In an offseason built around continuity, the New Orleans Pelicans are doing what they can to take full advantage of it this week.
Under the guidance of Anthony Davis and Quincy Pondexter, 10 Pelicans gathered in Los Angeles for voluntary workouts starting Monday, with the hopes of maximizing the team’s cohesion while cutting the learning curve that implementing a new coaching system typically entails.
“Quincy and I had been talking about getting the team together and just reunite for a few days,” Davis said. “We made some calls, and a lot of guys jumped on board. It’ll be great to get back in the gym with the guys and get some work in before training camp rolls around in a few weeks.”
While coach Alvin Gentry and various staff members will be in attendance at the sessions, they’ll be kept at a distance, per NBA guidelines laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.
Instead, players will command the practices, with the goal of being fully able to integrate Gentry’s system before the Pelicans open training camp Sept. 29 at The Greenbrier in West Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Considering the dramatic changes in pace and speed being brought in by Gentry, several Pelicans said this summer would be an important one for improving conditioning and learning how to properly push the transition game.
“I think our guys are going to really like playing in this kind of style, because it gives them the freedom to really get the most out of their games,” Gentry said in June. “We have a Ferrari (Anthony Davis), and we don’t want to keep him in the garage. We want to get out in the open floor and push the tempo and make teams play to our style.”
Gentry’s desired breakneck pace is a direct contrast from former coach Monty Williams’ philosophy. For five years, the Pelicans relied on maximizing half-court possessions, which led to New Orleans finishing No. 27 in possessions per game last season, averaging 93.7 per game.
Meanwhile, Gentry’s NBA champion Golden State Warriors racked up an average of 100.7, leading the league in the category, and topped the stats for defensive efficiency.
“It’s going to be a lot different, and we know that, but I think we will adapt to it well,” guard Eric Gordon said while watching Summer League in June. “I think it fits our team in a really good way, and we have to be ready to play that way. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
A handful of Pelicans have worked out together during the offseason — but never all at the same time or in the same gym. So the opportunity to get the whole group onto one court, weeks before practice opens, was one Davis and Pondexter felt could be particularly beneficial.
While the on-court goals are obvious, the time spent away from the gym is equally important, according to Pondexter.
As the season wound down last year and the Pelicans made their push toward the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, Pondexter often commented on the group’s closeness. Now, with two different weeklong trips planned without an opponent to worry about, there’s ample opportunity for team bonding, as well as on-court growth.
It’s a step toward building a locker room that functions as a unit, with the goal of achieving the championship culture both Gentry and General Manager Dell Demps desire.
“We’re working on building something special,” Pondexter said. “We have that family environment you want as a team and just enjoy being around each other.”