So, Coach, what took you so darn long to get here?
Well, if you’re Alvin Gentry, the three-plus weeks between your being named coach of the New Orleans Pelicans and your formal introduction Monday at the team’s practice facility were certainly worth it: helping the Golden State Warriors, of which you were associate head coach, win their first NBA championship in 40 years, your first since being an assistant on Kansas’ 1988 NCAA title team.
Oh, he did spend a little time on the new job as well.
“I tried to concentrate on Golden State — I really did,” Gentry said. “(Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps) talked when I left and I said, ‘You know, I’ve got to be locked in and I’ve got to be totally 100 percent concentrate on Golden State.’ And I did for the most part. But every now and then, I had this urge to pick up the phone and call him and check in on how things were going.”
And it didn’t take long after the final buzzer in Game 6 for Gentry to be full-throttle Pelicans.
He sent a shoutout to Anthony Davis during the Warriors’ locker-room celebration, telling the All-NBA forward that he expects the two of them to be in the same situation this time next year.
And as soon as he could after the celebration, he contacted every player on the Pelicans roster he could reach, telling them that he was ready to start concentrating on them.
That’s the way to start winning over your new team, one that made the playoffs under a coach all of the players respected for his decency and care, even if there were some basketball issues.
As for Davis, with the team’s future success dependent on his accepting a five-year max contract offer that can be extended July 1, way to let him know how much you think of him.
Gentry deflected a question about the LeBron James-David Blatt situation — Gentry last year was a finalist for the Cleveland job, which went to Blatt — by sending a message for No. 23.
“I like my chances with AD,” he said. “I think we’ll have a great relationship.”
And then this: “I don’t want to be any place but right here. And I told Dell that, and I’ll tell everybody that. I think I’ve got the best job that was available. I’ve got one of the best jobs in the NBA. And we don’t have a three-year plan or a five-year plan. We’re going to be good from the start.”
Way to start winning over the fan base, which is not used to talking about championships — at least from the basketball side of things on 5800 Airline Drive. And while some might have preferred a bigger name (John Calipari, Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy), this NBA lifer, who has had four other chances as a head coach, noted that none had the potential of this one.
And way to win your opening news conference. The man at the podium Monday was relaxed, engaging and, at age 60, genuinely appreciative of the opportunity without being overwhelmed by the situation.
After the formal question-and-answer period, Gentry lingered for a half-hour chatting with media members despite repeated urging from the Pels’ PR staff that it was time to go.
While seldom touchy in interview situations, Williams never hung around any longer than he had to. In Gentry, the Pels are hiring a man best-liked in the league.
A great sense of humor can get you through tough situations. And Gentry pointed out Monday how the Warriors managed to keep things loose all the way to winning the title.
Now all he has to do is win, if not on the Golden State level next season, to at least continue to move the Pels in that direction.
Accomplishing that remains to be seen. Even with the ever-growing talents of Davis — smart move to keep Kevin Hanson, AD’s shot guru, on the staff, by the way — the Pels are a team that must keep its core healthy and somehow develop depth so that injuries don’t prove as decimating as they have the past two years, all the while meshing its talents with Gentry’s philosophies.
As Gentry pointed out, a team in the Western Conference can win 50 games and still finish eighth, although he added that he sees the Pels, who had 45 victories last season, “leapfrogging” some of those ahead of them, without specifying which teams.
He does appear to be simpatico with Demps, whose disagreements with Williams about offensive philosophy and personnel moves eventually led to their breakup. But Gentry made it clear that, as much as he wanted this job, he’s his own man as well.
“I told Dell that I’d love to have the job here and that I knew we’d get along,” he said. “But I also know we’re not always going to agree on stuff. But when we do have different opinions, we’ll be able to talk it out. I follow the philosophy I learned from Doug Collins: ‘Agree, disagree, but ultimately align.’ ”
So maybe it did take the Pelicans’ new coach a few days longer to get on board than he might have in other situations.
But he’s also off to a good start.