Before the “dumpster fire” comments, before having his injured and disgruntled star forward leaving the arena with his agent under the pretense of an MRI, even before his team’s general manager was fired just hours into the All-Star break, Alvin Gentry knew the circus that has followed the team since Jan. 28 wasn’t about to go away with one week’s vacation.
Following his team’s 30-point blowout at home to the Orlando Magic on Feb. 12 and before their surprising victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 14, the Pelicans coach’s experience with disruptive off-the-court issues during his 31 years in the league could tell him that much.
“The bottom line is, when we come back, everything is still there. We have to find a way to compartmentalize it,” he said a week ago. “We’ve got to think about what we’ve got to accomplish and who we’re playing and how we’ve got to attack that particular team to try and give us a chance to win.
“As a coach, that’s what I worry about.”
His coaching staff and players returned to the team facilities Wednesday for what Gentry described as a traditionally “bad” practice returning from the break, but his first two looks at his squad heading into New Orleans’ final 23 games of this campaign were spirited and competitive as they prepare for a back-to-back Friday against the Pacers in Indianapolis and Saturday at home against the Los Angeles Lakers.
But after speaking with Anthony Davis and interim GM Danny Ferry in a closed-door meeting moments before addressing the media Thursday, there was no escaping the elephant on the practice court.
Yes, Davis will play Friday. Yes, he will start. Yes, his shoulder is fine. No, the Pelicans wouldn't commit to a plan regarding Davis beyond Friday's game. A can kicked down the road for another day.
“Let’s get to that one, and then we can worry about everything else,” Gentry said. “I’m not navigating it anymore. I’m done. I’m going to coach the team, that’s what I’m here for. I’m not navigating any other questions that don’t have to do with basketball or our performance or the opponent we’re playing.”
Gentry did elaborate a bit, though, saying the situation surrounding Davis’ trade demand through his agent Rich Paul Jan. 28 has been the strangest thing he’s been part of “in my life.”
“As a coach, you’ve got to get your guys to see if they can focus on the task at hand, and that’s not easy to do with what’s going on right now. That’s asking a lot out of anybody with the way things have been,” he said. “But that’s what we’re here to do.”
He went on to vocalize his appreciation for a small but loyal fan base that has stood by his team as a whole while allegiances to specific players around the country are close to an all-time high.
“We’ve gotten standing ovations at halftime. That hasn’t happened since I’ve been here,” he said. “I think there’s a dedication with the fans here that you don’t find in any other city.
“Our goal is to get more people to come out to the games, but the ones that have shown up and been there have been more than supportive of what our guys are doing, and I know they really appreciate it.”
Fourth-year big man Jahlil Okafor, who has been thrust onto center stage with Davis’ absences during the past month, said the break was good for he and his teammates, but that the chemistry in the locker room is still unchanged and vibrant for a team sitting six games out of the last playoff spot sitting in NBA purgatory until free agency opens in July.
“It’s still normal for us, and I think that’s credit to (Anthony Davis),” he said. “He’s been such a great teammate and such a great person that we love having him around. I think everyone around here selfishly would like him to stay, but at the end of the day, we want him to be happy and what’s best for him. It’s not awkward at all.”