In post-Monty era, Pelicans have yet to take-off
He has way too much class, but you couldn't blame former Pelicans head coach Monty Williams if he was heard giggling all the way from Oklahoma City.
Williams became an assistant coach for the Thunder after being canned by the Pelicans after last season. On New Year’s Eve, Monty’s former team lost for the 22nd time this season. The Pelicans slipped to 10-22 before opening 2016 with a win at Dallas.
Last season, the Pelicans recorded their 22nd defeat in a Jan. 28, 2015, loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Williams was canned after winning 45 games and after his Pelicans were swept in the playoffs by eventual champion Golden State.
When general manager Dell Demps and executive Mickey Loomis fired Williams, they obviously felt the current roster had much more upside than the eighth seed in the West and that a new head coach, Alvin Gentry, was the man to get them there.
Gentry was the guy who was coming in from Golden State to speed up the offense while at the same time shoring up the defense. The Pelicans stand at 27th in a 30-team league in points allowed per game.
For all the chatter about the Pelicans “upside,” here’s a fact: only Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are 25 years or younger. Much of the Pelicans roster has reached the limit of self-improvement.
We know what Tyreke Evans can do. We know what Ryan Anderson can do. We know what Eric Gordon can do. All are solid NBA players, but the notion that this roster can compete in the upper echelon of the West was misguided.
Next season, the Pelicans’ cap situation doesn’t get easier. It is the first year of Davis’ contract extension that will pay him almost $21 million. Even with Gordon's and Anderson's current deals coming off the books, the Pelicans are on the hook for more than $60 million.
After the trade of Chris Paul, there were two paths for Demps and Williams to follow. One was to build through the draft and lower-tier free agents. Two was to acquire veteran players and try to win now.
What is not known is if Demps was told to win now once Tom Benson took over ownership.
Regardless, even if the Pelicans somehow come on strong and make the playoffs in a weakened Western Conference, you have to ask: Are they closer or farther away from being a true contender?
If you’ve watched any basketball this winter, the only real conclusion is door No. 2.
Gentry said he came to New Orleans to coach one of the best players in the game. But it will take a lot more than Davis to be a very good NBA team. And, right now, those pieces don’t appear to be on the roster.
Maybe Williams got a lot more out of his roster than his bosses believed.