Alvin Gentry at the Pelicans season ending press conference

The Pelicans offer great hope, excitement entering pivotal offseason

Alvin Gentry & Dell Demps spoke at season ending press conferences

Seth Dunlap
May 10, 2018 - 4:33 pm

The New Orleans Pelicans scaled one mountain this season, but they still have a treacherous climb ahead on their path to an NBA championship.

That’s how both head coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps assessed the current state of the franchise during a season ending press conference today.

The Pelicans over achieved almost everybody’s expectations en route to a 48 win regular season, followed by an emphatic 4-0 series sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the opening round of the playoffs.   That statement in the playoffs put the Pelicans in the national conversation of “up and coming teams” in the NBA, and gave stars Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday national exposure that they’ve deserved, but sometimes lacked, in their careers.

However, for all this group achieved during the season it was the season-ending 4-1 series loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors that showed the vast gap that still lies between the Pelicans and legitimate championship contention.

“Let’s climb a couple of steps more before we start thinking about Houston and Golden State,” Gentry said when asked if the Pelicans were close to competing with those two title favorites.

“We feel like we can play with those teams, and we can compete with those teams,” he continued.  “The one thing that Golden State has done this for the last four years.  They’ve been in competitions where the games get bigger and bigger with every playoff series.  They’ve been there in the Finals the last three years.  So, you can’t underestimate the experience factor in that.”

Playoff experience does matter, and it’s something everybody on this roster will benefit from. Yet, in the era of the NBA Superteam the Pelicans may need to add another piece or two in the offseason to close that gap between them and the Warriors.  Gentry thinks their unexpected success, especially with a relatively young roster, could help in recruiting players here in free agency.

“We hope so, and that’s usually the way the NBA works.  Guys try to look at situations where they may able to fit in or, hey, look I can help them in this category right here.  That seems to be the way the league is going right now, so we hope that’s here (in New Orleans).  I will say that we’ve got a great town to recruit to.  We’ve got a city that’s second to none in the NBA – the diversity and everything we have to offer here.”

One piece that the Pelicans are hoping to get back is All-Star center Demarcus Cousins, who continues to recover from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in the middle part of the season.  Cousins is a free agent but New Orleans holds his Bird Rights, meaning than can exceed the salary cap in order to resign him. 

Will that happen?  Will Demps and the front office want to give a large contract to a player coming off what historically is a crippling injury, especially for NBA big men?  That remains to be seen, but both Gentry and Demps expressed multiple times their desire to have Cousins back on this team next year.

If the Pelicans are going to go out of house to add more high powered pieces to this roster then they will have to enter Luxury Tax territory, something that previous owner Tom Benson and the front office has been hesitant to do.

Demps was asked if he will be allowed to sign players that would put New Orleans over the cap and force the team to pay luxury tax if that means getting the team closer to a championship, and whether current owner Gayle Benson is open to the idea.

“We’ve had conversations, but those conversations are behind closed doors,” Demps chuckled.  “It’s not like it’s some big secret, but it’s just talking through it, figuring out what the best way to put a  good team -- a team that can compete at the highest level together -- and she’s all for it.”

This offseason promises to be one of the most highly anticipated in Pelicans franchise history.   The team gave fans a glimpse into what championship level basketball looks like.   They did something many people thought wouldn’t be possible – truly excite the people New Orleans and the Gulf South about NBA basketball.  There’s a new sea of red-clad Pelicans fans out there that seem ready to embrace this team on their journey towards a championship.

Some people say this will always be a “football town”.   The last month proved that it might wind up being a “basketball town” too.  That’s something that should excite us all.

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