The NBA coaching carousel is again in motion, and Alvin Gentry could be the first one thrown off. Even with a healthy Zion Williamson, the disappointing post-pandemic New Orleans Pelicans have proven to be far from league and fan expectations.Gentry’s inability to blend the team’s diverse talents including Williamson and Brandon Ingram into a cohesive offensive and defense force will likely have the 65-year-old coach pink slipped in short order.
In his 17 years as a head coach, Gentry is 84 games under .500, taking his teams to the playoffs only three times. His reputation as a coach is inflated by his success in the 2009-2010 season when he took an overachieving Phoenix Suns team to the Western Conference finals. Gentry stayed with the Suns two and one-half more seasons before becoming an assistant head coach for the Warriors and Clippers.
Alvin Gentry’s coaching pedigree
Alvin Gentry’s coaching background puts him alongside such mentors as Larry Brown, Kevin Loughery, and Gregg Popovich. Gentry left his role as an assistant to Brown at the University of Kansas in 1989 to join the former Jayhawk head man who took over the reins of the San Antonio Spurs. Along with Gentry, Popovich and Ed Manning (father of Danny Manning) learned their trade from Brown.
From 1990 through 1998, Gentry kept a suitcase packed as he moved on to become an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, and Detroit Pistons. During his tenure as assistant at Detroit, he filled in as head coach in 1994-95 and 1997-98. Gentry became the team’s full-time on court leader for three seasons before rejoining the Clippers as head coach.
Gentry’s resume then crisscrossed the league as head coach and assistant until 2015 when he took on his current role as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Gentry takes the reigns of the Pelicans
In his five years with the Pelicans, Gentry has had only one season where the team finished over .500, making the playoffs and losing in the conference semifinals.
From the start of his time at the helm of the Pelicans, there was some question about Gentry’s ability to lead the team. When former Cavalier executive David Griffin joined the New Orleans franchise as general manager, the smart money was on the new GM making a change in head coaches. Instead, Griffin recalled Gentry’s ability to take a Cinderella team in Phoenix to the NBA conference finals.
“The fearless Alvin that coached the 2010 Suns to the conference finals is a different animal than he was able to be here,” Griffin told The Undefeated. “My job is to get to channel as much of that person as I can because that was a masterful job that I watched him do.”
The Pelicans limped along until the 2019 NBA draft when the lottery went their way. The team selected Duke’s Zion Williamson with its pick, and it quickly became the surprise team to make a deep run in the playoffs with Gentry planning to use Williamson creatively.
The fall of Alvin Gentry
A mixture of bad luck and mixed messages are key to the downfall of Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans. Toss in a global pandemic and life inside the bubble in Orlando, and you have a coach whose days are numbered. Still, Gentry tries to put on a positive face for the media and fans.
In examining Gentry’s handling of the Pelicans, the scales tip in the way of him doing a poor job devising a strategy to get Zion Williamson the ball more often. He also has done a less-than-stellar job in developing team chemistry to the point where observers say the whole is far less than the sum of its parts.
Gentry did not do the team any favors in calling ex-Pelicans star Anthony Davis’ situation “toxic” when Davis requested a trade to the Lakers. According to Gentry, his star was getting bad advice from his advisors. “I think he’s a great kid,” Gentry said, according to CBS Sports. “I think he’s a solid guy [who] got some bad advice. You know me to just tell the truth.”
For Davis, whom the Pelicans drafted with the top pick in the 2012 draft, his patience was wearing thin playing for an underachieving team led by an ineffective coach.
Looking back at his decision to keep Gentry as coach, general manager Griffin based his thinking on Gentry’s success with the Suns. Clearly, that was very narrow thinking when the Pelicans coach had little or no success in his other stops along his NBA coaching career.
That said, the decision to hold Williamson back in the current seeding round for health reasons and the absence of the Pelicans defensive coach, Jeff Bzdelik, in Orlando has not been helpful to the team’s play. Bzdelik did not travel with the team to Orlando due to health concerns.
What’s next for the Pelicans?
The current speculation is whether Griffin and management will fire Gentry before the end of the season or after it.
Among the names being tossed around are two Los Angeles assistants — Ty Lue of the Clippers and Jason Kidd of the Lakers. Both have a history with the Pelicans GM.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN claims to have the scoop, writing that Griffin’s relationships with Lue and Kidd could make them top targets of the Pelicans. Gentry still has a year remaining on his contract. Until a decision is made, though, the Pelicans and Gentry are dealing with what is in front of them: