ORLANDO -- New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis is concerned his team won't be healthy and whole for several more months amid a slew of injuries that have already ravaged the roster as the season opener looms.
Davis and the Pelicans were in Orlando for Wednesday’s exhibition against the Magic a day after the team announced point guard Tyreke Evans underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and would be sidelined six to eight weeks. It was the latest in a line of setbacks for the Pelicans, who return home for Friday’s preseason finale against the Miami Heat before opening the regular season Tuesday at Golden State.
“It’s tough,” Davis told ESPN.com Wednesday. “Now with Tyreke going down, we won’t have our complete team until January sometime. ... It’s tough because you’re coming in with high expectations, thinking everybody is healthy. And then, stuff happens.”
The Pelicans enter the season looking to build on Davis’ first trip to the playoffs last spring. New Orleans is widely projected to again contend for one of the final spots in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Davis, who finished fifth in MVP voting last season at age 22, was voted in a poll of NBA general managers entering this season as the player they would chose first to build a franchise around.
"It's tough because you're coming in with high expectations, thinking everybody is healthy. And then, stuff happens." Anthony Davis
But the Pelicans are already struggling to maintain a healthy supporting cast for Davis, who signed a five-year, $145 million extension in July to remain the franchise cornerstone. The injuries have been piling up around Davis almost from the moment the Pelicans opened training camp last month at a West Virginia resort. They’ve tempered some of the excitement and energy that surrounded the team under first-year coach Alvin Gentry, an assistant on the Warriors staff during their championship run last season who left to install his up-tempo playing style in New Orleans.
“That’s been the main thing that’s been a little bit frustrating,” Gentry said Wednesday. “I like our team. I think we have depth. We have not been able to put those guys out there together ... there’s always somebody missing. We’ll just have to battle until we get the cavalry group back.”
Evans initially aggravated the knee just days into camp after colliding with a teammate. Since then, the Pelicans have lost starting center Omer Asik (calf strain), backup center Alexis Ajinca (hamstring), reserve guard Norris Cole (high ankle sprain) and forward Luke Babbitt (hamstring). Swingman Quincy Pondexter is reportedly out until November as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery, and guard Jrue Holiday remains on a minutes restriction amid his comeback from a lower leg surgery.
Gentry does not believe the injuries are the result of players adjusting to his preferred playing style while pushing through camp. “In all honesty, it’s the easiest training camp I’ve ever run,” he said.
The shortage of healthy bodies has forced New Orleans to sign low-level free agents throughout camp, including the recent addition of veteran journeyman guard Nate Robinson.
“It’s basketball,” Davis said. “And we’ve just got to have guys step up and fill those shoes until everybody gets back. I’m going to try to adapt to whoever is on the floor.”
Davis has averaged 23.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 27.8 minutes through his first five preseason games. He is coming off the best season of his career, when he averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in 68 games last season.
Davis is optimistic the team will come together strongly at some point. Until then, he accepts the added burden of keeping the Pelicans competitive through a tough stretch early in the regular season.
“Being the leader of the team, you’ve got to be able to pull guys in, whether [they’re] your starters or your role players,” Davis said. “You’ve got to be able to contribute some of the same things. And that’s what I’m trying to do, still be aggressive and find guys who can make plays and help us win.”