Arena: Gentry’s turn to guide New Orleans

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The New Orleans Pelicans have their man.

Dell Demps and Mickey Loomis have tabbed Golden State Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry as the Pelicans’ new head coach, the successor to Monty Williams, who spent the past five seasons with the team.

It’s a hire that could go a long way toward establishing a larger fanbase and winning tradition if Demps and Loomis are correct in their calculations that Gentry is the right man to get the most out of star Anthony Davis, as he has big men like Amar’e Stoudemire, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan before him.

Once Gentry and the Warriors wrap up their NBA Finals series with the Cleveland Cavaliers (I think Golden State finishes this early, but the King has proven me wrong before), he’ll truly be able to throw himself into the process of turning this team toward his vision.

What are the Pelicans getting with this hire?

The good: Since the NBA shifted its rules to encourage more offense and, in particular, ball-movement, Gentry can boast about as elite a resume as any assistant coach could. Under Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, Gentry spent 2003 through 2009 helping cultivate what was at the time a revolutionary offensive attack. Most teams today have incorporated at least some aspect of what those Suns teams did. Phoenix was one of the first franchises to heavily incorporate facets of the European game.

With Gentry entrenched as the Suns top offensive assistant, the Suns ranked 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st and 1st . His lone season as Clippers coach led to another 1st place offensive finish. This year’s Warriors team finished … 2nd, to the Clippers, a rating of 109.8 to 109.7. Maybe he’s slipping?

Whether you credit D’Antoni or Gentry with popularizing that style, it’s clear Gentry has a mastery of it, and has continued to adapt it to new personnel. This year’s Warriors team seemed almost unguardable as Gentry built the gameplan to give Stephen Curry even more responsibility at the expense of post play and emphasized a breakneck pace that hasn’t come at the expense of defensive effort; the Warriors ranked 1st in defensive efficiency this season (the Clippers ranked highly at seventh last season, as well).

The bad: Gentry’s been a head coach before, and the results have been a bit underwhelming. His career record of 335-370 is the key witness of the prosecution of Gentry skeptics, and it’s more than a fair critique. Prior to earning the head coaching job in Phoenix, where he enjoyed his greatest success, Gentry had stints with Miami, Detroit and the L.A. Clippers. The first saw him go 15-21 as the interim coach of the Miami Heat; he improved the fortunes of the Detroit Pistons before a backslide in year three cost him his job.

The same was true in Los Angeles. He lost that job in 2003 and wouldn’t get another head coaching job before leading the Suns on a late season run in 2009 and turning an interim tag into a full-time job. The next season he led Phoenix within a game of the NBA Finals; then management let center Amar’e Stoudemire walk and the Suns began to fall from grace.

While I haven’t been among Monty Williams’ backers, I’d be dishonest if not acknowledging that some of the allowances some, including myself, have made for Gentry’s past failings weren’t shared by Williams. Roster health, construction or management stablility was rarely on his side here.

The verdict: Yet to be determined, of course. Much of Gentry’s success will be determined by the coaching staff he puts together, the health of his players (primarily Davis) and a competent tooling of the roster by his general manager. The rest is up to him. He’s proven to be one of the game’s brightest and adaptive minds. New Orleans represents his best — and, almost assuredly last — chance to get it done as the man in charge, and Gentry now represents the Pelicans’ chance to reach true NBA relevance.

The one guarantee: his team will be fun to watch.