The New Orleans Hornets are no more — they are the New Orleans Pelicans and, boy, is that hard to get used to. Not that the Hornets had any sort of illustrious heritage tied with New Orleans — they never advanced past the second round of the NBA playoffs. But even for supporters of the name change (I'm one of them), everything from writing about the team to casual conversations about off-season acquisitions has been marred with the constant need to break the habit of calling the team by its old name.
There's a reason franchises don't often change their names. In the entire history of the NBA, only three other teams (the Washington Wizards, Denver Nuggets and Charlotte Hornets) have changed names without relocating. It's no coincidence they've combined for just one NBA Championship (the Washington Bullets in 1978).
The Pelicans have been aggressive in marketing the team's new identity. From the new logos, colors and uniforms to the new basketball court and multi-million dollar practice facility, the team has promoted every bit of the rebrand extensively. New owner Tom Benson also has made sure his new basketball franchise is closely associated with his old football team, building the Pelicans a practice facility next to the New Orleans Saints' and having Pelicans players signing autographs in the Superdome during Saints games.
Of course, marketing alone won't earn the Pelicans recognition or respect. When the new name was announced, people on social media were quick to make jokes about how pelicans are more goofy than intimidating. When the new court design was unveiled, it was met with a resounding "meh" from the basketball press. The new uniforms didn't make much of a splash either, with ESPN's Uni Watch calling them "underwhelming" and ranking them in the bottom third of NBA uniforms.
But the Pelicans' subdued court and uniform designs don't take away from the team's on-court talent, which very well could make this one of the most exciting young rosters in the NBA. In acquiring Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, the Hornets now have three explosive guards (assuming Eric Gordon is 100 percent healthy) under 25 years of age. And that doesn't include Austin Rivers, who will be working to rebound after a disappointing rookie season.
Holiday is coming off an All-Star season with the Philadelphia 76ers where he notched 17 points and eight assists per game. While those numbers aren't exceptional, Holiday has made a name for himself as an on-the-ball defender and his 6-foot-4-inch frame will allow him to match up well with some of the Western Conference's elite point guards.
Holiday also got an early start at getting to know Pelicans head coach Monty Williams and forwards Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson at a Team USA Basketball training camp this summer in Las Vegas. Holiday said Davis and Anderson gave him a primer on what to expect from Williams, and Holiday took advantage of his time in Las Vegas to get to know the Pelicans' system.
"Getting closer to Monty, and the training staff is here too, plus Anthony and Ryan, this is just like a head start," Holiday said. "I'm just really excited."
Williams appears poised to incorporate a more up-tempo offense to match his new players' skill sets — in contrast to his first three seasons coaching the defense-first Hornets. During the Team USA workouts, Williams said he'd like to play to his players' strengths.
"We're going to be able to play a bit more faster," Williams said. "Having guys like Jrue, Eric and Tyreke is going to pose problems for other teams to match up against us."
Evans, who's known and played with Holiday since they were kids, adds even more explosiveness to the Pelicans offense and should light up the New Orleans Arena with his electric dunks. On paper, Evans and Holiday in a rotation with Rivers and Gordon should make Pelicans fans ecstatic. Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps, however, has expressed caution while talking about his team's prospects.
"We think we have some exciting times ahead but we also know we have some hard work," Demps said at the press conference introducing Holiday and Evans. "We feel good about the prospects of watching them grow."
While the potential is exciting, these are the boldest acquisitions Demps has made as general manager in New Orleans. Evans, Holiday and Gordon's salaries make up nearly half of the team's payroll. All three are accustomed to being primary scorers and will have to learn to share the ball. If they don't find a way to work together effectively, the Pelicans could see their big gamble turn into a huge loss.
Last season, Holiday had an All-Star year despite a career-high turnover average and career-low field-goal percentage; Evans, meanwhile, came at the steep price of the Pelicans trading away veterans Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez. And then there's Gordon, who was linked to all sorts of trade rumors the past two seasons and has been apathetic about playing in New Orleans. Having only appeared in a third of New Orleans' games over the past two seasons, he's yet to prove he's worth his $14 million salary.
Luckily for the Pelicans, teams like the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers have shown that quick and explosive guard play mixed with athletic forwards that create mismatches for opponents can be a winning combination. Of course, the Heat benefit from having what may be the best basketball player in the world — LeBron James — and neither the Clippers nor the Thunder have won championships.
While the Pelicans are facing a new start as a franchise and struggling to establish their name recognition, it's the pedigree of the coaching staff and front office that likely will determine how successful the team will be going forward. Both Williams and Demps earned their chops in San Antonio, where the Spurs have become so good it's almost boring. With any luck, Demps' maneuvering and Williams' schemes will give New Orleans a team that will make fans forget all about the Whatchamacallits and embrace the Pelicans.