Darren Erman has a challenging balancing act to perform.
As coach of the New Orleans Pelicans’ summer league team, he’s trying to implement the franchise’s principles, design and strategy while simultaneously allowing players to display their skills to a wide audience.
“We have guys who have NBA talent or are close to it, right on the border, so they just have to prove they can do it, and I think they can,” said Erman, a defensive specialist on the Pelicans’ coaching staff. “So it’s really about them showcasing their abilities so they can get jobs on NBA rosters. Included in that is implementing some offense and defense that we will run with the club in October, November and throughout the season, so we’ll put our system in. But the biggest emphasis is to give these guys the opportunity to get to the NBA.”
The foundations of new coach Alvin Gentry’s system are speed, pace and energy, so the Pelicans made sure their summer-league players were accustomed to it from the start as they prepared to open play in Las Vegas against the Milwaukee Bucks at 5 p.m. Friday.
Guars Jay Hook and Seth Curry commented on the furious nature of the first two practices, where Gentry made a point to say the Pelicans “aren’t a jogging team, but a running team.”
And despite employing a summer roster that may not result in a single player still being around in October, thanks to the squad’s lack of roster turnover this offseason, coaches also tried to instill some of the system’s basic schemes on both sides on the floor in the limited time they have.
“On defense, we can implement a lot of stuff,” Erman said. “We are going to put in as much as we can in four or five practices.”
A new tone
Personnel around the Pelicans facility already noted what a change the style was from the way former coach Monty Williams conducted his practices. With Gentry on the floor, music blared and coaches jumped out with a high energy yet relaxed atmosphere.
It got the attention of players as well, all of whom are coming to minicamp from different backgrounds.
“It was interesting,” said Hook, a former Tulane standout. “Everyone was all over the place, and it was a fun way to practice. But as long as the rim is orange and it’s 10 feet, it’s all really the same to us.”
Weber comes aboard
New Pelicans assistant coach Phil Weber was on the practice floor Tuesday, even though he hasn’t been announced by the team as a member of Gentry’s staff.
Weber was head coach of the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA’s Developmental League last year and was an NBA assistant from 1999 to 2012, including a stint with Gentry for the Phoenix Suns (2003-08). Guard Larry Drew II played under Weber in Sioux Falls last season; he averaged 11.3 points, 8.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
Chinese forward He Tianju made his first public comments in New Orleans, speaking to the media through an interpreter. He was followed by a film crew from his professional team in China, the Liaoning Flying Leopards.
The 6-foot-9 forward connected on 42 percent of his 3-point attempts in the Chinese league last season and is the subject of curiosity for the Pelicans front office.
“I just got here two days ago, and I’m still trying to adjust to the speed,” Tianju said through the interpreter. “The competition is very hard and at a different level. I still need to get familiar with the coaches and teammates.”
The Pelicans’ summer roster features just two rookies, both of whom went undrafted: Hook and Bryce Dejean-Jones, a guard from Iowa State. … Seven players on the roster spent last season in the D-League, and five others played internationally. … Gasper Vidmar, a 6-11 center from Slovenia, has the most experience in the group, having played 10 professional seasons overseas. He’s also the oldest player at 27.