The Pelicans will work to upgrade their roster this offseason, first in Thursday’s NBA draft, then via free agency in July.
But New Orleans could use an assist from its returning players, too, general manager Dell Demps said on Monday, and that could start with improved play from center Omer Asik.
Last summer, the Pelicans signed Asik to a five-year, $58 million contract. Asik proceeded to struggle through the season, averaging 4 points and 6.1 rebounds in 68 games, his lowest averages since 2011-12 in Chicago.
“Omer is a no-excuses guy, and he had a frustrating season,” Demps said. “I think he’ll tell you that. The one thing that people didn’t realize is last year he had a back injury and he wasn’t able to exercise at all during the offseason.”
As a result, Asik came to camp not in basketball shape, Demps said, and he never found a rhythm. Asik missed five games during the season with a right calf strain and five more late in the year with a right ankle sprain.
But Asik is playing this summer with the Turkish national team, and Demps is hoping for a return to form from the 7-footer, who averaged 7.3 points and 9.8 rebounds in 2014-15.
“We expect him to come back in basketball shape and ready to play,” Demps said. “And for us to be good, we need him to have a good season. We need him to be the player he was a couple years ago, but we feel like he can do that. I think he’s going to put in the work.”
Though Demps didn’t indicate on Monday that the Pelicans will make any changes to the medical staff, he made it clear player health is a priority after New Orleans missed 345 games to injury this season.
The Pelicans are looking around the league at best practices, Demps said, and are “going to do everything we can to give these guys the best possible care, to give them the best opportunity to be on the court and play.”
And New Orleans will evaluate prospective player additions this offseason with durability in mind.
“Absolutely. That’s become a priority for us,” Demps said. “We’re really working on prevention and corrective exercises in the offseason.”
Finding a fit
Though it appeared at times last season that Tyreke Evans was a poor fit in Alvin Gentry’s ball- and player-movement offense, Demps said Evans can fit in Gentry’s system if he’s healthy.
“I think he’s a good basketball player,” Demps said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s a warrior. He was playing through pain, and we’re hoping to get him back to where he was the season before last.”
Evans had arthroscopic surgery on Oct. 20 and missed the first 17 games of the season. He had season-ending surgery in February and missed a total of 57 games in 2015-16, averaging 15.2 points, 6.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game.
“He was injured in training camp, he came back, and I just really feel like he wasn’t himself last year,” Demps said. “I’m hoping he can bounce back and come back and have a productive season for us, because he was really important to us two years ago.”
‘He’ll be missed’
Demps opened his news conference Monday with his first public comments about Bryce Dejean-Jones, the Pelicans guard who was shot and killed in Dallas on May 28.
Dejean-Jones was 23 years old.
“We’re devastated by the fact that he’s no longer with us,” Demps said. “We went through a lot of adversity and challenges last season, but nothing compares to his loss, to the loss of Bryce. He was loved by teammates and everyone and he’ll be missed.”