To be clear, this is not a fresh start.
When guards Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole finally take the court for the Pelicans — likely in Tuesday’s game at the Smoothie King Center against the Memphis Grizzlies — New Orleans can’t wipe the slate clean.
Whenever it comes, the debut of Evans, who has been out all season after October surgery on his right knee, and Cole, who has yet to play with a high left ankle sprain, is a boost, not a reboot.
“It’s gonna help us get over this little slump that we’re in,” forward Anthony Davis said. “But I don’t think it’s a new start at all. We’re not (thinking), ‘We got guys back, now we get to start 0-0.’ Nah. We’re still 4-13. I think they’re just gonna help us tremendously.”
Evans and Cole practiced with the Pelicans on Monday, mostly without restrictions — Evans was limited to 60 minutes — and will play against the Grizzlies if they feel well enough after they warm up Tuesday afternoon. The Pelicans will not hold a morning shootaround.
“I would say that unless something bizarre happens or they warm up and they feel like they’re not ready, I would expect for them to play,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Just realistically, it’s gonna come to how they feel after they warm up.”
Evans averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds in 79 games last season. Cole averaged 7.6 points and 3.4 assists.
The 6-foot-6 Evans brings “a physical presence” to the Pelicans’ backcourt, Gentry said, and Cole’s return provides competitiveness and a “championship pedigree,” Gentry said, given Cole’s two titles with the Miami Heat.
And they bring bodies. The Pelicans, ravaged by injuries to start the season, have been lacking those since October.
“It was great: We actually had subs at practice today for the first time,” Gentry said Monday. “We had guys able to play in true positions, and we were able to switch teams around and look at some combinations that we would like to play. I think it gives you a sense of rejuvenation, and it gives you a positive outlook as to what can happen in the future.”
The Pelicans could use some positivity.
After rallying from 17 down to win at Phoenix on Wednesday at the start of a three-game road swing, New Orleans stumbled, losing back-to-back at the Clippers on Friday and the Jazz on Saturday, both by double-digit margins.
The Pelicans rank 17th in the NBA in offensive efficiency and 29th in defensive efficiency. They’re allowing the second-most points per game in the league (108.9).
Evans and Cole won’t fix all their problems and won’t restore the roster completely — forward Quincy Pondexter, a projected starter, still hasn’t played this season after offseason knee surgery — but they are key rotation pieces.
If he’s able to play, Evans likely will start, Gentry said, and he should give a boost to the Pelicans offense — and to the team’s best player. Over the past two seasons, Evans has assisted on a team-high 233 of Davis’ field goals, including 167 last season.
“He’s a great playmaker,” Davis said. “A lot of people think Tyreke wants to score, but he really doesn’t. He wants to get his assists first and then if he has to score, then he’ll have to. But the things he does with the ball and the reads he makes are unbelievable. I think we definitely missed him.”
Evans also provides a scoring boost, said Davis, who called Evans “really unguardable right now” given the work he’s put in on his jump shot to go along with his ability to get to the rim.
Still, Gentry is tempering expectations.
“I want to caution everybody before they start thinking the cavalry has arrived,” Gentry said. “We have to give (Evans) an opportunity from a stamina standpoint and just his timing and the pace of the game and everything like that. He’s gonna have to have time to adjust to that.”
Cole, too, has an adjustment. He’s yet to play in Gentry’s system. He’s not sure yet if he’s in game shape. And he’ll have to earn minutes, given the unexpectedly good play the Pelicans have gotten from another backup point guard, Ish Smith.
“I’m a cerebral basketball player,” Cole said. “I can see and find my niche out there. As the point guard, I can call the plays and organize and get guys where they need to be. I’ve been watching and paying attention.”
Whether or not Evans and Cole are back against the Grizzlies, they’re on the verge. And while it’s not a fresh start for the Pelicans, it means at least that they can’t afford to continue the start they’ve had.
“I think we tried to take responsibility for it when people were hurt,” point guard Jrue Holiday said. “Now that we’re gonna have a full team hopefully soon, that’s gonna be a big responsibility on all of us where, (what happened at) the start of the season, we can’t have that anymore.”