Alvin Gentry has never coached a full New Orleans Pelicans roster. He won’t be snapping that sullen streak anytime soon, either.
On Sunday, the Pelicans revealed that starting small forward Solomon Hill had surgery to repair a proximal hamstring tear in his left leg. The injury typically requires six to eight months of recovery, washing away Gentry’s hope of hosting his first healthy training-camp session in late September.
“Once again, we are in a situation where we really like our team and we’re ready to go and Solomon had a year of learning the system and adjusting to it and had a great, great year defensively,” Gentry told the Black & Blue Report, a podcast produced by the franchise. “Now, they’re talking about him being out in the neighborhood of six months or so. So, if you get him back, it may be in the middle of February or something. Obviously, that’s going to be a struggle for us.”
Gentry admitted Hill’s absence comes at a uniquely difficult position, because New Orleans lacks proven depth on the wing — particularly given the two-year absence of forward Quincy Pondexter, whose health status is still unknown. In the meantime, Gentry said he’ll tinker with a variety of lineups, but he also wants to explore the free-agent market.
The Pelicans only have one roster spot open, and they’re close to bumping up against the hard salary cap, severely hampering their ability to fill the void with a contract worth anything more than the veteran minimum.
“I think we have some players that can fill in, but we really need to go out and find another guy of that size with a little bit of versatility that can play some (power forward) or maybe even play some (shooting guard), depending on who we can get in those situations,” Gentry said on the podcast. “But, yeah, we’re going to miss Solomon at the start.”
There are a handful of free agents available at small forward, but the list is of desirable candidates is thin. The most natural move would be to bring back Dante Cunningham, who turned down a $3 million player option in June but has yet to find a new home.
If the Pelicans are unable to piece together a trade or snare a usable free agent, Gentry will likely have to turn to a three-guard lineup, using E’Twaun Moore alongside Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo. It’s an option Gentry knows is available, but he believes his team could be easily exploited by longer opponents.
“We can try,” Gentry said on the podcast. “It obviously depends on who we’re playing and, if they have a really big (small forward), it becomes a little tougher to play those three backcourt players. But it’s something we’ll definitely explore. ... But for right now, we have got to decide if we’re going to add a guy or not add a guy and how we can do that.”
Regardless, it’s unlikely the Pelicans will be able to completely replace Hill’s defensive versatility with just a minimum contract and limited trade assets. Instead, New Orleans will have to piece together a fix for at least half of the season and hope Hill is available for the stretch run.
“I thought he guarded his position as well as anyone in the league last year,” Gentry said. “He did a great job on guys like Paul George. Kevin Durant got his points, but it’s a matter of how he got those points. I thought (Hill) did a great job in those situations.
"Not to have him out there takes a really good perimeter defender away from us. But we have to try to find a way to fill in and adjust."