Alvin Gentry had a nightmare Thursday.
Anthony Davis had gone all DeAndre Jordan on him and had a last-minute change of heart about signing the five-year contract extension with the Pelicans he’d agreed to last week and instead was headed for free agency after this season.
Did someone say the sky is falling?
Small wonder the Pels’ new coach woke up in a cold sweat, grateful that he wasn’t Mark Cuban.
Of course, AD never wavered from his word. At precisely the minute he was able to do it, Davis, who is in China on a clinic tour accompanied by his parents, signed the biggest deal in NBA history, one that secures the cornerstone of the franchise for the rest of the decade.
And we just made up the nightmare part.
But in the new paradigm of the NBA, anything seems within the realm of possibility.
“There have been some interesting moves made,” Gentry said before the summer league roster’s departure for Las Vegas. “Some teams have made big improvements.
“And I think what you’re seeing that guys are much more conscientious about taking a look at the situations they want to be in. It’s not just the money or the fit, but what is the possibility of winning a championship.”
In the not too distant future, the Pels should be in that position.
“I think we’ve got a guy a lot of people are going to want to play with,” Gentry said.
Maybe we’ll even see a David West-type player come aboard.
But this time around, Eric Gordon’s decision to use his one-year, $15.5 million player option pretty much restricted the team from making any dramatic moves.
That also basically forced the re-signing of Omer Asik, instead of another center, although five years for $50 million shows a lot more faith him than you’ll find in most circles.
Regardless, the Pels are standing pat.
Depending on the outcome with Norris Cole, 12 of the 14 players on the season-ending roster could be on hand when training camp commences, including the top 10 scorers.
And since that team made the playoffs, a return trip should be expected. Right?
Maybe yes, maybe no.
While continuity is a treasured commodity in the NBA — witness what the champion Golden State Warriors were able to accomplish with virtually the same group of players as the year before, albeit with the spark provided by new coach Steve Kerr — the Western Conference has somehow gotten stronger than it was last season.
Not only did the Spurs land West at a bargain-basement price, but they lured LaMarcus Aldridge, the top prize of free agency, wrapped up Kawhi Leonard for five years and coaxed one more out of all-time great Tim Duncan.
That’s how a dynasty reloads.
Golden State, Houston, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and, by retaining Jordan, the Los Angeles Clippers all either kept their core players, added key new ones or both. Those teams either had better or equal records to the Pelicans.
Portland, and now Dallas, playoff teams from last season are due to take a step back. But Phoenix, with the addition of Tyson Chandler, will be in contention and Utah is on the rise.
“The West is still going to be very good,” Gentry said. “And don’t underestimate the East.
“You know what Cleveland has and Milwaukee is about to make a big, big jump. Miami’s going to be back, too. You can’t just go into those places and expect to win every time.”
So for the Pels, getting back to the playoffs, much less getting past the first round, is going to be a challenge.
The NBA’s “everybody in the pool” reputation notwithstanding, nobody said it’s supposed to be easy.
And by any standard the Pelicans are a better team now than they were a year ago at this time.
There’s that continuity — players in their second, third or four seasons together knowing each others tendencies and thought processes as so they work as one.
They’re still young enough — Asik, who turned 29 on July 4, is the oldest person on the roster.
That’s a group in the prime of their careers.
And is there any doubt that Cole, Quincy Pondexter and Dante Cunningham are an improvement over Austin Rivers, Jon Salmons and Darius Miller?
Moreover, Davis by all reports is out to earn every cent of his $145 million by upgrading his already prodigious game at both ends of the court.
Tyreke Evans also is a target of refinement of his game — losing weight and getting words of praise from Gentry and the rest of his staff for his dedication to defense and his willingness to take on any role.
Evans appears to be groomed to be the leader of the second unit although versatile enough to step into a starting role at either guard spot or small forward if needs me.
And if Gentry still has to prove himself on the court as an upgrade over Monty Williams, at the least there’s harmony in with the front office, which is why there was a coaching change despite reaching the playoffs.
The firing of Williams was just one of a number of memorable events over the past three months — the defeat of the Spurs to make the playoffs, the Game 3 meltdown against Golden State, the atta-boy from Tom Benson despite the first-round sweep, the floating of John Calipari, Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy as successors to Williams before Demps circled back to Gentry, his original first choice, Davis being named first-team All-NBA and cover boy for NBA 2K16, trading next year’s first-round draft pick (just seeing if you were still paying attention), Tom Benson prevailing in the competency suit filed by his family and Davis agreeing to the contract extension the first minute of free agency.
“It’s been kind of crazy.” Gentry said. “But a good kind of crazy.”
Indeed it has been.
Have fun in Vegas, Coach.
And sweet dreams.