Alvin Gentry settled into a chair before an assemblage of reporters, and the Pelicans coach didn’t waste any time getting to the point.
“It was a tough year,” Gentry said Thursday to open his postseason news conference. “It was a very tough year.”
So Gentry is ready to take steps to ensure next year is different.
The disappointing Pelicans, a year removed from 45 wins and a playoff appearance, went 30-51 in Gentry’s first season on the job. The team lost 351 player games to injury and illness, finished the stretch with nine players sidelined for the season and went without franchise forward Anthony Davis for the final 14 games.
Still, Gentry — an assistant last season for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors — has no regrets about his move to New Orleans.
“I’m right where I’m supposed to be, and if I had it to do all over again — knowing even what I know right now — I’d do the exact same thing,” Gentry said. “Because I do think that, once healthy, we’ve got a very good basketball team, and I think we’ve got a team that’s capable of being a playoff team.”
On Thursday, Gentry — who expects to be back for a second year — met with reporters for more than a half an hour about the season gone by and the one to come. During that time, he addressed some key questions about the Pelicans’ future:
What are the Pelicans’ offseason priorities?
New Orleans has personnel needs to address, and whether it’s through free agency, the trade market or the draft, Gentry has a vision of the player he most covets.
“I think we need that 6-foot-7 athletic guy that can also be somewhat of a facilitator,” Gentry said. “As to names, I have no idea who that is, but I know that he’s out there. And so that would be obviously a priority for us.”
There are strategic priorities as well.
Gentry’s biggest regret, he said Thursday, is that he didn’t stress enough his commitment to playing at a fast pace from the start of the season, which he’ll look to rectify next season.
That’s not the only change he’ll be looking to implement.
“Defensively, we’ve got to get better in our screen-and-roll defense,” Gentry said. “That’s something that we have to get better at, and we’ve got to get better as far as dribble penetration.”
Offensively, Gentry said, the Pelicans will look to “become more of a ball-movement team.” Despite playing with a shorthanded roster, New Orleans averaged 26.1 assists per game over its final nine games, including four games with 29 or more.
“Those are the kind of numbers I think assist-wise that we have to put up to be effective if we want to have a flowing offense and then be able to spread the floor and create situations,” Gentry said.
Do Tyrke Evans and Omer Asik fit into the franchise’s future plans?
Perhaps no two players were more confounding fits in Gentry’s system than Evans, a point guard who played only 25 games because of injury, and Asik, a center who saw his minutes reduced for long stretches of the season even when he was healthy.
Evans likes to survey the floor with the ball in his hands, and his strength is to create off the dribble, not an ideal style for a team looking to focus on ball movement. But Gentry said the “small sample” of Evans in the offense makes it difficult to determine if he and the system can fit each other.
“He never had an opportunity to go through training camp, and so we just kind of thrust him in and said ‘OK, now this is the way we play,’ ” Gentry said. “I think he had great moments for us and then, I think, he struggled some. But so has everybody else in every situation I’ve been in where you put this system in.”
Asik has played in a fast-paced offense before, in Houston. But despite a career-high 24 points in Wednesday’s season finale, he wasn’t a significant offensive contributor, and played 15 or fewer minutes 24 times in 68 games.
“From an offensive standpoint, he’s still trying to adjust to the to the way we play, and I thought he had his moments,” Gentry said. “We still have to get that figured out because he never had an opportunity to be out there with the guys that could benefit him.”
Will New Orleans keep its draft pick, or select a player to ship elsewhere?
The Pelicans haven’t drafted a player in the first round who was on their opening-night roster since 2012. And with the team looking to make a return to the playoffs, it’s possible that its best trade asset might be its lottery pick.
The Pelicans have the sixth spot in the lottery, meaning they’ll select either first, second, third, sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth depending on the lottery results. The lottery draw will be May 17.
Gentry said he and general manger Dell Demps — who is known to prefer younger veterans to rookies — have talked, and “will spend a lot more time” talking about draft philosophies as the June 23 draft approaches.
“I think it obviously depends on where you end up picking, and you’ve got to take a look at the draft and evaluate the draft, but that’s something that we’ll discuss,” Gentry said. “I think we’ll come up with what we feel is best for the franchise.”
Will there be changes in the organization?
Gentry said it’s “not even remotely in my category or job description” to speculate on front-office-personnel decisions, though he said he and Demps “work well together.”
“I know that I really like Dell,” Gentry said. “I really like working with him. I think we’re on the same page as for getting this team better. I think Mickey (Loomis, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations) is a great guy and he’s going to do everything he can to help us get this team better. So I’m very happy with the people that I’m working with.”
Gentry said he and the front office will “look at all facets of what’s going on here” and evaluate personnel. That includes the much-maligned medical staff, who came under additional scrutiny this week after an ESPN.com story about the Pelicans’ medical and training staff practices.
“I’m with these guys every single day,” Gentry said. “I know how hard they work. I know how conscientious they are. They do everything they possibly can to make sure that guys are on the floor and playing. So in my situation I think that’s all you can ask them to do.”