The New Orleans Pelicans are focused on two primary purposes over the final 19 games of this circus of a season: competing and developing.
The other stuff, like winning, still plays a role in the team’s day-to-day decision-making, but right now, the Pelicans’ most important objective is to learn everything it can about its own roster and get itself primed for a future without Anthony Davis.
After building the team around Davis for the past seven years, the Pelicans’ paradigm shifted when he demanded a trade in January, and its evaluation system was thrown into upheaval when longtime general manager Dell Demps was fired in February.
Now, under the direction of interim general manager Danny Ferry, the franchise is trying to learn as much as possible about what it has and who deserves to stick around for the post-Davis era. And the next six weeks are a valuable educational opportunity.
When it comes to the New Orleans Pelicans these days, seeing is believing.
For example, the Pelicans’ last two losses accomplished both of the team’s primary objectives.
In defeats to the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, coach Alvin Gentry saw his undermanned team push opponents into uncomfortable positions before ultimately falling in the final minute. And they did it while still playing Davis 21 minutes due to ongoing NBA guidelines to play the soon-departing superstar.
It’s allowed the Pelicans to stay competitive late into the fourth quarters (even as Davis sits the final 18 minutes each night), while still improving their position in the draft lottery and getting a look at how guys not typically used in late situations react to being relied upon when the game is on the line.
“I remember being in that spot not too long ago and just trying to learn the game, I mean, learn how to really play the game,” Julius Randle said, after scoring 35 points in 30 minutes against the Lakers. “But they’re doing a great job of that and you can never question their effort. With playing time comes more experience and you get better.
“Our job is, me being a young veteran, I guess you can say, Jrue (Holiday) and I, we just try to help those guys as much as we can and put them in spots to be successful and try to speed the process up for them, but they’re doing amazing.”
And early Thursday morning, the Pelicans showed they can still tweak the roster to get different looks as well.
The team waived veteran point guard Tim Frazier to sign European sharpshooter Dairis Bertans for the remainder of the season, including a team option for next season. The 29-year-old leads the EuroLeague, connecting on 54 percent of 3-pointers while coming off the bench in limited minutes.
The New Orleans Pelicans have agreed to terms for their first roster signing of the post-Dell Demps era, according to a report from The Athletic.
It’s the kind of move that allows the Pelicans to take a look at a floor spacer who can potentially help them in the present, while also opening up an opportunity for the future.
But, the best type of evaluation will still be from the current roster. On Wednesday, that came in the form of rookie guard Frank Jackson, who scored 15 points in 29 minutes and got a rare chance to play crunchtime minutes against an opponent’s best lineup.
While Jackson wasn’t perfect, he thrived at the rim, making a handful of difficult leaners and layups, showing off enough potential that Gentry admitted he is deserving of a larger workload moving forward.
It was a perfect example of the team’s mantra to stay competitive while maintaining focus on development.
“Frank’s situation is going to be similar to most young guys,” Gentry said. “He’s going to have good games and bad games. He’s going to have good quarters and bad quarters. I think for us, we have to continue to put him out there.
“He needs to be in the 20s most nights and that is the only way you are going to learn. You have to experience it on the floor and the speed of the game. Understanding angles and things like that, and he is getting better in those areas right there.”