NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans are looking for a new coach to oversee the still nascent Zion Williamson era.
The Pelicans fired 65-year-old coach Alvin Gentry on Saturday after the club missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
New Orleans went 30-42 this season, finishing with just two victories in its final eight games despite the presence of top overall draft choice Zion Williamson and first-time All-Star Brandon Ingram in the lineup until the club was eliminated from playoff contention with two games to play.
But Griffin asserted during a video media conference that a coaching change might have been forthcoming even if New Orleans had rallied to capture one of the Western Conference’s final playoff spots.
“The wins and losses have very little to do with this,” Griffin said. “This is really about the process. This is about the shared vision of how we’re going to go forward and what this looks like as we build.”
While Griffin declined to answer specific questions about potential candidates, he said he expects the club’s coaching search to move deliberately, in part because many candidates are on the staffs of teams that have made the playoffs.
“We will not be quick with this at all. This is not a rush. We have a job that we believe is going to be the most attractive in the NBA,” Griffin said, adding that the coronavirus pandemic also could slow the timeline for a hire because of the importance he places on getting to know candidates face to face.
“This isn’t going to be done solely via Zoom,” Griffin said. “It’s very difficult to find the right voice with the right group of people that have a shared vision. I would tell you that hiring a head coach is the hardest thing we do from a front office perspective because it impacts every single part of your organization, and it has the biggest impact every day on your players and the culture that you’re trying to build.”
Griffin has known Gentry since both worked for the Phoenix Suns from 2004 to 2010, and said the decision to change coaches was “really difficult on a human level.”
Griffin also emphasized that Gentry’s coaching ability was never in question.
“He hasn’t forgotten how to coach and this isn’t about any shortcomings that we perceived in that way,” Griffin said. “This is far more about finding the right fit and a shared vision for a very young and ambitious group moving forward.”
The Pelicans had three starters this season — Williamson, Ingram and Lonzo Ball — who were younger than 24 and had no playoff experience. Two other regulars — Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander Walker — were also 2019 first-round draft choices. And the Pelicans have a slew of draft picks still to come from last year’s trade of Anthony Davis to the Lakers.
Gentry went 175-225 since his hiring by former Pelicans general manager Dell Demps after the club fired Monte Williams following the 2014-15 season, when Davis was the face of the franchise.
New Orleans made the playoffs in Gentry’s third season, sweeping Portland in the first round before falling to eventual champion Golden State in the second. But the Pelicans were derailed the following season by a combination of injuries and Davis’ trade demand, which precipitated Demps’ firing.
Gentry was retained even after Demps was replaced by Griffin and the coach’s contract was extended through the end of next season.
But New Orleans faltered once again this season, starting 6-22 and labouring through a franchise record 13-game losing streak while Williamson missed the first 44 games of the season while recovering from knee surgery.
The Pelicans rallied back into contention for a playoff berth and were virtually at full health when the season resumed in central Florida late last month after a hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Odds makers favoured them to make the playoffs, but losses in four of six after resuming their season eliminated them from playoff contention.
“I want to thank Alvin for his contributions to the Pelicans and the New Orleans community,” Pelicans owner Gayle Benson said. “We believe that making a head coaching change is necessary at this time. I truly appreciate Alvin’s leadership, dedication and perseverance through some challenging circumstances over the past five seasons.”
Gentry came to New Orleans from Golden State, where he was a top assistant under Steve Kerr when the Warriors won the 2015 NBA title.
New Orleans marked Gentry’s fifth head coaching stop. He also has served as a head coach with Miami, Detroit, the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix, compiling a career coaching record of 510-595.
Gentry’s coaching staff remains employed and includes assistant Chris Finch, who Griffin said will be a head coaching candidate for several teams.
“We feel very strongly about the assistant coaching staff,” Griffin said. “Some of those individuals potentially will be head coaching candidates elsewhere — Chris Finch certainly among them. And we feel strongly about Chris. He’ll be part of our conversation moving forward. And it’s our intention that many of our staffers here will continue with the next regime in some form.”