LAS VEGAS — When it comes to ending a three-year playoff drought, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams isn’t looking for a quick fix even when offering up an oft-debated but unlikely change to the postseason setup.
"It would be nice if we could take the top 16 teams in the league and put them in the playoffs, but that’s not something we control," Williams said last week from NBA Summer League. "More than anything we have to be prepared."
With a 34-48 record last season, the Pelicans wouldn’t have reached the playoffs no matter how you slice it up. They were 15 games behind the eighth-seeded Dallas and finished fifth in Southwest Division. Led by defending champion San Antonio, the other four teams in the Southwest each reached the postseason.
"We can’t change our division," Williams said. "It’s not something we sit there and worry about. We’ve got to get better. We have some tough guys that can play. They have to learn our system. We feel good about where we’re going. As for as our system goes, we have to get them acclimated to what we do.
"We have really good guys who love to can play. We have a young player in Anthony Davis who we feel can carry a franchise, but he doesn’t have to because we guys who have been in our system a while and are going to get better. We feel we have a good chance to really improve."
Davis, 21, has developed into an anchor at both ends of the floor. He averaged nearly 21 points, 10 rebound and three blocks last season in only his second year in the league. In terms of player efficiency rating, only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love registered higher than Davis.
"He’s paranoid about where he is in his game," Williams said. "He’s always in the gym. He’s really wanting to be better, but he also wants to win. That’s something that a lot of young guys don’t pay much attention to. They’re more worried about their own game. He wants to win."
It obvious why the Pelicans want to build around the former No. 1 pick. The issue with Davis last season mirrored the rest of the roster, as he lost significant time to injury. Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday are among the returners that missed double-digit games in 2013-14.
Getting through the season healthy is only one part of solution. The Pelicans were one of the league’s poorer defensive teams and lacked consistency at center. Omer Asik addresses both concerns. The burly 28-year-old 7-footer averaged a double-double in his one year as a fulltime starter in Houston before becoming Dwight Howard’s backup.
"He’s obviously one of the better defensive centers in the league, so I really like having someone like that," Williams said. "We haven’t had that, so for me it’s going to be interesting to see how we adapt to his style of play. At the same time I don’t want our guys to rely on that."
Asik is going into the final year of his contract. The front office along with Asik were noncommittal when pressed at his introductory press conference about his future in New Orleans. For now, Williams feels a sense of kinship with the soft-spoken Turk.
"I haven’t found one person to tell me one bad thing about Omer," Williams said. "I’m trying to find out what’s the one I have to look out for and nobody has anything bad to say. The guy competes, defends, rebounds. He’s a lot like me. He’s about as boring as I am. We should get along well."
Williams isn’t making any playoff guarantees, but he’s also not shying away from that goal. The Pelicans have talent at multiple positions, stability in ownership and a system in place.
"We have a foundation to help us go forward," Williams said. "Everybody knows we’re going to be in New Orleans. Those are things when I first got there were as fragile as could be. You feel good about that but now we want to win."