With no draft picks, Pelicans refine their sales pitch to free agents

Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Pelicans coach Monty Williams
Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Pelicans coach Monty Williams

Friday was New Orleans Pelicans Night at Zephyr Field, and coach Monty Williams was there to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

It was a strike.

Williams, General Manager Dell Demps and their staffs have been doing a lot of work since the season ended, preparing to make a pitch to free agents they hope will turn out as successfully as Williams’ ceremonial strike.

The Pelicans have no selections in the NBA draft June 26, so they are looking to strike a deal with a good free agent or two — be they veterans, undrafted rookies or a combination of the two.

“There’s no guarantees, but obviously when you don’t have any picks, we’re going to be aggressive in other areas,” Williams said. “We’re still in the evaluation mode because we’re so close to the draft. So we’re looking at a number of options.”

With there only being two rounds and this being a deep draft, it could be a good year to uncover an undrafted gem. Center and small forward are primary areas of need, although a center who can make the team likely won’t be available.

“Dell and his team are out looking at players, going to them,” Williams said. “And they bring back information. We’ll watch a lot of film.”

As for the players currently on the roster, shooting guard Tyreke Evans was at the team’s facility rehabbing his right knee after minor knee surgery, and at some point this summer he will work on shooting. Center Alexis Ajinca, forward Luke Babbitt and forward James Southerland got an early start on skills enhancement last week.

“We had four guys in, and more will be coming next week,” said Williams, noting Jeff Withey, a rookie center last season, as one of the main ones.

Small forwards Darius Miller and Al-Farouq Aminu will be free agents, but like last season, they probably will participate in the Pelicans’ summer training. Williams said, also like last season, free agents from around the league will be there. Part of it is Williams’ reputation for developing players’ skills and as an assistant on Team USA’s staff.

“Our gym is always open,” he said.

Center Jason Smith also is a free agent, but he missed half the season with torn cartilage in his right knee. Forward Ryan Anderson, who had surgery April 8 on two herniated disks in his neck, is expected to be out until October at the earliest. Point guard Jrue Holiday had surgery to repair his right tibia Feb. 28.

“Everybody’s good, they’re healing,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to play it by ear, but everybody’s on schedule.”