His first season hasn’t gone the way he anticipated, but Alvin Gentry expects to get a second shot at coaching the New Orleans Pelicans.
On Friday, after general manager Dell Demps denied a report that he had more than once publicly second-guessed his own hire of Gentry, the coach expressed confidence that he’ll return after a disappointing first year.
“I don’t have any doubt about that,” Gentry said. “I’ll be back, and we’ll be much better, because we’ll be much healthier.”
The final say is out of Gentry’s hands — and out of Demps’ as well — but the GM also expressed faith that he would be back next season when he addressed reporters Friday, his first group interview since preseason media day.
Demps said he and Gentry are “tied at the hip” and that they can bring the Pelicans back from a disappointing season “together.”
Demps met with the media to deny a report by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, who said in a video segment Friday that sources indicated to him that Demps had second-guessed his hire of Gentry “in very public ways, within earshot of players, staff and even opponents.”
Demps called the report “irresponsible.”
“I want to make sure I say, my confidence in Alvin has not wavered,” Demps said. “The only regret that I have is that our team is not at full strength, and Alvin hasn’t had the opportunity to coach the team at full strength. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”
The Pelicans “are going to right this ship,” Demps said.
It certainly has gone off course.
The Pelicans, who host the Toronto Raptors at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Smoothie King Center, went 45-37 last season under Monty Williams and made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference before losing their first-round series in a sweep to eventual NBA champion Golden State. Williams was fired and replaced by Gentry in the hope that his wide-open offense could lead New Orleans to greater success.
But the Pelicans are 26-45 this season, and their elimination from the playoff picture is a mathematical formality. Gentry attributed “75 percent” of the team’s struggles to injuries that have rocked the roster.
New Orleans has lost 252 player games this season to injury or illness, up from 108 last season. Forward Quincy Pondexter has missed the entire season. Star forward Anthony Davis is out for the rest of the season, as are guards Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Bryce Dejean-Jones.
And though injuries have played a major part, they don’t make it easier for the organization to accept what has amounted to a lost season.
“The players are disappointed, the coaches are disappointed, management is disappointed and ownership is disappointed, because we felt like with what happened last year, it was a situation where we could build on it and maybe try to take another step toward being a championship team,” Gentry said. “It didn’t work out that way.”
But Gentry reiterated Friday what he has said multiple times this season: He and Demps have “a great working relationship,” and he has been consulted on basketball and personnel matters throughout the season.
Demps said he has been “thrilled” with Gentry’s offensive system and lauded the way the team has continued to play hard despite the shorthanded roster.
“I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else but Alvin in this situation right now, because he has a positive (outlook) on things,” Demps said. “Obviously we’re not happy where we are, but we’re going to figure this thing out and we’re going to get through it.”
Though he didn’t say, as Gentry did, that he expects to be back next season, Demps implied that he’ll be part of what comes next for the franchise.
Asked whether he has concerns about his job security, Demps said, “I feel great about my job. I come to work every day, and I feel great about it.” And he stressed that he intends to work with Gentry in making offseason decisions to improve the team.
“It’s disappointing because we’re down right now, but we’re going to be back,” Demps said. “We’re going to be back, and we’re going to do this together.
“I feel like we’re tied at the hip. I want to make sure I say that. We talk about all decisions that are made, and I really believe that we’re tired at the hip and we’re in this together.”
PELICANS 3-POINTER: vs. Raptors
The Pelicans welcome the Toronto Raptors to the Smoothie King Center at 6 p.m. Saturday. Here are three things to know:
1. Back to back
The Raptors, who played Friday night in Houston, are 8-5 this season in the second games of back-to-backs. They entered the Rockets game 7-6 in the first game of back-to-backs.
2. All-Star surge
Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry, who averages 21.9 points, was averaging 25.1 since the All-Star break entering Friday’s game. Last season, he averaged 15.1 points after the break.
3. Play the percentages
The Raptors ranked 13th in the NBA in field-goal percentage (45.0 percent) and 12th in field-goal percentage defense (44.6). Entering Friday, they had shot as well or better than their opponents 37 times and were 36-1 in those games.