There is a lot to be proud of concerning this recently completed season, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams said Tuesday morning, with making the Western Conference playoffs heading the list.
Williams rattled off a litany of accomplishments: winning 45 games, the Pelicans players continuing to get better as injuries hit the team, and the support from the city’s fans growing.
Williams and the Pelicans were under pressure to show marked improvement.
“We always talk about overcoming, but that’s what teams have to do,” he said in his season-ending address to the media. “I’m proud of the fact we exceeded expectations. Overall, as the coach of our team, I fell like this season was a great success for us.”
Under Williams, the Pelicans have gone from 27 wins in 2012-13, to 34 in 2013-14, to an 11-win improvement this season. The Pelicans were uplifted by the signing of free-agent forward Dante Cunningham and trades that brought small forward Quincy Pondexter and point guard Norris Cole, who helped on both ends of the court. However, the Pelicans, the Western Conference’s eighth seed, were swept in the first round of the NBA playoffs by No. 1 seed Golden State.
“We ran into the best team in the league, and they shot as well as they’ve shot all season,” Williams said. “When you’re the eighth seed, you have to get better.”
Williams, who has a year left on his contract, did not want to discuss his status. However, without a contract extension, it could be difficult to sign a good free agent. Meanwhile, team owner Tom Benson sent a letter to Williams, General Manager Dell Demps and the assistant coaches and players commending them on finishing strong to make the playoffs.
Williams said that to keep things going in the right direction next season, re-signing center Omer Asik and the health of point guard Jrue Holiday are key.
“Omer is a huge part of what we do,” Williams said. “He and (Anthony Davis) are really good at guarding their man, blocking shots. When he got comfortable with our scheme and we began talking more, that’s when our defense got better.”
Asik, acquired in a trade with the Houston Rockets in July for a No. 1 draft pick, is a free agent. He was paid $14.9 million last season as part of a three-year, $25.1 million contract.
Holiday missed 41 games last season with a right lower-leg stress reaction, but he returned for the final six games and the playoffs. He missed 48 games in 2013-14 with a fracture in the same area of the leg that required a rod and screw to be inserted.
Holiday, who played an average of 74 games during four years with the Philadelphia 76ers, said Sunday he is not sure why he’s had problems with his leg.
“There is concern there just because he is unsure and he’s been unable to play,” Williams said. “If he’s healthy and hawking the ball the way that I know he can, and with Omer’s comfort level with us now and with AD’s ability, our defense is going to be that much better next year.”
Six Pelicans are unrestricted free agents, including backup center Alexis Ajinca and Cunningham. Cole is a restricted free agent, but a qualifying offer of $3.2 million would enable the Pelicans to retain him by matching another team’s offer.
Williams said he, Demps and Vice President Mickey Loomis have yet to evaluate the team and make decisions.
However, Cunningham, Cole and Pondexter were part of a turnaround in which the Pelicans went 25-16 during the second half of the season, including 17-11 after the All-Star break.
“We were first in 3-point field-goal percentage and 3-pointers, and 14th in overall defensive rating after the All-Star break,” Williams said.
There are things that must get better, he said.
“Transition defense is going to be at the top of the list,” he said. “And we have to get better guarding the ball on the perimeter. Dante, Quincy and Norris certainly helped, but we have to get better in that regard.”