It’s audition season.
With just eight games remaining in this twisting, tumbling New Orleans Pelicans season, there isn’t much left to worry about on the scoreboard.
Anthony Davis has already requested his way out and is piling up stats in his 20 minutes per night. Coach Alvin Gentry said the team is being “extremely cautious” in bringing Jrue Holiday and E’Twuan Moore back from injuries, opening up holes in the rotation, especially in the fourth quarter.
So, as some are counting the days until the season ends, for much of the Pelicans roster they’re approaching an important moment.
Players know they will be evaluated off of these games just as they would in a tight contest down the run of a playoff stretch and their chance to pile up big minutes is closing fast. The postseason stakes don’t make a difference on the stat sheet or on film, but the minutes definitely do.
“I mean I’ve learned a lot in the past few months getting to play a lot and getting an opportunity,” rookie Kenrich Williams said. “I mean I know about the playoffs and all of that, but for me, it’s just about doing what I’m supposed to and playing the best I can, and I think I’ve come a long way these last few months because of the opportunity.”
To the young players returning next year, like Williams, Frank Jackson, Cheick Diallo and Jahlil Okafor, these games could be the difference between playing in Las Vegas summer league or not. A strong performance could also be what separates the team from adding a free agent at their position in the summer or carving out space for them in the rotation.
And the Pelicans are not hiding their intentions during these final weeks, starting with Sunday’s 6 p.m. tipoff against the Houston Rockets in the Smoothie King Center.
“I’ll be honest, I want to play the young guys as much as I can,” Gentry said. “Obviously we would like to win, but there’s just such a bigger picture about what we are trying to get done. You want to try to win every game and compete in every game, but there’s a bigger picture we are trying to look at right now.”
For free agents like Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Ian Clark, Darius Miller and Stanley Johnson these next eight games might be even more critical for their futures. It’s why interim general manager Danny Ferry said it was important to evaluate that group closely after he took over for Dell Demps in February.
While Randle and Payton are locks to stay in the league, their value on the open market could swing based on their performance in these final games. And as the Pelicans try to determine who is important for their long-term future, these games count just as much as the ones in November did.
And for the others, it’s a lifeline to maintaining their NBA careers.
Miller has already done a stint in Europe, while Clark and Johnson could be borderline players on the open market this summer who might need to earn a spot in training camp. So, these eight games can go a long way into helping determine league executives’ decision-making.
“I think you have to use it as a tool,” Gentry said. “Are they trying to do what you ask them to do? I think the big thing is did they repeat mistakes and duplicate mistakes or did they learn from the mistakes they made. And the big thing is, are they improving? I don’t mean are they making more shots, but are they understanding what we are trying to get from them and asking them to do?
“That’s what’s important”