Dell Demps was worried about time, but he didn’t concern himself with the calendar.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ general manager prioritized on-court pace, and he traveled the country gathering information and interviewing nearly a dozen candidates before finally agreeing to terms with Golden State Warriors associate head coach Alvin Gentry on Saturday evening.
The pair reportedly settled on a four-year, $13.75 million deal that includes a $4 million team option in the final season.
Gentry, who has served four previous tenures as an NBA head coach, attracted Demps with his penchant for pushing the tempo offensively. It’s a strategy Demps believes meshes well with 22-year-old superstar Anthony Davis and the cast of guards around him, who make up the majority of the Pelicans’ current payroll.
Sources close to Demps said the biggest on-court disconnect between Demps and former coach Monty Williams was the pace at which the Pelicans played. They ranked 27th in the league this past season at 93.7 possessions per 48 minutes but still finished 21st in defensive rating.
Meanwhile, coaching under Steve Kerr at Golden State, Gentry’s team not only led the league in pace but also defensive rating, allowing just 98.2 points per 100 possessions.
“We conducted an extensive coaching search that identified Alvin Gentry as the right person to lead our team,” Demps said in a statement. “Alvin is a well-respected coach that brings many years of experience, a wealth of knowledge, creativity and leadership.”
Gentry was the first and last coach to speak with Demps about the open position and emerged as a logical candidate the minute Demps and executive vice president Mickey Loomis chose to fire Williams on May 12. While Gentry’s 335-370 record over his NBA head coaching career is unappealing, his stint in Phoenix, which included a trip to the Western Conference finals and featured one of the 10 fastest offenses in league history, showed his potential.
While Demps had a vision of a whirring offensive attack, unleashing the scoring and spacing potential of Davis, he didn’t close himself off to differing viewpoints of various candidates, sources told The Advocate. He interviewed potential coaches from just about every type of philosophy and experience level.
Gentry, though, was first on the list, as Demps traveled to Oakland, California, prior to a Warriors playoff game, just days after the search began. Then Demps meandered across the country to conduct a whirlwind of discussions before circling back to Gentry.
A trip to Des Moines, Iowa, on May 19 to visit Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg was intriguing, but the former NBA player and assistant coach was waiting on the Chicago Bulls, who were in the midst of parting ways with Tom Thibodeau.
Discussions with former NBA coach and current analyst Jeff Van Gundy piqued interest as well, since the former Knicks and Rockets coach hadn’t expressed much desire to return to the bench since joining ESPN in 2007. Van Gundy, several sources said, pined for the position and the opportunity to coach Davis.
Thibodeau was a widely rumored candidate, but those discussions never got fully rolling as his ugly divorce from the Bulls came just days before the Pelicans ironed out their deal with Gentry.
While Gentry, Hoiberg and Van Gundy were the most serious contenders, Demps also made it a point to sit down with anyone who he felt could add to his knowledge and possibly surprise him. Scott Skiles met with Demps before accepting the Orlando Magic’s position. Vinny Del Negro had a discussion with Demps as well.
John Calipari had a brief conversation with Demps, but the terms of any potential hire were quashed by the salary he needed to leave Kentucky, combined with his lack of experience and success at the NBA level.
In the end, despite the records or the name appeal, Demps kept looking for someone who could push the pace and, while there were an array of defensive experts (led by Van Gundy and Thibodeau), they hadn’t displayed an offensive flexibility and acumen in their careers.
Demps held lengthy discussions with this staff and worked nearly 16-hour days in his quest to find a new coach, breaking down the various candidates in style, personality and fit. But by the time he finished speaking with nearly every coach on the market, he came back to where the search began.
Gentry, in Demps’ estimation, was the right person for this franchise, this roster and this superstar. Now Demps has his coach, and his speed, to lead the Pelicans into their next era.
And the team’s future will be judged largely on how the past three weeks transpired.
“We are thrilled to have Alvin join our organization,” Pelicans owner Tom Benson said in a statement. “He has proven himself as a winner. ... We look forward to having him lead our team.”