During a week when the eyes of those who follow the NBA are focused on San Antonio and Miami, Anthony Davis and some of his Pelicans teammates were doing things they hope will have them in the spotlight one day.
“We’re close,” the All-Star power forward said Monday as the Pelicans began their second week of voluntary workouts at the team’s practice facility in Metairie. “If we had been healthy for the year, I think we would have been in the playoffs, but guys can’t control that. That’s why we’ve got guys in here hoping to rebuild their bodies so hopefully we can stay healthy next year and make that run.”
As it was, the Pelicans finished 34-48, a distant 15 games behind Dallas for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. It was a seven-game improvement from Davis’ rookie season of 2012-13.
“Everybody wants to make the playoffs,” he said. “If everybody comes back stronger and better, then next year could be our year.”
And if Davis needed a little personal motivation, on Monday he was omitted from the NBA’s all-defensive team despite leading the league in blocked shots at 2.8 per game and finishing eighth in voting for the Defensive Player of the Year honor.
That, Pelicans coach Monty Williams said, was a result of the Pelicans’ record — the first-team forwards were Serge Ibaka and Paul George of conference finalists Oklahoma City and Indiana, while the Heat’s LeBron James and Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard were the second-teamers — more than Davis’ ability.
“He set some goals because wants to be the best, and he’s right there,” Williams said. “There are a few power forwards that I’ve told him are rated ahead of him, and he doesn’t like that. The key is winning. When we win, people are going to see how much better he is.”
That’s why, Williams added, Davis has taken on more of a leadership role, setting an example for his teammates during the voluntary workout period even though he has a long summer ahead as a member of the U.S. national team, which will compete at the world championships in Spain.
Still, Davis said he has put in more time in the weight room and is up to 237 pounds, a 17-pound increase since he was a rookie two years ago.
“I think it’s going to be a good weight for me,” he said. “I won’t know until I really start moving more and going against the guys on the national team. If I feel like it’s too much, then I can always come down a little bit.”
Williams has noticed Davis’ increased strength.
“I used to crack a lot of jokes with him about my being able to handle him,” he said. “Now I’d need my wife and kids to help out. He’s put on some muscle and, while you wouldn’t think it wouldn’t make that much difference, he looks different. This is a guy who is just 21, and he’s still growing.”
He’s growing in other ways as well.
The Pelicans recognize that in Davis they have a player to build a championship-contending franchise around. As such, Davis acknowledged Monday that Williams and General Manager Dell Demps have talked to him about potential personnel moves, although Davis did not go into specifics.
“What happens in the offseason is on them,” he said. “But there are some things that are said that are just between us. They definitely keep me in the loop, just like they do all of our leaders. Coach and Dell are going to figure out what we need.”
With no draft picks because of their trades to acquire Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans last year, whatever moves the Pelicans make to address those needs likely will come through free agency. And even then, Williams pointed out, improvement in the West doesn’t guarantee a playoff berth.
“It’s hard to knock a team out of (the top) eight, but that’s what we have to do,” he said. “It’s not just about winning enough games. You’ve got to knock a team out of that position and fight off other teams who are trying to get there. In the West, we all know how difficult that is.”
That’s why, Davis added, he’s more concerned about what he and his teammates can do now than who wins the championship this year.
“Nobody has to be here, but all of us are hitting the weight room,” he said. “And I can’t tell if we’re one piece away or not because we never had our full team last year. It doesn’t matter how many new people they bring in. We’re going to make a push for the playoffs.”