Alvin Gentry lost his train of thought for a second.
“Excuse me,” Gentry said through laughter in his postgame press conference, minutes after his Pelicans stunned the Utah Jazz 115-112 on Monday night in Salt Lake City.
“I had a couple of beers. Sorry.”
No apologies necessary. I mean, who can blame him?
After suffering through what’s been admittedly the strangest saga of his career, the 64-year-old basketball lifer is finally seeing light on the other side of this dark chapter, despite five weeks remaining in a bizarre limbo period.
So, sure, Gentry can enjoy a beer or two, toasting his team’s three-game winning streak to cap this Mardi Gras season in style.
“I think the accurate word is resilient,” Gentry said of his team Monday. “I just thought we kept continuing to play.”
It’s been the hallmark of this plucky, undermanned team for the past several weeks.
Since the rest of the NBA buried them in the wake of Anthony Davis’ midseason trade request, these Pelicans have been more engaged, engrossed and energized than ever.
While they haven’t been perfect, even during Davis’ 20 minutes per night, sweeping past the Jazz and Nuggets on a single road swing is no small feat. To do it after trailing by 17 points in each game is downright remarkable.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle each scored 30 points to rally the New Orleans Pelicans past the Utah Jazz 115-112 on Mon…
“We have just been feeding off of each other’s energy,” Julius Randle said after scoring 30 points on reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. “It is easy to go out there and play that hard when you play that hard every night. For me, personally, I definitely do. So we just feed off each other’s energy, constantly in attack mode and fight to the buzzer.”
While no one in the locker room will admit it publicly, this team is undoubtedly fueled by the drama of Davis’ prolonged departure, playing their best basketball in the wake of the All-NBA talent claiming he needs to leave New Orleans for a chance to win.
Importantly, though, they’ve overcome the awkwardness of his presence. Teammates freely feed Davis the ball during his limited time on the floor, displaying maturity by declining to freeze him out of the offense.
It’s all part of turning this unbearably negative situation into one of the league’s most unlikely positives. Led by Jrue Holiday and Randle, these Pelicans were fueled by the doubt surrounding them.
A source close to the situation said it feels like a “a cloud has been lifted” for many Pelicans players thanks to the clarity provided by their increased roles. Rather than simply revolving around Davis, as the franchise did for most of the previous six seasons, the team has passed the torch, energizing the roster along with it.
The playoffs are no more than a pipe dream, yet it’s plainly obvious how much this group yearns to compete and relishes each win.
This isn’t what tanking looks like.
While fans and media alike were poring over lottery odds and debating the merits of tanking, these limbo-stricken Pelicans responded by turning in some of their best performances.
It’s why you can’t blame Gentry for taking a few moments to appreciate it.
He’s been around enough to know which direction this was more likely to go. No one would have been surprised if the Pelicans pouted and plodded their way through the season’s final two months, getting wiped out on a nightly basis and metaphorically planting a “For Sale” sign in Gentry’s front yard.
Overcoming this kind of scrutiny and skepticism is difficult. Look no further than the Lakers, New Orleans’ long-rumored trade partners, for what the darkest timeline looks like.
Since Davis and agent Rich Paul told the world he wants to play alongside LeBron James, the Lakers are 4-10, fractured by the swirling trade rumors amid their young roster and on the verge of missing the playoffs entirely. It’s what most expected to happen to the Pelicans, who are less star-laden than those Lakers and already buried in the standings.
Instead, the Pelicans accomplished the unlikely, remaking themselves from a sideshow into an example.
It has invigorated Gentry in the process.
The man who was routinely thrust in front of cameras to answer unanswerable questions about his unhappy superstar, lame-duck general manager and uncertain future has emerged as a sympathetic, inspirational figure.
Although Gentry won’t take credit for Holiday’s exploits or Randle’s explosiveness. He just wants to see this culture of competitiveness carry on for the rest of the season.
And if it does, Gentry might partake in a few more beers along the way.
He will have earned it.