The Pelicans didn’t need Nate Robinson, and then they did.
He doesn’t mind being a backup plan. He’s done it before.
In fact, Robinson — who a week and a half ago was home playing with his kids in Seattle and now figures to be playing significant minutes for the Pelicans — kind of likes it.
“I always tease my mom and my dad and my family members — you push that emergency brake button when you need somebody like myself,” Robinson said. “For me, I love that role, because it makes me play hard. It makes me feel like I’m really needed.”
When the Chicago Bulls were decimated with injuries in 2013, the Bulls thrust him into a more important role than he’d ever been expected to play. Last season, after he was traded to — and then waived by — the Boston Celtics, Robinson signed a pair of 10-day contracts with a Clippers team in need of bodies.
And now, with starting point guard Jrue Holiday limited to 15 minutes per game as he recovers from a stress reaction in his right leg — and point-guard options Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole out with knee and ankle injuries, respectively, Robinson once again finds himself called on in emergency.
“We got Norris and Tyreke out, so we’ll have a backup there,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Right now that guy is Nate, and he’s gonna have to play.”
Gentry on Thursday said there’s a chance the Pelicans will “look around the next couple days and see if there’s somebody else that we may think about adding” at point guard. Or, he said, they could “take a good, strong look at who we have here,” Gentry said. That could include New Orleans native Bo McCalebb, a veteran of European basketball who signed as a free agent last week.
But for now, it appears Robinson will have a key part to play as the preseason winds down Friday night against the Miami Heat and the regular season gets underway next week at the Golden State Warriors.
“For a guy that’s been two practices, basically, three practices, there’s not anything that’s just gonna fit in perfect,” Gentry said. “But he’s working hard and doing the best that he can, and that’s all we can ask of him.”
The 5-foot-9 Robinson has played in three preseason games with the Pelicans, averaging 11 points and three assists per game. In Wednesday’s overtime loss at Orlando, Robinson provided a burst of offense and energy, scoring 18 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter as the Pels rallied to tie the game.
“That’s typical Nate right there,” Robinson said. “Something that hopefully the fans love. I’m gonna play hard every night and do what I can whether I’m scoring or not. For me, I love the game for what it is. It’s fun for me. That’s something that I’ll never lose. I’m here, ready whenever coach calls my number.”
Early on, Gentry could be calling it a lot. And so Robinson said he’s working to get up to speed with his new teammates.
Terminology has been key. Robinson said that if he knows the plays, there’s enough offensive talent – “Everybody can score,” – to make the job relatively easy despite his brief time in New Orleans.
“That makes offense easier, because when all else fails we rely on our talent God gave us,” Robinson said. “We know how to play the game. We know how to hoop. I just got to get the calls down and make sure I know where everybody’s at on the court, and everything else will fall into place.”