Pistons Pelicans Basketball

New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry talks to guard Jrue Holiday (11) and New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, in street clothes due to an injury, in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons in New Orleans, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The Pistons won 98-94. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Alvin Gentry is ready to get back to focusing on basketball, and the last two weeks the action between the baselines has almost been an after-thought. But the Pelicans coach and the rest of his roster will do their best during Friday night’s game against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves – and beyond – to inject some normalcy on and off the floor to a team submerged in turmoil the last 11 days.

The start of that process begins with Anthony Davis’ return to the court after missing the team’s last nine games. The stretch began with a left index finger injury on Jan. 18 but turned into a sideshow Jan. 28 when his agent Rich Paul told members of the media that his all-star forward was requesting a trade and that he would not be signing a contract extension after the 2019-20 season.

After the New Orleans front office did not complete a trade involving him before Thursday’s trade deadline, Gentry announced before Friday’s game that Davis would return to the lineup and start, after it was revealed the team could be in rough standing with the league by holding him out to preserve his health and trade value.

Davis, who has averaged 29.3 points and 13.3 rebounds in 37 minutes a game this season, won’t play his full slate of minutes Friday, just like any player returning from an injury. Gentry added that his star forward’s status for minutes going forward and availability back-to-backs – like this weekend’s with Saturday’s road game in Memphis – will depend on conversations between the team and Davis going forward.

But regardless of what has transpired over the last two weeks, a team that made a push to the second round of the playoffs a year ago and had hopes to match that coming into this campaign but sits 5.5 games out of the final playoff spot could certainly use an all-star back on the floor.

“He gives us the best opportunity to try and win games,” Gentry said. “I think anyone that’s a competitor will like having him back.

“When you’re a competitor and you step out between the lines, you’re going to play basketball and try to do the best you can with your teammates to try and win a basketball game, and I think that’s where we are right now. I think the shock of the whole thing is over.”

The next hurdle for Gentry comes with finding a way to balance Davis’ normal load of minutes, along with others like Julius Randle and E’Twaun Moore returning from injury, paired with young players like Kenrich Williams and Jahlil Okafor who have slid into the starting lineup with more than 30 minutes a game and the boost in production and development to follow.

Winning with Davis is a short-term ambition, but Gentry said he doesn’t want to lose sight of developing players who could be the young core of his team moving forward.

“In some type of way, we have to keep them in the rotation,” he said. “Obviously, they may not play the amount of minutes they’ve been playing.

“But I do think we have to … put them in situations where we can see where their development is going and see how they’re doing against the better players in our league and with the better guys on our team.”

Follow Nathan Brown on Twitter, @nbrownadvocate.