NEW ORLEANS — Last year, as the new owner of New Orleans’ NBA franchise, Tom Benson got quite the present when the team received the overall No. 1 selection through the league’s draft lottery.
In what is being considered a fresh start by Benson with the team’s nickname being changed from the Hornets to the Pelicans, there was no such good fortune this time.
Tuesday night’s draft lottery in New York netted the Pelicans the sixth overall pick in the draft, which will be held June 27. That is a bit disappointing in that the Pelicans had the league’s fifth-worst record and fifth spot, going into the lottery. Moreso, the player who is considered the best at the position the Pelicans appear to need help the most likely will be gone when the sixth pick comes around.
Coach Monty Williams, however, said sixth is still a good spot from which to pick as the franchise looks to improve its roster.
“I’m a little surprised, but I’m not disappointed in the sixth pick,” Williams said from New York. “There are a lot of quality guys that will be available, a lot of rotation guys. It’s only going to add to the young core that we have.”
Mock drafts had the Pelicans taking Michigan point guard Trey Burke, although Georgetown small forward Otto Porter would appear to address a more pressing need. Every other team, however, that reportedly is interested in Porter received a higher draft spot than the Pelicans.
It is perhaps fortunate that one of the teams interested in Porter, the Cleveland Cavaliers, won the overall No. 1 pick. That enables them to select the draft’s top prospect, Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, but the Washington Wizards, who have the No. 3 pick, also are very interested in Porter.
The Orlando Magic reportedly also likes Burke and Porter, and it has the No. 2 pick. The Phoenix Suns, who are salivating at the chance to select Burke, pick right ahead of the Pelicans at No. 5.
Williams said that as of now, he and General Manager Dell Demps don’t have a target for the draft.
“Free agency will have a lot to do with that as we start to forecast what’s going to happen,” Williams said.
With five unrestricted free agents and cap space, the Pelicans have a lot of flexibility to sign new veteran players.
Lead assistant coach Randy Ayers, at a draft lottery event in downtown New Orleans, said Williams and Demps had made a list of players to be checked out for the draft, and “we were to go from there.” He said different trade scenarios that could happen were discussed.
None of those scenarios this summer are expected to involve guard Eric Gordon, because at this point, they likely would not get much in return. Gordon was restricted this season from playing back-to-back games, and nearly two weeks ago had arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle to clean away loose particles and relieve discomfort.
Ayers said the Pelicans will start having draft prospects in for evaluation workouts next week as the team continues its due diligence. Williams seemed concerned last week with the prospect of that.
At the combine, top players did drills but didn’t scrimmage, feeling it could hurt their draft stock more than help. Having done drills already, many don’t want to work out for teams.
“A lot of players who will be drafted high don’t work out for teams now,” Williams said last week.
The Pelicans can take solace in that this year’s Rookie of the Year, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, was selected at No. 6.
There are others Williams, Demps and the staff like a lot. One is said to be Indiana shooting guard Victor Olapido, who has athleticism, a high motor and plays good defense. He has shown the ability to convert steals into dunks. It is possible he will be available when the Pelicans pick.
Another player the Pelicans would love to have is Duke’s Mason Plumlee. Listed at 6-foot-11, he measured at 7 feet, ½ inch at the combine. A good shooter, he showed at the combine that he is a good athlete too.
The Pelicans sorely needed depth at the big-man positions last season, particularly when power forward Anthony Davis, last year’s overall No. 1 pick, and backup center Jason Smith were injured, including during the same period for one stretch.
Demps said trades are possible, but that this draft is deep, and the Pelicans will be able to get a contributor.
“It could be a guy that’s ready to play right away or it could be a developmental-type guy,” said Demps, who also was in New York. “Monty and I will sit down and evaluate every option that we have.”