LAS VEGAS — Not only will they be the first group to wear the Pelicans logo on their uniforms during a game, the 14 New Orleans players will be launching something else when they open the NBA Summer League on Friday.
The Pelicans, who were in the second day of a four-day minicamp at UNLV’s Cox Pavilion on Tuesday, open the 22-team Summer League against the New York Knicks at 3 p.m. CST on Friday with a new twist. For the first time, every team will play three games before being seeded into a tournament.
The Pelicans’ second game will be against the Milwaukee Bucks at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. The third, against the Cleveland Cavaliers, is slated for 5 p.m. Monday. The single-elimination tournament with a consolation round starts July 17 and ends on July 22 with a championship game.
Four Hornets from the 2012-13 team — guards Austin Rivers and Brian Roberts, and forwards Lance Thomas and Darius Miller — are with the Pelicans just three days before the start of the Summer League.
Pelicans assistant coach Bryan Gates is the Summer League head coach who liked the Summer League under both the nontournament and tournament formats.
“I think we’re going to play to win regardless,” Gates said. “I think it’s great, I think it brings some excitement to it, no question. I think if you have a tournament and that’s motivating the players … I think you should play to win all the time.
“Some of the players we’re seeing for the first time, but we also have four of our roster guys that were with us last year. From a coaching standpoint, this is the first time we’ve seen them, but our management has seen them play plenty of times, that’s why they’re here.
“They’ve seen something in them and looking at a good player out of this: Last year, Brian Roberts could help us and ended up being our backup point guard and did a great job for us.”
Roberts signed a contract with New Orleans on Aug. 3, 2012, shortly after his Summer League showing. He knows how important these games can be for both roster and nonroster players.
“I think it (the tournament format) adds to the games a little bit,” Roberts said. “As in the past, it was just kind of coming out and showcasing your skills individually. So I think with the new format, with the ability to win a championship, I think it adds a little more competitiveness to the games.
“(I would like) to keep getting better and improve. I’ve been working on some things in the offseason, and (I’m) just trying to work on those things out here in a game situation and also become a little better leader, a floor general. That’s basically what I want to do.”
Improvement also is on the mind of Roberts’ backcourt teammate Rivers, who also will be starting his second season with New Orleans.
“I’m just trying to get better really, whether it’s a tournament or only three or four games, I’m going to treat it the same way,” Rivers said. “(I want to) come in here focused; every game is an opportunity. It’s fun because you have a chance to win something, it’s not just games. So I think it puts a little bit more to the games for sure.
“My personal focus is just come out here and get better and try to compete. That’s the whole point of the Summer League; (it’s) for second-, third-, fourth-year guys, guys who want to come out here and get runs in; just go out here and work on things and compete and earn more respect.
“(I’m) just working on my weaknesses. (I’m) incorporating midrange, getting good shots in, working on creating for people, working on reading pick-and-roll. On defense, just help side.
“All those things that you can get better during the year, you can get better out here in two weeks. It’s a good chance to play against great competition; everybody here has either been in the league or is trying to get into the league or has been overseas. So it’s all great players; it’s just a good opportunity to play.”