For All the Wrong Reasons: Coaching Change

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Published: November 21, 2015

It’s been several weeks since the New Orleans Pelicans 2015 offseason action, for the most part, came and went. The offseason has been met with mixed reviews. I do think that the offseason is correctly judged as mixed: I see it as good from some perspectives, bad from others. On the surface, then, I agree with the general assessment. However, I think that the conclusion is reached by some for the wrong reasons.

As in many arenas, the correct conclusion or consequence is simply not enough. Arriving at the right conclusion with the right explanation is infinitely more valuable when it comes to understanding the larger collection of items of interest. In this case, this is what the Pelicans are doing, and by extension, where they are “going.”

I’ll look at a few things, but today I’ll tackle the case of Monty Williams.

Objection: Monty deserved another year.
Support: Monty needed to go.

I’ll handle these issues together since they are related.

I’m pretty convinced that Monty Williams was not going to be the Head Coach to take Davis to a title. If he was going to be able to do so, it would have been with some extensive staff changes, such as the addition of some trusted assistants. In my opinion, he’d not shown the ability to take the chances needed to win a title, and I’m not sure he’s got it in him. He may, but we’ll probably never know.

That said, in my opinion, his teams outperformed expectations each year, when injuries are considered. There were clear issues, but the overall results were on the plus side. It was widely reported that there was a “Major League”-esque stipulation on the season that the team must make the playoffs for Monty (and Dell?) to keep their jobs. They made the playoffs, and Dell kept his job while Monty did not, despite public comments of support following the season.

Lastly, Monty himself said he felt blind-sided by the news. He said he got the call to come to Mickey Loomis’ office and expected it to be discussion of an extension, not termination.

So, I’m not sure about deserved, but I would not have been upset about him working through that year of his contract.

Support: Since the team could not upgrade it’s roster, it needed to upgrade its coaching to show Davis, the fans the team was still moving forward.

There’s some good logic here. In a “What have you done for me lately” world and an offseason where there’s going to be scant excitement, you want to have something to point to in order to give Davis any assurance he needs prior to signing his extension, which he did. You also want to be able to give fans a reason to buy, or keep buying, tickets.

From an on-the-court, Dell assembled this roster over the past few years, and I think, despite the success achieved, that the style of play was such that it allowed him to really see the team perform as intended. Bringing in Gentry without major roster changes being possible allows a clear evaluation of the talent Dell believed in. It’s a rare chance. Alone, it’s not a reason to change coaches, but it’s a little sweetener.

Objection: Gentry is not a good coach

I’m sorry, but this is a very poorly considered objection. Measuring a coach by overall record aside from context is bad form, as is only considering one kind of coaching. Monty Williams is a good coach and so is Alvin Gentry. Gentry is more experienced and just got himself a ring. They don’t make too many of those, and to dismiss his role in that organization because of unrelated losses years before is fallacious and lazy.

Objection: Gentry was the cheapest option

This is patently false. The cheapest option was . . . Monty Williams. It’s cheaper to pay just him than him and another coach, which is something that was a distinct possibility.

Speaking just of Gentry’s salary compared to that of other coaches, well, I bet there is little specific information on the salary demands of actual options. Other coaches were interviewed or had their names floated as candidates, but those coaches have preferences, too. Hoiberg wanted Chicago and Chicago wanted him. That’s the central issue with him. No one picked up Calipari, so pretending that he was dying to get in the NBA and that he’d be better this time than last time (for the record-quoters) is simply inconsistent. Only recently it came that maybe the Kings might try to get Calipari to try to salvage their investment in Cousins, a unique situation. So, if getting ahead of the Kings’ curve is the smart thing, then go after Cal.

There are other objections, but these are the ones I’ve heard the most often in the echo-chamber of the internet and from a few people in other conversations.

My Thoughts: I want to share why I think the change was actually made.

I stated above that while I thought Monty Williams is a good coach, he’s just not right for this team on this trajectory in the role of Head Coach. It’s a shame, but I think that’s true. Even still, I could see letting Monty Williams play out that season after he made he playoffs.

So, it’s not a question of if Monty should have been let go, but why right then?

Ownership.

Monty came to New Orleans while the team was in the midst of an ownership crisis despite having a younger superstar and core that had made the playoffs. The situation was just unappealing to the most highly qualified candidates. Whether or not Shinn or the new ownership would have paid a highly qualified coach was irrelevant because they would not have taken the job in such an unstable situation, with Shinn’s reputation for his spending level, Chouest relying too heavily on outside investors who kept driving the price down, and Shinn and Chouest disagreeing on just how the transaction would be structured.

Dell came after Monty in an odd hiring order. Both were ready for top jobs in an NBA franchise, but neither had a proved record, and Shinn bought in. The NBA made no changes while they owned the team, and Benson’s group kept them for years.

Dell has proved himself far beyond competent and seems to have a vision for the team Davis approves of . . . and he was extended, however quietly.

Monty was not the guy for the future, but waiting until next Summer is too fraught with risk to attempt. Major events in the Benson trust cases were scheduled between last summer and this coming one, including a major trial set for June 2016.

Locking up a coach before the darkest ownership times adds what stability that there can be going through that. The sooner it is done, the more trust there is between Davis and that circle that forms around him while the court fights rage on.

Feel free, Saints fans, to look at the team’s moves, coaching rumors, and Brees’ contract situation from this perspective and see if you conclude that the team is trying to make some key decisions before June rather than after, too.

It’s really quite sad that this keeps happening, and I’m still not quite sure the ownership news came out in January when the actually asset swap in the intentionally defective swap was complete. That seems to have been a major error, but the real question is if it was unforced, to borrow a baseball metaphor.

Still, this is my theory, and to me, it’s a sign of things getting worse before they get better on that front, but getting out ahead of it as best as they could was a good plan, and, frankly, I approve.

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