Dell Demps and Monty Williams must be aware that they’ve got to get along — and get better — or somebody else (in all likelihood Joe Dumars) is going to be calling the shots for the New Orleans Pelicans a year from now — if not sooner.
Getting along: It’s always easier said than done. Maybe the Pels general manager and head coach should go over to the football side of things at 5800 Airline Highway and ask Sean Payton and Rob Ryan for some tips.
Williams and Demps certainly weren’t tossing bon mots at each other at season’s end. And as of now, they’re working without contract extensions that would give them a measure of security, either jointly or separately.
In any case, when you have a GM-coach dynamic like this (Demps didn’t hire Williams), problems are inevitable, and sometimes even on-court success can’t solve them.
Getting better: That’s even going to be harder. The Pelicans won 45 games last season and made the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker edge against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that was without Kevin Durant for two-thirds of the season. Think the Pels and the rest of the league will catch that break again?
Dallas finished seventh in the Western Conference with 50 victories. It’ll likely take that many just to be No. 8 in the West next season. Think pretty much the current cast of Pels can squeeze out five more victories than they did this year?
And look at the nightly playoff battles in the West. Think the Pels can get past the first round without significant roster improvement, something that’s going to take come creative cap moves to achieve?
Oh, there’s another item on the agenda: getting Anthony Davis to sign a max contract worth an estimated $144 million over five seasons starting in 2016.
Smart money around the league has AD turning down the offer in order to gauge the progress of the franchise, rather than tying himself to the Pels through the end of the decade. Can’t blame him. It’s similar to the career path LeBron James has followed. And unless the fates intervene, Davis is going to be in that same stratosphere, if he’s not there already.
The Pelicans absolutely, positively cannot afford to lose him. And yet no player of Davis’ ability — and you can count ’em on one hand — wants to face the idea of sitting home year after year as other teams contend for championships.
Reportedly he was already highly miffed that the Pels were swept in the first round, even if it was by Golden State. No matter what, the money will be there; the title runs won’t.
So maybe Dumars, still out of basketball a year after stepping down as president of the Detroit Pistons, with whom he spent a Hall of Fame playing career and later fashioned a championship team before the franchise fell on hard times, is doing the right thing by acting as an unofficial consigliere to old friend Mickey Loomis (their relationship predates Tom Benson buying the Pelicans) for at least another season.
It would certainly spare him from having to referee disputes between the team’s top two executives, not to mention the blame if the team struggles to make the playoffs again and/or Davis’ contract status is still unsettled this time next year.
Not that Dumars doesn’t want to get back in the game. You don’t spend 30 years in the league, as both a title-winning player and a title-winning executive, without wanting another shot, especially when your reputation took a beating at the end. It’s just that he reportedly felt that the situation wasn’t quite right.
Besides, the Pels are saying no job was ever discussed. And I’m buying Brangelina’s old pad.
It’s not that Loomis couldn’t use some relief from his unique position of being head of operations of both an NFL and NBA franchise, although he has said that his basketball role was “overstated.”
Still, after the Saints front office took its eye off the ball last season (an awful draft, signing Champ Bailey), Loomis surely wants to keep his attention focused on football. And Benson, with his own family feud to deal with, is expecting success from both of his teams.
This is going to be a crucial season for the Pelicans. Demps’ team-building strategy of dealing away first-round draft picks for young veterans has been generally derided around the league as mortgaging the future to win now. But if it works, what’s to criticize?
The trick is to continue to improve the roster. A couple of post-30 veterans who aren’t knuckleheads (the Clippers’ Matt Barnes is a perfect example) wouldn’t hurt around playoff time.
As for Williams, all he’s got to do is keep his team competitive in the NBA’s strongest division (the Pels finished last) of the strongest conference (11 of the top 12 vote-getters for MVP were from the West) while praying that the run of injuries from the past two seasons declines to at least reasonable levels.
Good luck on that.
But no matter what happens, more than ever the fates of Demps and Williams are intertwined.
Whether they like it or not.
So play as nice as you can, fellas.