METAIRIE, La. -- Danny Ferry is back to work after two years away from the NBA, and New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said he is happy to have his former San Antonio Spurs colleague on board.
"For the last two years, after the incident that happened in Atlanta, he and I have been in constant contact," Demps said in his first media session since March 25. "I've actually been using him as a sounding board. Now I'm really just making it official right now, having him come aboard with us."
Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from his role as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks in September 2014 after repeating insensitive racial remarks on a conference call, including a culturally insensitive characterization of NBA player Luol Deng, with team ownership and others. He officially stepped down in June 2015.
The Pelicans announced on June 8 the hiring of Ferry as a part-time special adviser based on a recommendation from Demps, one of three black general managers in the 30-team NBA.
When asked if there was any hesitancy about hiring Ferry, Demps said, "I have a history with him. I feel like I know him. I approached ownership and talked to them specifically. And I just feel like he's a good fit for us."
Demps, entering his seventh season as GM in New Orleans, spoke in more general terms about his own job status.
"This is pro sports," he said. "There's always going to be speculation. I'm fortunate; I work for an organization that supports and believes in me. They understand we went through harsh circumstances last season, and they've been great. They've been great to my family, they've been great here.
"I've always felt welcome here. I want to be here, and I want to be here as long as they want me."
The Pelicans announced on April 23 that Demps would address the media in an April 25th news conference, but the availability was called off the following day amid reports that Demps' status for the 2016-17 season wasn't yet assured.
When asked about why he hasn't spoken publicly since the end of the season, Demps joked, "I really didn't have anything to say."
Demps took a more somber approach to his opening comments, first expressing his grief over the death of guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, who died of a gunshot wound in late May.
"We're devastated by the fact that he's no longer with us," he said. "We went through a lot of adversities and challenges last season, but nothing compares to the loss of Bryce. He loved our teammates and everyone, and he'll be missed. Our condolences go out to his family."
After making the playoffs for the first time in the Anthony Davis era in 2014-15, the Pelicans lost the second-most games to injury in illness in the past decade this past season and slumped to 30-52.
Demps said he was encouraged by the work of first-year Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry and his staff and noted that the organization is "really working" on injury "prevention and corrective exercises in the offseason."
He specifically pointed to improving upon the team's 28th-ranked defense and admitted disappointment in the performance of center Omer Asik, who was guaranteed four years, $45 million last offseason yet finished with a career-low 11.02 player efficiency rating and was sometimes passed over for playing time by 13-year veteran Kendrick Perkins.
"Omer is a no-excuses guy, and he had a frustrating season," Demps said. "I think he'll tell you that. One thing people didn't realize is, last year, he had a back injury and he wasn't able to exercise at all during the offseason. So he comes back into camp and I'm thinking he's going to be overweight but he's actually six pounds lighter than when he left. But he wasn't in basketball shape. He gets injured in training camp and then he comes back. He didn't have a good season. I thought once he finally started playing pretty good, he steps on Andre Drummond's ankle, and he's injured again.
"The good news is he's back, he's working out now, he's playing for the Turkish national team. We expect him to come back in basketball shape and ready to play. For us to be good we need him to have a good season, we need him to be the player he was a couple of years ago. We feel like he can do that. I think he's going to put in the work. We had a really candid end-of-the-season meeting, and we'll see when he comes back in November. But we expect him to come back in good shape."
New Orleans holds three picks in Thursday's NBA draft -- No. 6 overall, No. 39 and No. 40. Demps has presided over five drafts in his New Orleans tenure, but has used only four picks as intended, choosing instead to trade his allotted sections -- including the Pelicans' past three first-rounders -- for established young veterans.
"The philosophy is to get the best players you can," he said. "I think with each draft you have to analyze the draft. If a situation presented itself where we could get a better player than we can draft, that's going to help us in not only the short-term but the long-term, we would do it. We're going to do what's best for the organization, and we want to make good basketball decisions."
The Pelicans can have as much as approximately $24 million in cap space to spend this offseason, with veteran contributors Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon among a group of seven players currently set to hit unrestricted free agency.
"We like Ryan," Demps said. "We had a good end-of-the-season meeting. It's just hard to speculate. It has to be a win-win situation for both parties. The door is open for his return, but it's just hard to speculate with the market the way it is."