May 16, 2013 12:00 AM by AP
METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Monty Williams wore a white hard hat with a New Orleans Pelicans logo on it as he toured the construction site that will become his team's practice center next season, and discussed the benefits of not just its amenities, but also its location alongside the practice fields of the NFL's Saints.
At other NBA training sites, Williams noted, "Nobody's going to walk outside and see coach (Sean) Payton or (receiver Marques) Colston walking across the parking lot, (tight end Jimmy) Graham or (quarterback Drew) Brees."
"I think that breeds a good atmosphere when you can walk outside and see the best of the best at what they do, collaborate on ideas. They're all rooting for each other," Williams said. "That's what makes this place special."
New offices, attached to Saints headquarters, but separated by tile-floor atrium, are finished. The rest of the 50,000 square-foot, $16 million project, including two practice courts, locker rooms, coaches' offices, a training room and weight room, has been framed and should be complete by August, team officials said.
When finished, it will mark the end of decade-long era in which the team, formerly known as the Hornets, practiced out of what was supposed to be a temporary setup at a public multipurpose facility in the New Orleans suburb of Westwego.
"It's going to take some getting used to for us to have all of the things and more that other NBA teams take for granted because we haven't had it," said Williams, who recently completed his third season with the organization. "So it's going to be really cool."
The new practice courts are going up across the parking lot from the building housing the front offices of both clubs and Saints locker and meeting rooms. That project coincides with the first phase of renovation and improvements to the interior of the New Orleans Arena, which also will be done by next season. The interior work at the arena represents the first phase of a two-year project costing about $50 million, and which will include extensive exterior renovations in the second phase.
All of the work at both sites resulted from Saints owner Tom Benson's decision a little over a year ago to buy the NBA club for $338 million and rebrand it as more of a Louisiana team, with the state bird as its mascot.
"There's no excuse why we won't have a hell of a ball club," said Benson, who also took part in the tour.
The Pelicans have one of the youngest teams in the NBA, led by 2012 top overall pick Anthony Davis, shooting guard Eric Gordon and forward Ryan Anderson. After finishing this season 27-55, the fifth-worst record in the league, New Orleans is in position for one of the top lottery picks in next month's draft. The Pelicans are also expected to have around $20 to spend in free agency without surpassing the league's luxury tax threshold.
And Williams hopes it will be easier to lure free agents with a new training headquarters coming online soon.
"We have everything that all the players want - a facility where they can get better, a place where you can hang your hat - permanently - a great city," Williams said. "When I was a player I wanted to go somewhere where I could get better, have a chance to win. When you look at a facility like this, you certainly feel like you can do that here."