Coaches and front office members are often judged by what unfolds on the court and in signed contracts, but underneath it all New Orleans Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry has always said it’s about building trust.
Gentry’s belief in prioritizing relationships helped persuade a once-cautious Anthony Davis into being a full believer in the future of the Pelicans. The superstar forward needed less than a minute to come to terms with the franchise at the onset of free agency Monday night, shaking hands and exchanging hugs over a meal in Beverly Hills, California.
It didn’t hurt that general manager Dell Demps offered Davis the most lucrative contract in NBA history either. The deal stretches for five years and is worth upwards of $145 million with a player-option for the final season.
It keeps Davis on the Pelicans payroll until at least the summer of 2020 and ensures the franchise has a first-team All-NBA cornerstone to build from.
And while the Pelicans were steadfastly confident throughout its coaching search that Davis would eventually sign, thanks to a strong relationship with Demps, sources said there was initial concern he may delay signing it as the franchise worked its way through the offseason, just so he could properly gauge everything.
It’s part of the reason Gentry said he wanted to get in front of Davis and the rest of the Pelicans this summer. It was a chance to connect and start building a foundation of trust before training camp even opens.
“That’s why I think it’s important to visit with everybody face to face,” Gentry said last week. “We text back and forth, but, to me, I guess that’s where my age shows. Texting can be so misleading that I don’t want to do it on those huge things. I want to be face to face.”
Considering Davis was tweeting out a picture of himself flanked by Demps and Gentry, along with agent Thad Foucher, one minute after the extension was offered, the personal touch clearly paid off. And, to Gentry, it represents the kind of foundation shared in many of the NBA’s greatest success stories.
“(Relationships) mean a ton, an absolute ton.” Gentry said last week. “To me, the better coaches in this league are the guys who communicate.
“You look at (Spurs coach) Gregg Popovich and see the kind of relationship he had with (Manu) Ginobili, (Tony) Parker and Tim Duncan, and you can go all the way back to Larry Brown or Phil Jackson’s relationships with Michael Jordan and Scottie (Pippen) and Shaq(uille O’Neal) and Kobe (Bryant). All of those coach-to-player partnerships are huge factors in those teams having the kind of success they did.”
Now, Davis is set to carry the franchise through the next five seasons, earning at least 25 percent of the team’s salary cap starting in 2016-17. If he’s named a starter in the NBA All-Star Game, first-team All-NBA or wins MVP, that number will jump to 30 percent, thanks to the Derrick Rose Rule.
The deal will escalate annually as the salary cap moves and was the most lucrative deal signed in this free agency period because it doesn’t officially kick in until next summer, when the cap jumps by nearly 30 percent thanks to a new television contract.
So now the franchise’s future on-court performance essentially belongs to Davis and Gentry. And their relationship will evolve and grow, but rarely will be more important than it was at a California restaurant on Tuesday night.
“Alvin knows how to make people feel comfortable and how to make people feel heard,” ESPN’s Amin Elhassan, who served on Gentry’s staff in Phoenix, said in a recent interview. “He finds a way to connect. He finds something you might like and he learns about it and he gets interested in it and then he’ll talk to you endlessly about it. It’s hard to find someone like that.
“He truly values people and he values ideas and that’s hard to find. It’s why people love him, because they know he cares and I don’t have any doubt AD is going to love playing for him.”