Pelicans will have trouble winging through division

    Tuesday, the New Orleans Pelicans open training camp in their brand new, state-of-the-art practice facility – after a summer of roster moves that portrayed a real sense of urgency.
    Owner Tom Benson wants to win now. Will he get his wish? The Vegas oddsmakers say “no.” Right now, you can get 50-to-1 odds on the Pelicans winning the Western Conference. Those are the 10th-best odds in the West, according to vegasinsider.com.
    The three teams with the best odds of winning the West are Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Houston. All three teams, along with New Orleans, are part of the Southwest Division.
    Several Pelicans insiders have expressed optimism that the club can compete for the seventh or eighth spot in the playoffs. If so, New Orleans would have to make a huge improvement. Last season, the then-Hornets won 27 games. The eighth spot in the West belonged to the Houston Rockets. They won 45 games.
    And, Houston didn’t sit still in the offseason. It signed Lakers free agent center Dwight Howard to a four-year, $88 million deal. In the meantime, the Pelicans have $37 million of their $64 million salary cap dollars tied up in three guards.
    Eric Gordon returns. All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday was acquired in a draft-night trade that sent the rights to center Nerlens Noel to Philadelphia. General manager Dell Demps then worked a sign and trade that brought guard Tyreke Evans to New Orleans. The deal sent guard Greivis Vasquez to Sacramento and center Robin Lopez to Portland.
    The Pelicans are backcourt thick but frontcourt thin. Second-year power forward Anthony Davis has a chance to be a star. The center position will be manned by free agent pickup Greg Stiemsma. Stiemsma is a shot blocker and rebounder, not a scorer. Jason Smith will back up both spots.
    Questions abound. Will Gordon ever come close to justifying his sizable paycheck? And if not, can the Pelicans find a trading partner before the league deadline? Can Gordon, Holiday and Evans, three players who are used to having the ball in their hands, develop chemistry? Will Evans be willing to come off the bench? Will guard Austin Rivers and Smith be able to provide quality minutes? Will head coach Monty Williams play a more up-tempo style with three double-digit scorers in his backcourt?
    At a tour of the team’s new practice facility, Benson’s intentions were clear.
    “We believe we have the finest facility in the NBA,” said Benson. “With that, we are looking forward to having one of the finest basketball teams. That is where it ought to be.”
    Benson bought the team from the league in April 2012. Four months earlier, Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. Excuses and distractions are history.
    And, Benson believes, so is losing.
    Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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