ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. — The New Orleans Pelicans are different from the last time Quincy Pondexter was a member of the team.
So different that not a single member from 2010-11 roster — the last year he was on the team — remains in New Orleans. Not even the nickname is the same. Even Pondexter himself has changed since the last time he was in the city.
“I’ve grown up a lot,” Pondexter said after the team’s practice at Oakland University. “I’ve matured. On this team, I’ll be more of a veteran than most of the guys.
After he was traded from Memphis in a three-team trade that sent Austin Rivers to the Boston Celtics, Pondexter returned to the Pelicans to find a new team from the one he used to know.
But none of those changes diminishes what he called the “unbelievable” feeling of returning to the place he called home.
“This game will take you full circle sometimes,” he said. To be back with Monty, (General Manager) Dell (Demps) and the guys, it’s no place I’d rather be right now. It was always a second home when I was in the league.
“(Fans) are going to see a lot of development, see a lot of poise, see a guy that knows how to play the game of basketball.”
Pondexter, who had spent an hour with the new team before practice, got his first opportunity to transition into his new role during the Pelicans’ workout Tuesday before facing the Pistons on Wednesday.
Averaging 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in 33 games with Memphis, Pondexter is poised for big minutes at a small forwardposition in need of depth. He will be able to play against Detroit after missing Monday’s game against the Celtics.
Only coach Monty Williams is left over from the team when Pondexter was around. Williams’ relationship Pondexter remains strong after more than three years, but they were forced to part ways when New Orleans traded for point guard Greivis Vásquez.
“I don’t think they wanted to get rid of me one bit,” Pondexter said. “I just know Monty and Dell felt like they had unfinished business with me. So when they had the opportunity to get me again — we have a lot history to make.”
New Orleans, 2.5 games out of the eighth seed in the playoffs, needs Pondexter to regain that bond with his coach as it approaches the halfway point in the season. He’s currently one of a handful of players with playoff experience left on the team, having gone to the postseason every year he’s been in the league.
“We’re right there,” he said. “We’ve got some great talent, and I think we could do it this year. It’s not ‘Wait until a couple of years from now.’ I think we have the ability to do it right now.”
Despite having played with only one member of the Pelicans in his NBA career — fellow small forward Dante Cunnigham in Memphis — Pondexter has already adjusted with his teammates.
After practice, he cracked jokes with players and coaches, wearing his big smile. As he spoke to the media, Pondexter was comfortable enough to let his teammates take off his shoes in order to reach the bus on time.
“It went a lot smoother today than I thought it would be,” Pondexter said. “I knew all the plays, probably from watching them so much. I’m really comfortable already.”