Pelicans' enter camp eager to explore new lineup's potential
By BRETT MARTEL
The stakes are high and immediate, because a third-straight non-playoff season could spell regime change, as well as an exodus of players, including Cousins, who are in the final season of their contract.
The situation is so obvious that Davis didn't try to deflect it on Monday during the Pelicans' annual media day event on the eve of training camp.
"We know," Davis said. "It's like we've got one year to basically figure it out."
Third-year coach Alvin Gentry will spend training camp refining a scheme that began taking shape when general manager Dell Demps pulled off a trade following last season's All-Star game that brought Cousins to New Orleans from Sacramento.
"One of the most difficult things in the NBA is acquiring players; it's tough to get good players," Demps said. "We have good players and the key for us is going to be staying healthy and playing the right way and competing every night."
Gentry believes last season provided only glimpses of the potential that the 6-foot-1 Davis and 6-11 Cousins have as front-court tandem, considering the deep shooting range and versatility that both big-men have.
"We had to do everything on the fly last year," Gentry said of incorporating Cousins into the game plan. "When you have personality and player of that magnitude, it takes time to adjust."
The Pelicans made re-signing combo guard Jrue Holiday their priority in free agency and accomplished that. New Orleans intended to stick with last year's starter at the wing, Solomon Hill, but he tore his hamstring during a pickup game this summer, likely sidelining him until February.
The result, Gentry said, is that the Pelicans will often support their front-court duo with a three-guard lineup featuring Holiday and newly acquired Rajon Rondo. Which player occupies the wing will depend on the opponent and situation, Gentry said. With Rondo playing primarily at the point, the guards who spend time on the wing could include Holiday, E'Twaun Moore and newly acquired veteran Tony Allen.
When Demps hired Gentry during the 2015 playoffs, the coach and GM talked about playing an up-tempo style -characterized by seeking quick, open shots - similar to the title-winning approach employed by Golden State, where Gentry had been a top assistant. But a rash of injuries and the opportunity to bring in Cousins changed all that.
Now, Gentry said, the Pelicans will look more like some of the elite teams of the 1980s and 1990s - but still able to play up-tempo because Davis and Cousins have a wider range of skills than traditional big men.
Here are some highlights from Pelicans media day:
SEPARATING THEMSELVES: Cousins and Davis sound intrigued by how different New Orleans' brand of basketball could be from the rest of the league.
"I do believe we've got to chance to basically change the style of play in the league," Cousins said. "We've got a unique setup going here, something that hasn't been seen in a while. Me and AD having a unique skill set that we do - that's definitely a first-time thing."
Added Davis, "We're not going to go small because other teams are going small. We're going to try to punish them inside. ... We're going to take it to the post and just try to overpower them."
COUSINS' COMMITMENT: Cousins appears committed to winning now, having embraced a new diet and workout routine. Cousins said he didn't want to get into numbers, but asserted that he'd lost "a significant amount" of weight from the 270 pounds at which he was listed last season.
"I feel great. I feel healthy," Cousins said, adding he was motivated by a desire to be able to defend more positions as well as increase the longevity of his career. "I've got a bounce in my step - definitely lighter on my feet than I have been in the past.
"I put in a lot of work this summer preparing for this moment. I think we've got a chance at a very special season," Cousins said. "You can just feel the energy in the building."
GETTING DEFENSIVE: The Pelican hope the additions of Rondo and Allen, who won a title together at Boston and have been decorated defenders throughout their careers, give the Pelicans a chance to slow-down, and perhaps compete with, some of the high-octane offenses in the Western Conference, such as those at Golden State, Oklahoma City and Houston.
"What I'm trying to bring to this team is the defensive mentality we have to have night in and night out," Rondo said. "We're not going to outshoot Golden State. No team does. So it won't be offense why we beat those particular teams. It's going to be our defense."
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Updated September 25, 2017