As the waves of change crash all around him, Alvin Gentry remains unmoved.
Upheaval defined the New Orleans Pelicans’ past five months. The roster and front office underwent significant turnover, prompting the franchise to even recalibrate its foundational structure.
Yet, its coach somehow received a dose of assuredness.
Gentry isn’t going anywhere.
Considering the frequency of NBA coaching changes, Gentry’s security prompted fans to question why wasn’t he swept away in the franchise’s quest for a perception overhaul, especially when new vice president of basketball operations David Griffin assumed control last month?
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It certainly isn’t Gentry’s 134-183 record in New Orleans, which includes three losing seasons sandwiched around a trip to the Western Conference semifinals. And it’s not his career record of 480-553, highlighted by a 2010 Western Conference Finals appearance.
Because, frankly, most coaches who posted those results would be fired in the midst of a regime change. But, for Gentry, it requires a deeper examination to see how he fits and why he’s still a fixture with the Pelicans entering the 2019-20 season.
The most favorable feature is not his coaching. It’s his personality.
The lighthearted, professional and charismatic persona is something the team desperately needed in the wake of Anthony Davis’ trade request, when Gentry singularly spoke on behalf of the franchise in the midst of a public relations maelstrom. It played particularly well inside the Pelicans’ locker room and in its executive offices, where Gentry’s stock rose even as the team’s record cratered.
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“I think the way he handled everything, the way he handled the locker room, he was the ultimate professional,” guard Jrue Holiday said. “He’s always been a partner instead of a dictator. For professionals like ourselves in the locker room, we really respect that.”
It exemplified the staying power that’s allowed him to serve as a head coach five different times. Particularly when running struggling teams or handling rebuilding situations, the record of success is a lower priority than the proper personality fit.
And given the Pelicans’ current circumstances, Griffin felt Gentry was the best match to start his tenure with. Not only is he already under contract, the pair developed a longstanding friendship working alongside each other in Phoenix, allowing a natural trust to blossom.
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“Keeping him around was a no-brainer for me,” Griffin said. “Once we met and talked about where he was in his thought process and his desire to be part of what the vision was, it was a given to me. The only reason it’s meaningful to have a relationship with Alvin is we can look each other in the eye and call each other on things. He is very much of the mindset to do that.”
It’s why Pelicans’ ownership was eager to halt their flood of changes when it reached the bench.
At this point Griffin’s priority isn’t necessarily to employ the most cutting-edge coach, capable of maximizing every single possession through strategy. Primarily, Griffin needs a trustworthy voice at the ground level, so he can analyze issues with a clear head, especially if the Davis trade and the upcoming draft completely revamp the Pelicans’ roster.
First and foremost, Griffin needs to know what he has. And Gentry can provide the unfiltered voice to tell him about it.
The two sides boast of their ability to vehemently disagree behind the closed doors of a meeting, step out of the room and walk in lockstep with each other once the decision is made. At this point in Griffin’s process, that stuff matters more than pick-and-roll coverages.
It’s understandable for Pelicans’ fans to experience some angst when they’re told everything is different, but the coach doesn’t change. It’s especially fair considering Gentry’s record, the losing seasons they’ve watched, and some of the admitted coaching blunders fans have witnessed (like getting hit with a technical foul for calling a timeout he didn’t have).
Of all people, Gentry knows the coaching profession is day-to-day. The needs of a franchise are dictated by the situation they’re putting the coach in.
What Griffin needs right now might not be what he needs in October. And if those priorities change, the ability to switch coaches is at his disposal. And it’s a lot easier to hire a new coach in the future than if he hired someone now, especially since even Griffin doesn’t know who will occupy half of the roster next season.
The future of head coaches often has less to do with records than you may think.
Because of the impending trade and a high draft pick, the Pelicans are waiting to find out what kind of team they’ll be. But they know what they need from a coach in the meantime.
Griffin desires an experienced hand who isn’t paranoid about his job security and isn’t afraid to pull punches about telling management what he’s seeing. Gentry meets those criteria.
So, it might look strange for the coach with a losing record to survive the storm, but Gentry knows exactly why he did.
“Alvin is at his best when he’s fearless Alvin,” Griffin said. “When he’s not looking over his shoulder and not feeling like he has to do everything by himself. So I think we can put him in a space to be the best of his angels. And when he’s the lesser of his angels, or when I am, we can have it out with the other.
“I think it’s a really good situation.”