“Electricity” is a word often utilized when discussing the atmosphere in a venue for a big game, not one typically associated with an open practice for a franchise that has made it to the postseason twice in the last decade.
But the wattage generated in the Smoothie King Center Saturday evening, as the 2019-20 New Orleans Pelicans were presented to the public for the first time, may have been enough to replace oil and natural gas as Louisiana’s top supplier of energy.
“The whole atmosphere, the energy in the building, the number of fans we had,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “The fact that there were people sitting in the upper deck is really a surprise. The enthusiasm in the building was really good.”
Without question, the biggest draw for the crowd of more than 10,000 fans was Zion Williamson, who has taken New Orleans and the rest of the basketball world by storm.
Fans were lined up for more than 90 minutes outside of the arena waiting for their chance to see Williamson and the rest of the remade Pelicans roster.
The atmosphere was more akin to Midnight Madness on a college campus than an NBA practice.
There were plenty of fast breaks, dunks, open threes, and pretty layups, and very little defense.
It was exactly what fans came to see.
For Gentry and his staff, it was a break from a good week of practice. He has been very pleased with the progress the team has made thus far.
“Obviously, we’ve got a ways to go,” Gentry said. “We’ve got five guys who returned, and we’ve got 15 other people that hadn’t done anything, as far as the systems we’re running. Just the fact that we’ve done a lot of good things that we can show on film is really impressive.”
The Pelicans will try to answer the questions about rotations and minutes over the small sample of four preseason games. Right now, they’re still focused on developing their feel for each other on the court.
Veteran Jrue Holiday has played a big part in making that happen as he settles into the role of franchise player.
“He’s been great and we’re going to need him to be great in that role in terms of being vocal and having a presence in terms of leadership,” said general manager Trajan Langdon.
Holiday, along with JJ Redick, Derrick Favors, E’Twaun Moore, and Jahlil Okafor are all known quantities in the NBA. However, they are all assuming new roles and responsibilities this season. Certainty about anything regarding the team as a whole isn’t readily available.
The one thing Gentry is sure of is that everyone on the roster will be asked to do a little bit of everything.
“Our goal is to be a positionless basketball team, you know, as far as guys being ones, twos, threes, and fours,” he added. “Just be able to play in the open court and have several guys be facilitators.”
That includes players like Brandon Ingram who was called on to initiate the offense for the Los Angeles Lakers at times, as well as Williamson, who looks as devastating in the open court as he did in college. Williamson picked up a great assist in a bit of a role reversal as he found Lonzo Ball for an alley-oop.
Though Williamson missed a few dunks, and he and his fellow rookies (with the notable exception of Nickeil Alexander-Walker) were exposed as terrible singers, it was a night the future of the franchise won’t forget.
“The lights were really bright out there, compared to the practice center. I think we’re going to have a lot of great memories here.”
The lights will get brighter and the stakes will be far higher in just over two weeks, when the Pelicans face the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
But on Saturday night the Pelicans reconnected with a fan base and a city that had been begging for that for so long.
Embrace New Orleans and it will embrace you back. The Pelicans might finally be ready to accept the full scope of what that truly means.