Pelicans end season with mix of optimism, uncertainty

New Orleans Pelicans guard Quinn Cook, center, shoots between Portland Trail Blazers forwards Maurice Harkless, right, and Portland Trail Blazers Noah Vonleh, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, April 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

METAIRIE, La. (AP) – Pelicans general manager Dell Demps has a vision of a prolonged Boogie-and-Brow era fostering basketball boom times in the Big Easy.

“We really set ourselves up for the future,” Demps said Thursday, referring to a February trade that paired DeMarcus Cousins with fellow front-court All-Star Anthony Davis. “I think DeMarcus is going to be an impact player here for a long time. And I think that him and Anthony paired together – it took a little time, but I think we started to see some of the potential.”

Whether Demps and the coach he hired two seasons ago, Alvin Gentry, are around to see how it turns out is another matter.

The Pelicans showed flashes of brilliance, but for a second straight season struggled to cope with roster instability and failed to make the playoffs. The optimism stemming from the potential of the a href=’https://apnews.com/e82e6f05c4a348d0b15a3604d9677aa8/Pelicans’-Cousins:-He-and-Davis-can-‘wreak-havoc’-together’Davis-Cousins tandem/a in the front court is somewhat clouded by uncertainty over who’ll be steering the ship.

There was also the matter of whether New Orleans’ premier back court player, Jrue Holiday, would choose to remain a part of it or leave in free agency.

“We’re in evaluation mode,” Demps said. “We had a lot of challenges this year, but I do like the direction and the path that we’re headed.”

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Some of the more pressing evaluations the Pelicans will have to make:

REGIME REVIEW: The future of Demps and Gentry could be tied together since it was Demps who hired the coach. Gentry came to New Orleans hoping to elevate the team Davis led to the 2015 playoffs. Instead, Gentry has overseen a roster plagued by prolonged injuries, illness, infections and even a a href=’https://apnews.com/b352e3f65e434095ae68a9c876e236d5/Ex-soccer-star-Holiday-faces-tumor-with-husband-Jrue’s-help’delicate family matter/a that caused Holiday miss the past preseason and first 12 regular-season games. Gentry’s two-year record with New Orleans is 64-100. “I thought the team showed a lot of resilience and I think Alvin deserved a lot of credit for keeping the group together, because I know it’s tough coming into the season and not having the people that you thought you were going to have, then trying to figure it out on the fly,” Demps said.

ON HOLIDAY: Acquired by New Orleans in 2013, Holiday is coming off just his first healthy season with the club after missing most of his first two and parts of his third. However, he took leave last fall when his wife, former U.S. Soccer star Lauren Holiday, was diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant. Holiday has avoided questions about his plans for free agency and was not available on Thursday. But the Pelicans made it clear they want him back and hope the support they provided while he was on leave, combined with the fact that they can offer a contract one-year longer than any other team, keeps Holiday in New Orleans.

FRONT-COURT FORCE: With DeMarcus Cousins is under contract through next season, New Orleans should have training camp and the preseason to improve team chemistry with him in the lineup. They also want to get Cousins healthy. He played through pain in his right Achilles until New Orleans was eliminated from playoff contention. Cousins then sat out the last few games of the season, as did Davis. Both All-Star big men can shoot with range and dominate down low, but learning to play together wasn’t easy initially. But as they got comfortable, starting stringing together wins. Davis finished averaging 28 points and 11.8 rebounds, while Cousins averaged 27 and 11.

OUT OF SIGHT: Small forward Quincy Pondexter missed his second straight season with a href=’https://apnews.com/c7fb2bd60813497099df4883b0f1174f/Pelicans’-Pondexter-has-procedure-on-troublesome-left-knee’complications related to knee surgery/a, but has been shooting on the club’s practice court in recent weeks. Demps said Pondexter has had a lot of “bad luck,” developing an infection from one of his surgeries. Demps said he hopes Pondexter, who played a key role in the Pelicans last playoff appearance, will return next season, his last under contract. Demps also hopes 7-foot center Omer Asik, who struggled to earn playing time early in the season, can get back in shape after his season ended early because of a stomach virus that caused him to drop weight.

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