Arena: Was time to move on from Pels’ Williams

Published 12:01 am Saturday, May 16, 2015

When the New Orleans Pelicans parted ways with Monty Williams, it unleashed a bit of debate amongst NBA fans both locally and at the national level: the team had improved its record and returned to the postseason after a long absence. Why make a change now? Some have called the firing unfair and unjustified, while others have questioned the logic of making a move without consulting star Anthony Davis, the most important part of a successful equation for the franchise.

Maybe Williams deserved to keep his job, but to quote Snoop from The Wire, “Deserve got nothing to do with it.”

The only justification the Pelicans need for moving on from Williams is the belief that they can upgrade. They owe Williams nothing but the money left on his contract, and he’ll be paid in full. He won’t be unemployed long; even if there isn’t a head coaching position ticketed for him, he’s a snap hire for many coaches as a top assistant.

I’m surprised so many have been shocked by the move on the basis of the postseason appearance. Recently, we’ve seen teams make this kind of move with success. Mark Jackson and Lionel Hollins each had concluded even more successful campaigns with Golden State and Memphis respectively when those teams named replacements. Steve Kerr has turned the Warriors into a powerhouse, while Dave Joerger has kept Memphis afloat as a major Western conference contender.

Williams may have been the right man to lead a team through a rebuild, but for the Pelicans to get to the next level, I agree with Mickey Loomis and Dell Demps: the time for change is now. For the past few seasons, Demps has seemingly collected the pieces to push tempo and take advantage of Davis’ unique athleticism and skill-set; Williams, meanwhile, seemingly believes in a half-court, grinding style. There’s nothing wrong with the second way, but it’s telling that his defense-first belief system hasn’t turned in a season in the NBA’s top 20 of defensive efficiency since his second season. That’s including this past season, with a front court headlined by two of the league’s premier defensive big men in Davis and Omer Asik.

That, the team’s consistently baffling late-game approach (slow it down, isolate Tyreke Evans, bleed clock down and freeze Davis out in the process) and poor shot selection were things that weren’t likely to improve a great deal without a change. And those things badly need to improve if the Pelicans are to continue their ascent up the Western Conference standings.

It is true Williams got the Pelicans to the postseason despite injuries and despite competing in the toughest division in basketball. It’s also true that, if Kevin Durant even plays as many as 30 games this season,  it wouldn’t have been enough.

But even if you disagree, and you believe the Pelicans could have given him at least one more year, consider this: this Pelicans team is perhaps the first pro sports franchise in team history that can freely choose its next coach from the top shelf of candidates. EVERYONE would love the chance to coach Anthony Davis. New Orleans, Chicago and Cleveland (if Tom Thibodeau and David Blatt part ways with their teams, respectively) will be the big landing spots. In Chicago’s case, it’s historically a great franchise, but with all due respect to Jimmy Butler, lacks the star the other teams have.

And I’d argue New Orleans is Cleveland without the headaches that dealing with James and his entourage present. It’s a team with a massive star headliner who is worth the hype and then some.

It’s a team with an owner more than willing to spend money to win. It’s a city that will support and embrace a winner — Sean Payton became a virtual rock star after his first season.

The time to strike is now. Probably more than ever before.