LAS VEGAS — When you’ve had the offseason the New Orleans Pelicans have had, it’s okay to smile.
The freshly-christened Pelicans shocked many NBA observers with a series of moves that transformed the roster and ratcheted up expectations for a franchise that’s missed the postseason two years running.
“We’re happy,” New Orleans general manager Dell Demps said from NBA Summer League. “Sitting down with [coach] Monty Williams, [executive vice president] Mickey Loomis, our coaching staff and our basketball operations staff, we had a plan. The stars line up. We feel good about the direction we’re going.”
The headlining moves were trading for former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. Evans and Holiday join a guard rotation with last season’s leading scorer, Eric Gordon, and one of last season’s lottery picks, Austin Rivers. New Orleans also recently signed sharpshooter Anthony Morrow.
Even though he averaged nearly 18 points per game last season in Philadelphia, Holiday said his job is to set up his backcourt mates, primarily Gordon and Evans.
“I feel like I’ve just got to be able to get them the ball, get them the ball where they like to get it, where they like to score and where they like to shoot,” Holiday said.
The early money is on Holiday and Gordon starting together, with Evans and Rivers getting the primary minutes off the bench. Evan’s ability to slide down to small forward is also a plus, should he move into a sixth man role.
Evans has played point guard most of his life, but had no problems coming to New Orleans despite the trade for Holiday.
“It attracted me,” Evans said. “I’ve known Jrue, and we’ve been around each other for a long time. It wasn’t like I was going to back down once he was coming here. I was willing to still come.”
Deciphering the backcourt rotation isn’t a priority with training more than two months away.
“It’s too early,” Demps said. “We have the utmost confidence in our coaching staff. They’ll figure things out. The players a lot of times figure it out.”
Starting center Robin Lopez was a casualty in the Evans’ sign-and-trade, getting shipped to Portland. Addressing their frontcourt needs, the Pelicans drafted 7-footer Jeff Withey out of Kansas and signed 6-11 Greg Stiemsma.
“We think those guys can be contributors,” Demps said. “We’ll see how it goes this season.”
The Pelicans also lost do-everything guard Greivis Vasquez in the Evans deal. But the Pelicans return 2012 No. 1 Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Al-Farouq Aminu.
“It’s a good group of guys, all young guys,” Evans said. “Looking forward to playing with these guys.”
The flurry of activity in the last month isn’t a reaction to a 27-55 regular season. The seeds were planted in the offseason following the Chris Paul trade.
“It started out last summer when we took a step back,” Demps said. “We traded some of our veteran players like Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Jarrett Jack and came with a new, young foundation. Now we were able to add to that foundation. Now we have to get those guys learning each other, playing together and establishing a winning culture.”
Are the Pelicans ready to win now? Is this a team that can begin what is a difficult climb in the Western Conference?