Because of NBA rules concerns, there was not much coach Monty Williams and the New Orleans Pelicans could say Sunday until the trade of guard Austin Rivers becomes official Monday.
However, Williams said enough when asked about the status of Rivers, who, according to league sources, was traded to the Boston Celtics on Saturday in a three-team deal in which rookie point guard Russ Smith was sent to the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Austin is not here,” said Williams. “He did not practice.”
The business-like, seemingly somber mood at the Pelicans’ practice facility also said a lot as the team prepared for its longest road trip of the season, five games against Eastern Conference teams beginning Monday against, oddly, Boston.
“Guys are human,” said Williams, when asked if he had to steel his team in the aftermath of the trade and with the trip taking place. “They’ve heard everything. … I just told them there could be a change in our team, and as we’ve done in the past, we’ll make our adjustments. Most of those guys have been here through the adjustments we’ve had to make.”
In the trade, which had been brewing since Friday, small forward Quincy Pondexter was sent to New Orleans. The principles in the deal are forward Jeff Green, traded from Boston to Memphis, and veteran forward Tayshaun Prince, who was sent along with a No. 1 draft pick from the Grizzlies to the Celtics.
The Pelicans have been having a glaring need at small forward all season and had a glut at guard that came to a head when Eric Gordon returned on Jan. 5 after missing 21 games with a torn left labrum. Rivers, after being the 10th pick overall in the 2012 NBA draft, never fully established himself at point guard or shooting guard.
However, at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he brought size, physical play and some toughness defensively. But his defensive struggles against 16-year veteran point guard Andre Miller of the Washington Wizards, in the game in which Gordon returned, seemed to seal Rivers’ fate. Miller, 6-2 and lacking quickness now, shot 4-of-4 against Rivers on his way to a 5-of-5 performance.
Meanwhile, Jimmer Fredette, a good shooter, has been making progress defensively and as a playmaker.
Another variable is that Dante Cunningham was inserted into the starting lineup at small forward on Friday against Memphis to bring defense, intensity and rebounding. Cunningham, though, is the second consecutive power forward converted to the position. Pondexter, a perimeter player, is expected to complement Cunningham.
It all necessitates in more adjustments before a trip the players say is important for a team teetering around the .500 mark all season.
“Trades happen, and you have to go and work, regardless of what’s going on on the outside,” forward Ryan Anderson said. “So, I think today was a serious day where we needed to get some work in.”