In many ways, Saturday was the first day of a different season.
After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending left Achilles tear, the New Orleans Pelicans will recalibrate their rotations and reshape their systems to incorporate his loss into the remaining 34 games, hoping to maintain their playoff status.
But Cousins won’t be forgotten.
In fact, the All-Star center arrived at practice on crutches, watching the team’s film session and staying in close contact with his teammates. Coach Alvin Gentry said if they can get the bench situated properly, Cousins will even join them on the sideline for Sunday’s 3 p.m. tipoff against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“He’s in as good of spirits as he can possibly be in, considering the situation and it not even being 24 hours,” point guard Rajon Rondo said. “It’s going to be an emotional time for him. But he has us, and he has his family around him, so it’s most important to have positive energy around him. And let him keep pushing to get better.
“It’s in his competitive nature to stay around the game. He’s a very competitive guy, so he’ll have to find a way to compete in other ways. He’ll be fine.”
While Cousins may still provide an emotional boost, the Pelicans still have to find a way to make up for his 25.4 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. And Anthony Davis thinks he knows how.
“We’ll do the same thing we did before DeMarcus got here,” Davis said. “We did it for four years, so it’s kind of the same thing. It’s going back to our old game plan.
“It won’t be exactly the same because our team is a little different and our season is a little different. But everybody is going to have to step up.”
That includes additional minutes for Davis at center, a responsibility he was admittedly happy to give to Cousins when the Pelicans added the All-Star big man at last year’s trade deadline.
Now, the center position will largely shift to Davis, except in the rare circumstance he shares the floor with Omer Asik.
“If it has to be done, then I’m okay with it,” Davis said. “But we still have Omer too, so I’m not sure exactly what the lineup is going to be or how we are going to play it. But, I’m pretty solid in playing some more five.”
However, Gentry insisted not everything will change, including the Pelicans’ up tempo style or its emphasis on ball movement.
Both of those helped New Orleans reel off seven wins in their past eight games, pulling them into the Western Conference’s No. 6 spot, just a game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder. And while Cousins’ absence naturally forces adjustment, it won’t completely alter what the Pelicans do.
“We can still guard defensively,” Gentry said. "We can still play with pace. We can still try to create open shots. We’re still going to be a good passing team. ... We’re an unselfish team, so we’ll move the basketball and well get good shots for each other and we’ll play for each other, so I’m not worried about that part of it.”
The concern is how much firepower can the Pelicans replicate without Cousins at their disposal. In bench minutes without Davis or Holiday on the floor, New Orleans will be particularly light on scorers who can create for themselves or finish around the basket.
While Darius Miller, Dante Cunningham and Ian Clark have performed steadily in reserve roles, Cousins was the clear focal point in almost any Davis-less lineup.
It’s why the Pelicans are remaining aggressive as the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaches, hoping to add a piece that can help New Orleans make up for some of Cousins’ absence and ease the shift into this second season of sorts.
“There's a whole lot of season left," Jrue Holiday said. “There's still half the season left. So, people have to step up and we've got to come together even more.”