New Orleans Pelicans owners Tom and Gayle Benson watch New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry against the Denver Nuggets in a NBA game at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, La. Tuesday, April 4, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

If things had gone the way Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry had hoped, he would have spent Thursday afternoon preparing for the Golden State Warriors in the opening round of the playoffs.

Instead, Gentry found himself addressing the media in a season-ending news conference that came far sooner than he had hoped.

He mentioned the ladder the Pelicans are climbing trying to go from playoff contender to championship contender.

"There is a big ladder that we have to climb before we worry about Golden State and San Antonio," he said. "There's Portland and Memphis and those teams that we have to get ahead of before we start thinking about the San Antonios and the Golden States of the West."

Depending on how you look at that ladder, the Pelicans ended up on the sixth rung from the bottom or the 10th rung (two spots out of the playoffs) from the top.

The Pels finished 34-48, a four-game improvement from Gentry's first season.

Will that be enough for management to keep Gentry around for a third season?

"It's not something I spend a lot of time worrying about," Gentry said. "I'm at the office and I'm working and I'm preparing for the summer like I normally do. When the time comes, that decision will be made."

Gentry surely would like another year, hoping the third time is indeed the charm. He'd like to have a normal season. 

To be fair, he hasn't been dealt the best hand in his first two snake-bitten seasons in the Big Easy.

His first year, the injury bug just wouldn't stop biting.

This year, he started off shorthanded with the absence of Jrue Holiday, who missed the first 12 games to tend to his wife who was sick. The Pelicans lost their first eight games and started 2-10 without Holiday.

But if you throw out those first 12 games (and the last four games when the team was eliminated from the playoffs and shut down its two superstars), the Pelicans still finished a so-so 31-35 with some good wins and some bad losses.

Gentry boasts wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers (in a game before Cousins' arrival and a game that Davis didn't even play) and the Spurs. But the team also had some losses like that dreadful home loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Credit Gentry for this.

He knows his team must find some consistency to avoid the bad losses, particularly inside the Smoothie King Center.

"We are good enough we can beat the world champs and the Clippers and San Antonio and have wins over real quality teams and then we struggle and we have a game like we have against Brooklyn at home," Gentry said. "Those are the things as a coaching staff that we have to find a way to eliminate. We have to eliminate those kind of losses. You have those nights where that happens, but it can't happen at home."

But that loss was PB (pre-Boogie).

Since the acquisition of Cousins, the Pelicans showed some signs of progress, improving from 26th in the league defensively to eighth.

Stats like that are part of the reason that general manager Dell Demps sounded optimistic about the team's future.

"We had a lot of challenges this year, but I do like the direction and the path that we're headed," Demps said.

Last season, the Pelicans finished 30-52 and fourth from the bottom in the standings.

They won four more games and moved up two more spots in the standings this year. 

On paper, things are looking up. 

But on that ladder, the Pelicans find themselves looking up too. 

Will Gentry get to keep climbing with them?  

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.