The Pelicans’ season reached its merciful end Wednesday. But long before New Orleans’ final chapter came with a 144-109 loss to the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, Alvin Gentry had turned the page.
“I’m excited,” Gentry told The Advocate this week. “I’m thinking next year. I’m thinking healthy guys. I’m thinking (of) being able to have a training camp where we can implement and put everything in that we want to.”
Excitement has been hard to come by for the Pelicans, who finished a season of promise with a 30-52 record. And there wasn’t much on the court Wednesday.
There was even less drama.
The Timberwolves led 40-23 after a quarter and 72-50 at halftime. Minnesota led by as many as 41 points, the Pelicans never by more than two.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Shabazz Muhammad scored 28 points each for Minnesota (29-53), and Towns added 14 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Gorgui Dieng had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 21 points.
James Ennis led the Pelicans with 26 points. Omer Asik had a career-high 24 points and added 11 rebounds. Toney Douglas had 22 points and Dante Cunningham 17.
The Pelicans played with only seven players available and 11 sidelined by injury or illness, including forward Luke Babbitt, who sat with food poisoning.
That took New Orleans’ season total to 351 player games missed because of injury or illness. Fourteen Pelicans missed time, including nine who missed 15 or more games.
Franchise player Anthony Davis sat for 21 games. Guards Tyreke Evans (57 games), Eric Gordon (36) and Jrue Holiday (16) all missed significant time, as did forward Ryan Anderson (15 games). Small forward Quincy Pondexter, who had a pair of knee surgeries, missed all 82.
“It’s fortunate for us this is coming to an end,” Gentry told reporters in Minneapolis before Wednesday’s game. “It’s just been a really tough season. Very frustrating. With the expectations that we had, (we) just could never get past the injuries.”
The Pelicans, as Gentry has repeatedly pointed out, beat some of the NBA’s best teams, with wins against Cleveland, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers.
They went 10-9 in games that Davis, Evans and Holiday — key pieces who are under contract for next season — played together.
“The potential is there,” Gentry said. “We just never had enough health consistently to see if we could play consistent basketball against the upper echelon of the league.”
But the Pelicans also lost twice to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers and went 20-18 against teams with losing records. New Orleans was 10-34 against teams with winning records. It went 9-32 on the road.
The Pelicans started 1-11 and never really recovered. They never had a winning streak longer than three games in a row.
And so even before the final horn sounded at the Target Center on Wednesday, Gentry had effectively put the season to rest.
Earlier this week, Gentry told The Advocate that Pelicans leadership would “go in and look at our roster” in the offseason and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. New Orleans will have a lottery pick in the NBA draft — it has the sixth slot in the lottery drawing — and “the free-agency (market) is going to come into play,” Gentry said.
“This is one of those that you flush down the toilet and you move on to what can happen in the future,” Gentry said Wednesday. “You can’t linger and think about this season. It’s just one of those years that everything that could go wrong went wrong.”