NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans are rife with uncertainty as they prepare to open training camp this weekend.
Anthony Davis and Co. believe they are poised to improve substantially over last season’s injury-riddled, 30-52 campaign, but a lot of variables have to work in their favor.
It’s unclear when several members of Davis’ supporting cast will return from various injuries — or in guard Jrue Holiday’s case, a serious family matter requiring leave.
Meanwhile, the club is eager to see how several key offseason acquisitions will fit in, as well as a few players added more for their potential upside than anything they’ve achieved lately.
“We’ll have a different look. We lost some guys that we’ve had for a few years,” general manager Dell Demps said Friday afternoon, referring primarily to guard Eric Gordon and forward Ryan Anderson. “But I like the group that we have right now. I like the approach that we have. We’ve got a lot of guys that made it the hard way, that had to grind their way to have success.”
The Pelicans’ top free-agent pickups included Solomon Hill from Indiana, guard E’Twaun Moore from Chicago and point guard Langston Galloway from New York. They signed Terrence Jones, who won a national title with Davis at Kentucky, and Lance Stephenson to low-risk deals. They also drafted Oklahoma sharp-shooter Buddy Hield and Kansas forward Cheick Diallo.
Some of those players will be relied upon heavily early on, in part because Holiday is on indefinite leave to tend to his wife Lauren, a former international soccer star who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant. Meanwhile, it remains unclear when guard Tyreke Evans and small forward Quincy Pondexter will return from prolonged rehabilitation from knee injuries.
Dell said all three could be back within the first two months of the season, but stressed that Holiday has been told to focus on his family and has no concrete timeline to return.
Coach Alvin Gentry did not specify how the rotation at guard will work out in Holiday’s absence.
“That will kind of take care of itself,” Gentry said. “We’ll do a lot of switching lineups and putting guys in different positions. … You’ll see a lot of versatility in the way we play because we have those kinds of players.”
Evans and Pondexter both have had post-surgery complications, making it tougher to predict when their recovery will be complete.
Evans said he developed a blood clot in his calf.
“I had to take a step back, but I kept working hard in my rehab,” said Evans, who is also in the final year of his contract. “I feel good, but doctors said, ‘Don’t rush it.'”
Evans said he’s not aware of any concerns doctors have that clotting will recur.
Pondexter said his leg “still has to get a lot stronger,” after “two major surgeries.
But when asked whether doubt has set in regarding whether he’ll return at all, Pondexter retorted, “Hell, no.”
Davis said he is healthy after missing the end of last season with shoulder and knee injuries, then skipping the Rio Olympics. He said he wants these Pelicans to attack the season with a “blue-collar mentality.”
“We want to be kind of like Boston was last year, not having a lot of talent but guys play hard,” Davis said. “The guys that we brought in want to be a part of this and it’s always good to have guys who are on the same page.”
Added Demps, “When we put this group together, we think it does complement Anthony and obviously everything starts with him.”
The additions of Jones and Stephenson appear to have considerable upside. Jones averaged better than 11 points in two of the previous three seasons, while Stephenson averaged 14.2 points in his final 25 games last season, after being traded to Memphis.
“Nothing was promised to those guys. It’s going to be how they fit in,” Demps said, adding that both players have attended Pelicans voluntary offseason workouts. “They actually both looked good in the workouts and I think we’re hoping to get the best version of themselves.”