By Matt Starlight
After a much shorter deliberation time than many expected, the Pelicans have chosen to replace former head coach Monty Williams with Golden State Warriors associate head coach Alvin Gentry.
General Manager of the Pels Dell Demps likely interviewed more candidates than the media inferred. There were somewhere between three and five contenders, if we are to believe what national news outlets reported, but anyone who follows the Pelicans with any sort of consistency knows that Dealin’ Dell was just as likely to tap a candidate with little recognition as he was to sign a big name. You can be sure he interviewed a lot of people, so we can be also sure that this decision wasn’t made lightly. Which is good, because it will probably be the deciding factor of Anthony Davis’s decision whether or not to remain in New Orleans beyond his rookie contract, meaning the fate of the franchise itself essentially rests on this call.
The selection makes it obvious that the front office wasn’t happy with the speed of Monty’s style of play. As a notorious disciple of Gregg Popovich, Monty instituted a gameplan that was reminiscent of an era of basketball when big men stomped up and down the court like titans and transition baskets were a mere afterthought. Watch what some of the faster teams are doing right now and it’s clear that the old style isn’t going to work anymore. The most obvious example of a team playing modern day basketball is the Golden State Warriors. Albeit that the Pels put up a decent fight in a few games of their playoff series against them, Steph, Klay, and the gang swept the Pels with relative ease, and shocked exactly zero people in the process. Now, New Orleans has recruited the very mind behind that offense to lead us.
After implementing his brand of offense in Golden State, they became the best offensive team in the league. Granted, they have a phenom in MVP shooter Steph Curry, but the quality of their scheme cannot be denied. This is not the first team that Gentry has injected offensive dominance into, either. Last year, Gentry was an associate head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, where their Blake Griffin and Chris Paul powered offense had the best points per game in the league at 107.9. As head coach of the Phoenix Suns in 2010, he implemented an offensive strategy that would go on to have an efficiency rating of 115.3, putting that team in the ranking of best offenses of all time.
There have been reports that Gentry made it clear in his interviews that the freakish ability of Anthony Davis hasn’t been fully tapped. There’s no use mulling over what a talent he is because every sports news outlet in the nation has beaten it to death, but it is worth pointing out that he’s a big man who can run up and down the court, handle the ball, and shoot like a guard in addition to his shot blocking ability. This type of weapon is sure to be the centerpiece of Gentry’s quick offense, and I for one am ecstatic to see how a creative mind will use his capabilities.
As for the rest of the team, it could be argued that Gentry has most of the pieces he needs in-house. Tyreke Evans crashes the boards on a regular basis already; if Gentry actually bakes that into the offense rather than Evans dribbling for 16 seconds and haphazardly attempting it after exhausting all other options, we could see his numbers go through the roof. With Jrue Holiday returning as a dangerous playmaker with exceptional court vision and Eric Gordon’s three-point percentage last year at 44.8% with 3.3 attempts per game, Gentry seems to have plenty of guards he can build his offense on.
Defensively, Gentry is capable. He’s been a coach in the NBA for 26 years now, so it would be a bit of a stretch to insinuate he can’t run a defense; however, he’ll definitely need some exceptional assistant coaches if he wants to be dominant on both ends of the floor. As of yesterday, June 2, sources have indicated that the team has already tapped Boston Celtics assistant coach Darren Erman to take over as associate head coach and and defensive coordinator. During his run in Golden State from 2012-2014, Erman led the defense and took them from 26th to 11th to 3rd overall in just 3 years. Sources have also indicated that he was pursued by Toronto take over their defensive coordinator position, but the prospect of working with the league’s most promising young star was too much to pass up. Coming along with Erman, if league sources turn out to be correct, is Robert Pack, a New Orleans native with an intense on-court presence whose coached in this town in 2009. He has a reputation for working with talented guards like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Bledsoe, so he could turn out to be a slam dunk hire as well.
The giant, ugly elephant in the room that every Pelicans fan has lost at least a little sleep over is the fact that Anthony Davis could leave. Rumors surfaced a few days ago that it’s the reason that former Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t interested in the job (good riddance). Unfortunately, however, he’s got a point. The Pelicans have probably had Davis’s 5 year max deal waiting for him since the day they signed him, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to agree to it. Gentry and his staff will ultimately be the deciding factor in the Anthony Davis’s decision of where to continue his career. If they come in and run an offense that works and they make the playoff impact that everyone expects, that could keep him around. But, if the Pelicans miss on this choice and they stagnate, don’t expect the most promising talent in the league to whether the hardship if he doesn’t have to. We’re all still a little sensitive after the whole Chris Paul ordeal, and if it happens again, I don’t know if the organization will ever be able to bounce back. This is a once in a lifetime talent we’ve lucked (or rigged) our way into. Signing Gentry needs to work because the fate of the franchise hangs in the balance.
Potential doom and gloom aside, this looks like it’ll be a winner for New Orleans. No longer are they standing idly by like Monty Williams became infamous for doing; the team is making big moves and making them now. By picking up a respected and talented offensive mind who likes to run the floor quickly, the Pelicans roster that was built for speed in the first place will finally be used to their full potential. This is a big moment for the franchise that could go really well or really poorly, but with Demps and Gentry leading the way, expect the team to flourish and thrive in the volatile West.