JDefense with John DeShazier - Offseason Moves

Pelicans Offseason Moves

July 15, 2013

More was made nationally of the landing spot for free agent center Dwight Howard, the physical health of free agent center Andrew Bynum, the cross-country jump of traded Coach Doc Rivers, the re-upping with the Clippers of free agent guard Chris Paul.

But on the whole, no franchise did any more moving and shaking in personnel than the New Orleans Pelicans. Call it a biased assessment, but label it a true call, also.

No team appeared to have made a jump any more substantial than this one, which wheeled and dealt its way into position where progress should accelerate and a Western Conference playoff berth legitimately can be spoken of – ahead of the rebuilding schedule.

Acquiring All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday via trade and shooting guard Tyreke Evans, a former Rookie of the Year, via sign-and-trade, aren’t moves to like. They’re transactions to love for the Pelicans, who somehow remained young (Holiday turned 23 in June, Evans will be 24 in September) and gained experience (each completed his fourth NBA season in 2012-13).

Credit General Manager Dell Demps for the vision, execution of the moves and the willingness to cash in potential in exchange for known, proven production. And tip the cap to Pelicans owner Tom Benson and Executive Vice President Mickey Loomis for giving the OK, and fulfilling the promise, to be bold and aggressive in terms of creating a contender.

Holiday, scooped up along with the No. 42 overall pick (rookie guard Pierre Jackson) from Philadelphia in a draft-night swap that sent the No. 6 pick (Kentucky center Nerlens Noel) to the 76ers, along with the Pelicans’ protected first-round pick next season, immediately upgrades New Orleans’ perimeter defense, and not only because he can take away possessions (1.6 steals per game last season).

More, the 6-foot-4 guard is the on-ball nuisance that the Pelicans have lacked, the baseline-to-baseline hound who capably can go chest to chest with any point guard and hound an opponent to distraction.

Add in that he scores and distributes (career highs with 17.7 points and eight assists per game last season), is dependable (37.5 minutes per game in 78 games) and under contract for four more seasons, and what, exactly, is there to not like?

Evans, frankly, can score.

He’s 6-6, 220 pounds and can break down defenders, get to the rim and finish strong. Evans attempted 271 foul shots in 65 games last season; Anthony Davis, who led New Orleans with 225 free throw attempts, did so in 64 games.

He’s athletic enough to defend two spots (shooting guard, small forward) and this season will be his first playing on a team that stresses defense and ball movement. It’ll be the first in a couple of years that he hasn’t had to deal with locker room distractions that clouded the team, whether it was coach-on-the-hot-seat rumors or teammate immaturity that results in team or league suspension.

Of course, the Pelicans had to give in order to receive.

Philly got the protected draft pick and, it hopes, its center of the future. The Kings got former Pelicans point guard Greivis Vasquez, who had a breakout season in his first year as a starter (13.9 points, nine assists per game) and whose grit we learned to love. And in order to complete the three-team deal that allowed Evans to be acquired in the sign-and-trade with Sacramento, Pelicans center Robin Lopez had to be moved to Portland, in exchange for cash and rookie center Jeff Withey.

There’s risk involved. Lopez is a competent 7-footer, who showed flashes of how good he can be during the first season he has been asked to play extended minutes. And Vasquez had a moxie that’ll be missed; the willingness to take big shots down the stretch isn’t a responsibility that every player covets.

But, clearly, New Orleans upgraded.

If the knock on Holiday is he averaged 3.74 turnovers per game, the counter is that better teammates hopefully will contribute to better decision-making, as will experience.

If the concern with Evans is his points per game have decreased each season, down to 15.2 last year, and he played a career-low 31 minutes per game last season, the sunshine is that he was more efficient last season than he ever has been, with career highs in field-goal percentage (.478) and 3-point percentage (.338) and a career low in turnovers per game (1.97).

Mix in those two with franchise cornerstone Davis, who looks to be every bit the future star he was cast to be as the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, guard Eric Gordon, who solely won’t carry the responsibility of being the team’s closer, and forward Ryan Anderson, who should get more open looks with the addition of a couple of more bona-fide scorers, and New Orleans can send onto the floor an end-of-game lineup that should be able to sprint to the finish.

True, more tweaking must be done. Likely, more additions are on the horizon, though not likely as splashy as the pickups of Holiday and Evans. Potentially, two or three new players will join the starting lineup which means training camp, again, will be vital as players attempt to acclimate. Coach Monty Williams has entered training camp with fresh faces in key roles every season since his first in New Orleans.

But with the expectation being that veteran players will acclimate quicker than the band of first-timers did last season, there’s no way to not like the direction in which the Pelicans are heading. Bold steps were made and because of them, progress undoubtedly was made.

There might not have been much talk about it nationally when it occurred. But if the Pelicans perform as their pieces suggest they can, the talk will be directed at the franchise soon enough.