Hornets see promise in Pelicans era

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 18, 2013
Less than 24 hours had passed since the Hornets' season-ending loss at Dallas and already the franchise was announcing its formal conversion Thursday to its new ''Pelicans'' name, logo and color scheme of blue, gold and red. After a 27-win 2012-13 campaign that was better than only four other teams in the NBA, the organization was understandably eager to adopt a new identity. How long it takes for the club to acquire a winning identity remains to be seen. ''It's obvious that this whole season has been tough for all of us,'' point guard Greivis Vasquez said. ''Next year, there's not going to be excuses for us. We'll be a more experienced team, and hopefully our season next year is a lot better than this one.'' There have been some encouraging signs, starting with the play Anthony Davis. The top overall draft choice in 2012 averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and nearly two blocks in his rookie season. His numerous highlight-reel dunks and blocks, along with his solid mid-range jumper and instinctive defensive play, left little doubt about his potential to become an elite frontcourt player. Now, as the Pelicans era begins, the club might not be much more than another fruitful pick in the NBA's next draft lottery and a couple good free-agent signings away from becoming the type of team that no longer falls apart at the end of close games, as the Hornets did often this season, losing 15 games in which they led in the fourth quarter. General manager Dell Demps and head coach Monty Williams also must address the continued lack of reliable production from shooting guard Eric Gordon. This season was Gordon's first under a new four-year, $58 million deal he received as a restricted free agent. His 17 points per game led the club, but he played in only 42 games - after playing in only nine the previous season - and his scoring ability often deserted him in crunch time. In an effort to help Gordon finish this season healthy, the club held him out of the first two months of the season while he focused on regaining strength in his right knee, which was surgically repaired in February 2012. The team also barred him from playing on back-to-back nights until the last couple weeks of the season. Gordon made it through the final months of the season without any setbacks, which was critical if the club had any notion of getting decent trade value for him this offseason. At the very least, it gives the Pelicans a measure of hope that he'll return in full health next season. Several others on the roster, notably high-scoring 6-foot-10 forward Ryan Anderson, 7-foot center Robin Lopez and Vasquez, made major strides this season as each was given a greater role and more playing time than ever before in their young careers. They key with them is how far they are from hitting their ceiling. ''We firmly believe that guys who come here have a great chance to improve their game because of our program,'' Williams said. ''It's just going to get better as we add experience and start to bring in more talent in the next few years.'' Vasquez averaged 13.9 points and nine assists, and is a candidate for the NBA's most improved player. Anderson, who is one of the top 3-point shooters in the league, averaged 16.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in 81 games while improving his inside scoring and defense. ''Ryan's 24. He's not even in his prime yet,'' Williams said. ''He's going to be a really good player if he continues to work at it.'' Rookie Austin Rivers has not yet demonstrated that he can be a reliable scoring threat, as the franchise hoped when it made him the 10th overall draft choice last summer. But in spurts, he showed an ability to create and make shots. He seemed to be figuring it out when he scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting in less than one half against the Los Angeles Lakers in early March, then broke his right hand and never returned. The club hopes he'll be one of those players, much like former Hornets All-Star David West, who figures it out in his second or third season. Now the franchise eagerly awaits the draft and free agency. While it might be far-fetched to hope for another top overall pick, odds are the Pelicans will get one of the top five draft choices. They also expect to enter free agency about $25 million or so under the salary cap, giving them a lot of flexibility to revamp their roster. If the Pelicans draft and spend wisely this summer, they may not be in rebuilding mode for long.
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