After missing the playoffs again, what is next in store for the Pelicans?


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(equals)’’-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.”

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(equals)’’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(equals)’’-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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Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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