When last season’s training camp arrived, building chemistry on a team with four new players was considered paramount.
Coming off an injury-ravaged last season, coach Monty Williams again said the jelling of his starters will be important during this training camp because they didn’t get to play together much in 2013-14.
That’s why a strained hamstring to guard/forward Tyreke Evans last week raises questions as to how it will affect the team in training camp and during the start of the 2014-15 season. Evans, who had rehabilitated his right knee all summer after having arthroscopic surgery in mid-May, is expected to miss three to five weeks. The season begins Oct. 29 against the Orlando Magic at Smoothie King Center.
“It does affect the way we go about practicing, because he was going to be in a certain group,” Williams said.
With new center Omer Asik, Anthony Davis continuing to develop into one of the top players in the league, and key players Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson coming back from injuries, New Orleans is expected to contend for a playoff berth in the competitive Western Conference.
The Pelicans open training camp Tuesday.
Last season, Evans and Holiday, the starting point guard, were the key new pieces for a team that also had playoff aspirations. Evans sprained his left ankle in the Pelicans’ first preseason game against the Houston Rockets. He missed the next six, returning for the preseason finale.
That threw the Pelicans off a bit. Evans was to be the main player off the bench, helping to create more open opportunities for 3-point shooter Anderson, who had finished second in the NBA the season before.
Evans said he is hoping to return quicker than five weeks.
“I’m getting treatment twice a day, but we don’t want to rush anything,” he said. “Hopefully I can be back by the opener.”
Evans pulled the hamstring during a pickup game with other NBA players out of town, he said.
“I landed kind of wrong, and I felt something pull,” he said. “I didn’t think it was (a pulled hamstring) because I got right up and starting walking. After I got out of the shower, I started walking again, and then I felt it.”
Last season, the sprained ankle flared up at least two other times during the season. Evans also was adjusting to his role coming off the bench. He didn’t play consistently well until the last month of the season, when injuries to Holiday and shooting guard Eric Gordon enabled his minutes to increase, and he finally became a starter.
When that happened, he played spectacularly, averaging nearly 18 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. That’s expected to carry over into this season. Evans will return, but one has to wonder if there will be lingering effects.
“The concern with any injury is that you’ll keep re-injuring it, that you’ll keep pulling it,” Holiday said. “A hamstring is something that you don’t want to mess with.”
Evans, 6-foot-6, is slotted for another go at small forward. Williams said at the end of last season that Evans is at such a disadvantage heighthwise at the position that it was clear it didn’t work out. However, that has been revisited by the staff, and with Gordon back healed and looking stronger, and with Asik protecting the rim, Evans is slated to play there again.
“I don’t think he’s a small forward, but he may play in that position,” Williams said. “I just think he’s a really good player. Obviously, you try to figure ways to get him on the floor as much as you can.
“You listen to other people that you trust. You talk to the players, and you go over ideas that may work and may not work. We’ve just got to figure it out in camp. Unfortunately, he may not get that opportunity because he’s going to be out.”
Holiday said the Pelicans will just go through training camp as if Evans were participating.
“Once he gets back, we would really like to just flow,” Holiday said.
However, last year showed that Evans’ versatility as a point guard/shooting guard/small forward rolled into one may make it difficult for that to happen. That could affect how well the team starts off the season. All-Star forward Anthony Davis said, like last season, the Pelicans will just have to adjust.
“Tyreke opened the floor for everybody, knowing that he’s going to get by his man,” Davis said. “He was hurt last year, so we had to deal with that.
“Basketball and life throw things at you, and you’ve got to be prepared to handle it. This is just one of those times when we have to make adjustments and hope he makes a speedy recovery.”