasonGinsberg) September 30, 2013
Monty said plan is for Tyreke Evans to come off bench and play some at PG, SG and SF. Projects to play Evans 28 to 30 minutes a game— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) September 30, 2013
Anthony Davis Moving Into Bigger Role
One of the big stories—literally and figuratively—was that the previously slender Anthony Davis has beefed up over the offseason.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams said Anthony Davis is at 230 pounds. He weighed 212 at the end of last season, according to Williams.— John Reid (@JohnReid64) September 30, 2013
Coach Williams expects Davis to assume a bigger role this season, beginning the ascent to stardom that fans have been clamoring for.
Monty said after bringing along Anthony Davis slowly last season, he is ready to amp up his responsibility. Monty told AD: "You go now."— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) September 30, 2013
That prominence in the team hierarchy doesn't stop on the court. Williams believes that despite his youth, Davis can and will become a leader for the franchise.
"My thing is, it’s no different than putting him in positions on the court... I want him to do that from a leadership role. If he wasn’t putting the work in, I would not ask him to do it. He was at almost every summer league practice and he closed every practice. I didn’t tell him to do that, that’s just who he is… he’s only going to get better at that.”
Familiarity Breeds Chemistry
Williams addressed questions about the difficulty in building team chemistry with so many new players in uniform, saying that the players have taken it upon themselves to get off on the right foot.
You’re talking to them about sacrifice, buying in and how hard we have to work. I think the thing that helps us more than anything is guys like Jason (Smith), A.D (Anthony Davis), Brian (Roberts) guys who have been here who will get the message across. They tell the guys what we’re about and it cuts down on some of the stuff you have to do.
Demps doubled down on the coach's comments, stressing that the organization is excited for the upcoming season, but knows that chemistry will not necessarily come right away.
We’re really excited about the opportunities that have been presented in front of us, Demps said Monday. “We’re just looking forward to having this group gel together. We think it will be a fun season. With our young core ready to grow, it will be important early for them to learn each other. I don’t think it will happen overnight. It’s going to take a little bit of time.
The faster we can expedite the process, the better, Demps said. I like the core. I like the personalities. Guys can do different things. We have some options. I’m really excited talking to Monty (Williams) about the groups we can put together (on the court). How do we get those guys to gel now? That’s going to be the important thing.
Despite bringing in players from all over the NBA, Pelicans new and old are linked by their excitement to play with a deep pool of talented players.
I think we have a lot of firepower and a lot of young guys who have obviously proven themselves in other places and now kind of come here and join together, Holiday said. I think people have us on their radar and I’d like to get back to the playoffs. We have a good young core group that’s really young.
Teammate Anthony Davis doubled down on Holiday's admiration of the team's talent, but made sure to emphasize that they'll all have to sacrifice for the greater good.
We definitely have a lot more talent than what we had last year, but it doesn’t mean anything if we can’t all work together and reach our goal,’ said Davis, who spent the offseason increasing his strength and weight. Hopefully guys can put their egos aside and play together as a team.
The old saying goes, "Hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard," and the Pelicans took that to heart this offseason.
Coach Williams said that the road to training camp started when many teams were still closing out last season's play.
“We started doing this back in June with our postseason workouts. The players just came back and started putting work in. It was good for them to do it while the playoffs were going on because it gave them something to shoot for… I think that builds camaraderie when the guys are working together, eating together.”
ESPN affiliate Bourbon Street Shots relayed that Williams thought his players took their offseason workouts very seriously, and built an atmosphere that may have been missing in recent seasons.
Monty: "You’ve got to have guys who hate to lose at any cost, and I don’t think that we’ve always had that."— Bourbon Street Shots (@BourbonStShots) September 30, 2013
The mood was light at the Pelicans' brand new practice facility, but expectations for the coming season are soaring.
Everyone, from management down to the players on the court, is optimistic going into the 2013-14 season. Now, the Pelicans must cash in on the goodwill and excitement they earned in the offseason.
Right now, the new guys are still in the honeymoon portion of their stay in New Orleans. Tyreke Evans is content to come off the bench at the moment, but could this change if the team faces adversity down the line? That's still a situation to keep an eye on.
Thankfully, the Pelicans have an intense, young coach, who will likely quell any such problems.
Coach Williams displayed game-day intensity for what amounts to a meet-and-greet for the upcoming year, a telltale sign of his approach to his job. Rather than pat the franchise on the back for strides taken in the offseason, Williams focused on where the team needs to improve and the challenges that lie ahead.
A source of improvement should be young cornerstone Anthony Davis, who looks ready for his Kodak moment.
The pressure isn't on Davis yet, but there will be considerably more focus on his production this year. Davis appears ready to handle an increased role from a preparation standpoint, but his failures won't be as easily dismissed as they may have been last season. Buckle up, young fella.
The Pelicans staff and players did a great job of setting the stage on media day. All that's left for them to do is get on the hardwood.
All quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.