While everybody else in the city was watching football Monday night, the New Orleans Pelicans were having a working dinner.
Not that they probably couldn’t have scored good seats for the Saints game, given that Tom Benson owns both teams.
But on the eve of the start of training camp, the basketball folks had different priorities.
“It’s kind of an introduction dinner for all of the new guys,” said center Jason Smith, the senior member of the team in terms of service — even though he’s only in his fourth season in New Orleans. “Basically, it’s about what to expect — how to act in public, how to act with the media, just the basics.
“We know it’s a big game for (the Saints) tonight. But we’re just getting started, so we need to focus on our season. We both have our own little realms.”
Still, the synergy between the two franchises, the only NFL/NBA ones in the same city with the same owner (Paul Allen owns both the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers) is an interesting one, especially now that the Pelicans operate in their new $10 million (mostly state-funded) facility, which is in the same complex as the Saints instead of across the river at the Alario Center.
Mostly, the crossover elements are on the business side of things although players from both teams do cross paths at lunchtime in the cafeteria.
However, there have been no Pelicans/Saints pickup games, which would have been interesting if Jimmy Graham’s playing on the Saints side.
The major Saints/Pelicans crossover figure is Mickey Loomis, who combines duties as general manager of the Saints with the title of executive vice president with the Pelicans.
As the person charged with overseeing the basketball operations, Loomis regularly communicates with Pels General Manager Dell Demps, although Demps, in his best true disciple-of-Gregg Popovich mode, says of those talks: “It’s our secret.”
Pelicans coach Monty Williams is only slightly more forthcoming, saying: “When I’m around Sean (Payton) and Mickey, there’s a lot for me to learn, so mostly I just sit and listen.
“We talk about different philosophies, and he’ll say something that I try to put in my notebook or database. There’s nothing I can share, but lot of it is personal things that we talk about.”
Williams, though, does fully appreciate no longer being in the Alario Center.
“It’s nice being just across the parking lot from Mickey,” he said. “It’s not easy when you have to cross the Huey P. (Long Bridge) and go talk to somebody.
“By the time you’d get here, you’d be mad, because somebody had tried to cut you off a couple of times and you didn’t want to have to deal with it anymore.”
The other common element, says everyone involved, is Benson’s stated desire to win now rather than down the road. That’s why the rebuilding process was accelerated in the offseason with the acquisition of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, which, with the presence of maturing second-year man Anthony Davis, has the team in the playoff conversation.
The holdovers and newcomers speak to the new training facility as part of Benson’s commitment to make the franchise a contender.
“This is awesome,” Smith said. “They’ve built a grade-A facility and we’ve got new uniforms, new everything.
“It gives a better impression that everybody has fully bought into winning. When you have something like this, there’s no excuse for you not to work hard.”
Even if you have to miss the Saints.