New Orleans Pelicans: The uphill battle Alvin Gentry is facing

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans, with coach Alvin Gentry, appear to be groomed for a breakout season, but Gentry must find early success in order to keep his job.

The New Orleans Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry to be their head coach on May 30, 2015, and he has held that position ever since. In that time Gentry has compiled a less-than-stellar record of 145-183.

The lone year a Gentry-led Pelicans squad made the playoffs (they reached the Western Conference semifinals) was the 2017-18 season and the roster featured DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday and a few other solid  contributors.

More from Hoops Habit

Not only was it Gentry’s first and only  playoff appearance with the Pelicans, but it was also the most talented roster he had the privilege of coaching (the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns also have a case), even with Cousins going down for the season with an Achilles tear prior to the All-Star break.

Gentry has been a head coach for 1,033 NBA games, and has won 480 of those contests, while losing 553.

The New Orleans Pelicans are his fifth team and he has been fired or agreed to “mutually part ways” from his four previous jobs that included stints with the Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, L.A. Clippers and Phoenix Suns.

This season will mark Gentry’s fifth with the Pelicans and will tie his tenure with the Phoenix Suns for his longest.

In Miami, Gentry was let go as he was only an interim for half of the season, in Detroit he was fired a year after making the playoffs.

His next stop was with the Clippers, where he was let go after nearly three uneventful seasons, and finally the Suns decided it was time to pull the plug just two seasons after a loss in the Western Conference Finals.

The obvious conclusion that can be drawn from these various coaching stops is that Gentry has really not had time to develop his players, and establish a culture for his teams. Prior to the Suns, Gentry had not even had the opportunity to coach a team for three entire seasons.

When he was able to show what he could do with a team over an extended period of time he went 158-144 with those Suns.

This record is not amazing, but it clearly outshines Gentry’s .465 win percentage for his career. It should encourage both the New Orleans Pelican’s fans and front office that when given a solid cast of players, Gentry has shown that he can lead them well.

Unfortunately for Gentry there is no position in basketball more fragile than that of head coach.

In this year’s NBA Finals everyone was talking about the brilliance of Kawhi Leonard and blatantly ignoring the acumen of coach Nick Nurse and his deployment of the box-and-1 defense that stifled the Golden State Warriors‘ offense.

During the 2015-16 season head David Blatt was fired from the Cleveland Cavaliers one year removed from an NBA Finals loss and while sporting an impressive 30-11 record.

Long story short, when teams are succeeding coaches are the last to get credit, and when things are going poorly, the first to receive blame.

Just last season some Boston Celtics‘ fans were calling for Brad Stevens’ job even after he had led the team to four straight playoff appearances and two straight Eastern Conference Finals, while also improving the team’s record each season he was at the helm.

This brings us to the situation Alvin Gentry currently finds himself in. The New Orleans Pelicans is the most freedom Gentry has had in his career, and perhaps the least amount of pressure, until now.

With executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin commanding the front office, the Pelicans find themselves with a roster boasting a plethora of young, exciting players, as well as savvy veterans.

In two or three years, this team could be one of the most formidable in basketball. The question is: what does Alvin Gentry have to do in order to see this team through until then?

Gentry’s tenure could end very similarly to that of Mark Jackson‘s in Golden State. Jackson was calling the shots for the Warriors from 2011-14, making the playoffs twice and improving the team’s record each season.

Jackson was let go by the Warriors following the 2013-14 season and while the team acknowledged his positive impact, they did not feel he could be the one to lead them to the Finals.

Jackson was forced to watch Steve Kerr reap the fruits of his labor, winning a title the next year and going to five straight Finals (and counting).

That’s the frustrating life of an NBA head coach: You can do everything right, and it still may be viewed as not enough to keep your job.

In order to see the leeway that Gentry has with the New Orleans Pelicans, our best gauge is history. History is not on Gentry’s side in this case and if that is our judge he is already living on borrowed time.

Of the five coaches the New Orleans Pelicans/Hornets have had preceding Gentry, only two have survived more than three seasons and one (Byron Scott) even won a Coach of the Year award.

There is no perfect formula for determining just what Gentry must do in order to keep his job. In his three years with the Houston Rockets, Mike D’Antoni has been to two Western Conference semifinals and one conference finals and even he can’t get the contract extension he wants.

We are currently operating in a players’ league so Gentry’s first step to longevity is getting his revamped roster to trust him.

If the players trust and even like their head coach, it does not only make for an ideal locker room situation, but it also motivates the players and leads to on-court production.

Stan Van Gundy was a very good coach, leading the Orlando Magic to five straight playoff appearances and one NBA Finals appearance, but because he butted heads with star player Dwight Howard, he was let go.

Dwane Casey was named Coach of the Year in the 2017-18 season … after he had been fired. The examples of coaches being seemingly at the top of their craft to fall off the mountaintop is quite literally endless.

After Gentry gains the trust of his players, his next key is to avoid stagnation. With Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick, Jaxson Hayes, Josh Hart and other good players in tow, the Pelicans will not be satisfied with some early-round playoff exits.

Gentry will need to improve his team’s record and playoff advancement each and every year, while helping Ball, Ingram, Hayes and Williamson reach their full potential if he wants a fighter’s chance of sticking around.

As we’ve seen, even if you have the trust of the players and are able to improve your team year-by-year that is still not always enough, but it is Gentry’s and every other NBA coaches only option.

Next. Each NBA team's greatest coach ever. dark

Gentry has what it takes to mold this roster into a contender, now we will see if he has enough grains of sand left in the ever-pouring hourglass that is professional coaching.