There’s an air of excitement at the Pelicans training facility.
Some of it is that training camp will start in 18 days.
Some of it is the acquisition of center Omer Asik, the play of power forward Anthony Davis in the World Cup and the promise and anticipation all of that brings.
But much of it is that core players Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon have returned from injury and surgery.
For Holiday, this past week has been one of elation: He and Gordon are playing pickup games again. Anderson hopes to join them as soon as next week, but Evans will have to wait.
“This is the first time I’ve been playing five-on-five basketball (since Jan. 8),” Holiday said Thursday; he missed the final 48 games last season after he was found to have a stress fracture in his right tibia. “I’ve been working out and doing all that (rehabilitation and conditioning) stuff on the court, but getting out and playing has been a joy.”
About 10 players have been at the facility for weeks, the players and assistant coach Randy Ayers said. Guard Jimmer Fredette, who signed in July, said he has found the number of players and the team’s player development experience eye-opening.
“We didn’t come in quite as early as we did here,” Fredette said of when he played with the Sacramento Kings, who drafted him. “Most guys would come in a week or two before training camp.”
Evans has been coming to the facility all summer, rehabbing his right knee after having arthroscopic surgery and working on improving his shot technique with assistant coach Fred Vinson. But Evans won’t be able to join Holiday in the backcourt for pickup games for some time.
“Hopefully (I’ll return) before the season starts, for sure,” Evans said. “I want to be right. Last year, I missed a few preseason games (with a sprained ankle). So hopefully I can be ready for that and have a good start.”
Anderson, who had surgery to repair two herniated disks in his neck April 8, likely will be back before then. He tweeted last week that he was cleared by doctors for contact and was expecting to play. But the Pelicans told him to wait.
Now Anderson is saying he’ll be in pickup games next week. Ayers, who heads the player development program, said that could happen, but the team wants to do its due diligence.
“We’re going to re-evaluate him when (head strength and conditioning coach) Carlos Daniel and coach (Monty) Williams get back” from Spain and their time with the U.S. national team, Ayers said. “But I think they’re going to like what they see from a physical standpoint. (Anderson’s) on-court work has been good. His shot has been consistent, and his conditioning is better. There hasn’t been any setbacks from a physical standpoint.”
Holiday had surgery Feb. 28 and began rehab March 3. In mid-July, he said, he started ramping things up. Pelicans staff has had to limit Holiday’s pickup games until he, too, is evaluated next week on how well he handles guard functions — change of directions, stops and starts, lateral movement.
Ayers said he has been impressed with the shape of those returning from injury, Gordon in particular. Gordon, like Evans, had arthroscopic knee surgery after the season, but he’s back in full swing.
“I think you’ll see a difference in his body,” Ayers said of Gordon. “He’s put in his time on the court.”
Last season, the Pelicans were expected to contend for a playoff berth in the extremely competitive Western Conference, but injuries derailed that. The injured players’ return has them eager to make a go at it this season. Each said the acquisition of Asik has him excited, too.
“Having Omer is good for all of us,” Holiday said. “I really think he’s going to help (Davis), too, just from the fact he boards, blocks shots, all that. At that same time, he’s going to help me out. Obviously, there’s times I get beat, (with) all the good point guards. Now I have Omer and AD down there.”