Practice Makes Normal

Published: May 15, 2013

Today the New Orleans Pelicans gave a tour of their practice facility to be. While it’s not much to look at today, it is indicative of not only the changes that have taken place with this franchise that are more concrete than shuffling around words on pages (or bits in computer memory), but also of the commitment of all parties to make this franchise one to be proud of, win or lose.

First, let’s get the basics over and done with. Much of this is available elsewhere, but we’ll repeat it for completeness.

  • The facility will be around 50,000 sq. ft., consistent with original specification. This includes new construction and renovation of the old Voodoo facility. 
  • The cost is closer to $15m than $10m. Ownership is contributing to the overage, just as they contributed to recent renovation of the Saints portions of the facility.
  • It will house 2 courts complete with seating for an audience of media and fans, conference rooms, media rooms, locker rooms, and more.
  • The on-site cafeteria shared by the organizations is a unique feature.
  • Ownership sees significant benefit by having the organization in one location. The Saints improved as a franchise when they consolidated. This will be the first time this franchise (under any name or locale) will enjoy the benefit. (The “under one roof” phrase is not literal, but approximately true.)
  • The new office space, as previously reported, is fully operational with only minor cosmetic work ongoing.

For those who don’t know, the facility is located at the `Saints’ facility on Airline Drive near Zephyr field (5800 Airline Dr Metairie, LA 70003). Use your favorite map software to orient you if need be, then check here to see where the facilities are. I apologize for my horrid markups.

Practice Facility Location Details

Also, here is a before picture, looking at the new facility site (looking east):


And after:

PF2 2013.05

And here are some images from inside.

In the old Voodoo Facility:

In the old Voodoo Facility

Between the old Voodoo Facility and the courts:

Between the old Voodoo Facility and the courts

The courts:

The courts

The best overall set I’ve seen are here.

Monty was clearly excited to get into the facility, but he also expressed deep thanks. He can see the facility in its final state based on his years in the industry and high-level knowledge of the specifics, and he believes it will help his players get better and get better faster. This is realistic. Having a place that they have control over, that isn’t shared with other events or organizations, allows the players to make it their own more completely. It’s harder to make yourself at home in your facility when you can’t go practice there due to a graduation, luncheon, tournament, or other affair. Not feeling at home adds a potential distraction. Having one fewer thing to worry about with each player should make Coach very thankful, indeed.

The party line about the facility is that it will help attract free agents because it is so nice. This defies logic. 29 of 30 teams have dedicated practice facilities of various quality. The Hornets were supposed to have one built at the State’s expense shortly after their arrival, but political delays, Katrina, then trading the promise for the attendance clause in the prior lease amendment all delayed this. Meanwhile, the Hornets were left as the only team in the NBA without a dedicated practice facility.

The Pelicans will never have this disadvantage. While the facility is not operational and will not be for the initial flurry of offseason activity, it will be clear to any prospective signee that the facility will be in order when it’s time to punch the clock. In fact, it being incomplete may leave some room for the signee to dream a little, see what he wants to see. Mostly, however, he’ll see a franchise that is less different from the pack in that one way.

Overall, however, the practice facility is a nonfactor, other than it removing a negative net factor from a decision calculation. Calling it a positive it like saying that filled in hole is a mountain, however. It get why the franchise is saying it. They need public buy-in since public money is continuously flowing through the franchise, and that is really the story here, boring as it sounds.

In an important coincidence of events, Benson was unveiling the product of a largely publicly financed practice facility being build on a largely publicly financed complex (the LSED owns the complex), while public money is renovating their performance-facility AT THE SAME TIME that the NBA Board of Governor’s (so Benson in some fashion) was deciding to keep the Kings in Sacramento, who ponied up money for a new largely publicly financed arena, in favor of Seattle who failed to do that same thing years ago, losing their beloved SuperSonics in the process. These displays, these expressions of gratitude, the opportunities for the fans to visit the facility to see the New Orleans Pelicans practice (as they do for the New Orleans Saints), and more, all fuel the engines necessary to keep the franchise both successful and local.

As the first year of Benson’s ownership comes to a close, the Pelican’s rather suddenly look a little more ordinary. Just a face in the crowd. This may sound like damnation, faint praise, or damning with faith praise. It’s not. It’s a sincere compliment for the fantastic accomplishment. Any slight is a statement about the hole the franchise was in. Major changes remain before the franchise takes its place among the elite, but given what the new ownership has done in year one, the NBA’s other teams need to keep an eye on New Orleans . . . and I mean keep. For a long time.


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