NEW ORLEANS — Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps suggested that he’s amenable to trading Eric Gordon this summer as he tries to improve the team, which finished 27-55 this season.
At Monday’s end-of-the-season news conference at the New Orleans Arena, Demps was asked whether he anticipated Gordon being on the team next season and whether he would listen to trade offers for the shooting guard. He missed 40 games this season — 29 while rehabilitating a patella injury and 11 with injury-related playing restrictions.
“We’re always going to look at every opportunity to make the team better,” Demps said. “So, if Eric Gordon or any other player ... if the situation presented itself, you have to look at it. When you win 27 games, you’re always looking to get better. ”
The team was unable to trade Gordon as the trade deadline passed in February. Gordon just completed the first season of his four-year, $58 million contract, which it matched when he received an offer sheet from Phoenix last summer.
“I thought it was tough on Eric coming back from injury and not having training camp, missing a number of games, not playing back-to-backs,” Demps said. “I thought he really tried to fight through the situation. To say if I anticipate him being back, I don’t know if that’s something I can answer right now. ...
“I thought he had some ups and some downs, but I still think his future is bright as an NBA player.”
Pelicans Vice President Mickey Loomis said he wasn’t happy with the team’s record, but there were a lot of positives.
Loomis said he was happy with the development of the team’s core group of young players — Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers, Ryan Anderson, Robin Lopez, Greivis Vasquez and Brian Roberts, “who got better as the season progressed.” That was one of the main goals this season after the franchise, until last week known as the Hornets, jettisoned veteran salaries in an effort to begin rebuilding.
Just as important, Loomis said, he saw the beginning of a change in culture and values established for the team, and he expressed confidence in Demps and coach Monty Williams, each of whom received contract extensions in the past eight months.
“(The values included) playing hard all the way to the end,” Loomis said. “Having players with intelligence and high character and being involved in our community. We saw a team that fought adversity all season long. … We were full strength (due to injuries) for only 22 games this season, and our record was 11-11 during those 22 games. Yet there was no complaining.
“Most important, we absolutely have the right head coach in Monty Williams. … We absolutely have the right general manager in Dell Demps.”
Williams said the Pelicans will begin summer player development workouts in about three weeks, and they’ll last until training camp. The workouts will take place two to four days per week, depending on the player, and he reiterated that players from other teams are invited.
“When Dell and I got here, players did not stay here in the summer,” said Williams, known as one of the top skills-enhancement coaches in the NBA. “Now we have guys who live here in the summer.”
Williams said he expects summer participation to improve when the new practice facility — on Airline Highway near the Saints’ complex in Metairie — is completed in August.
Demps did not want to get specific as to what areas of the team he would address in free agency, but he and Williams want more depth and experience. And given Williams’ system of intense defense, Demps implied that improved athleticism is a goal. The team was 26th in opponent’s field goal percentage (47.1), 27th in opponent’s 3-point shooting (37.4), last in steals (6.3) and 28th in fast-break points (9.7).
Some of the players pointed to a lack of experience as to why the team often blew late leads. Williams, looking at Demps as he spoke, said that was something they anticipated.
But Williams said he wouldn’t absolve himself of blame. He said he would talk with Demps and Loomis about his performance, as well as mentors such as San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and former Portland coach Nate McMillan.
“They know,” he said, “I want them to be brutally honest.”