The energy and excitement that Alvin Gentry carried over from the championship-winning Golden State Warriors to his new home in New Orleans was welcomed by fans and members of the Pelicans organization alike.
It is hard not to be excited when the man is thinking about his new team as he himself is celebrating. That mindset is exactly what many people want to hear from a new coach, including the players. Anthony Davis wasted no time in signing his max extension after Gentry officially came aboard.
Unfortunately, while those high expectations were what players, management and fans wanted to hear, they were not what needed to be heard.
In fact, they may have been the opposite.
There is an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Alvin Gentry meant nothing but the best during his celebration and when talking to John Reid of the Times-Picayune this past September:
”Why can’t we be the Golden State of next year? I would like nothing more for us as Pelicans to have a parade right down Canal Street and enjoy it, too. That’s our goal here.”
”I said it to A.D. (Anthony Davis), said it to Eric (Gordon) and all the guys – why can’t we have that special year?” said Gentry. ”Why can’t we be the Golden State of next year? Why can’t this be our time? I would like nothing more for us as Pelicans to have a parade right down Canal Street and enjoy it, too. That’s our goal here. I think it’s very attainable, obviously we’ve got a great start.”
Nov 12, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon (10) and guard Jrue Holiday (11) and forward Anthony Davis (23) celebrate after a basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Lakers 109-102. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
This all sounds well and good. I want nothing more than to see that very sight on Canal Street one day, just like thousands of other Pelicans fans. But setting the bar so high so fast is a dangerous endeavor.
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Since Steve Kerr became Head Coach before the 2014-15 season, the Golden State Warriors have taken the league by storm. The unprecedented versatility of the roster allowed for the implementation of lineups and strategies by Kerr and company that were not only incredibly unique, but extremely effective.
The success of the team appeared to culminate with their NBA Finals victory that very season, but a historic start to this season has shown that their work is far from done.
What fans and team officials must understand is that emulating that kind of success would be like catching lightning in a bottle, and they cannot expect similar results each time they hire a new coach.
Not only did the Warriors surpass even the wildest expectations of the most optimistic of executives by winning the title, but they did so earlier than anyone could have imagined.
I think it would be safe to assume that winning one playoff series would have been a positive, considering Kerr had never coached before and the team was still very young. A trip to the Western Conference Finals would have like been a rousing success.
Jun 19, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry holds the the Larry O
The players would never admit so the were satisfied with that result, but ultimately they should not be disappointed. The Warriors’ season could have been ruled a successful one even if they had not won a championship. The fact that they did anyway was the proverbial icing on the cake.
Every franchise has championship dreams. And that is all that they are, barring a miracle.
If Danilo Gallinari and Emmanuel Mudiay both emerged as full-fledged superstars and carried the Nuggets to a title this year, more power to them.
But it just isn’t likely.
Competing on a nightly basis and developing young talent would be viewed as a success for that team. The possibility of grabbing the eighth seed in the Western Conference?
Sure, anything can happen, but would anyone in the Nuggets organization be upset that they did not run the gauntlet and be crowned the NBA Champions?
Well, probably, at least for a brief while. But in the grand scheme of things, no!
They accomplished what they wanted during the season and in addition, they received some valuable playoff experience. For teams like the Nuggets, setting these expectations for a season is not wrong: it is just realistic.
Apr 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams celebrates with guard Eric Gordon (10) following a win against the San Antonio Spurs at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Spurs 108-103 to earn the 8th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Last season, the Pelicans front-office supposedly imposed a “playoff or bust” mandate on Monty Williams and Dell Demps. When they made the playoffs on the very last day of the regular season, the team celebrated.
That celebration was not well received by the media and the public. “Why are the celebrating when all they did was make the playoffs?” and “They did not accomplish anything yet” were just a couple of responses to seeing the team so happily earn the team’s first trip to the playoffs since 2011.
But why shouldn’t they celebrate?
There was a clear goal set for the season: make the playoffs, and they accomplished that goal.
They earned the right to be happy and enjoy that moment, even if it isn’t the penultimate accomplishment in the NBA. I don’t know about you, but if I won $1 million in the Powerball, I would not be sulking around just because I didn’t win the grand prize.
Some teams have championship goals, and the difference between them and dreams is more important than you may think.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Los Angeles Clippers are just a handful of teams who are thinking “championship or bust”.
It is no coincidence that they all reside at or around the top of the standings given that mindset and the roster they have constructed and the success they have had in recent seasons. The Warriors, who have proven they are viable contenders, are a part of that group as well.
The Pelicans have not, and are not, despite what possibilities were floating around in the preseason.
Dec 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) talks to head coach Alvin Gentry during the first half of a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
It is not hard to see why Gentry would feel so adamant about this team’s chances. They scratched and clawed into the playoffs through one of the toughest conferences the league has ever seen, they fought tooth and nail against the Golden State Warriors in round one, and they featured a roster full of young, talented players led by one of the best players in the league, Anthony Davis.
But the difference in the development of those Warriors and these Pelicans continues to become increasingly visible.
If championship goals were truly set for this team, it is time for Alvin Gentry and the management to recalibrate.
It is up to them to set achievable goals for their team.
It may not be what everyone wants to hear, but this team is not ready to contend for a title yet, and it was not at the start of the season either. Let the team achieve something first.
Make the playoffs again.
Win a playoff series.
Those are attainable goals that could give each player a sense of accomplishment. It was obvious that Monty Williams set the bar at making the playoffs last year.
Coaches, players, and executives alike were ecstatic. I was ecstatic. The season could have ended right then and there, and everyone would have been perfectly fine with it. Again, anything extra was a bonus.
Why not just slightly push the envelope?
Aim for a playoff series victory, and try to add as much gravy as possible afterwards. That is what the Warriors did, and look at them now.
Presently, the Pelicans have dug themselves a pretty big hole that makes even a playoff berth seem like nothing but a pipe dream. It is too late to go back and rehash the goals from the beginning of the season, but hopefully everyone involved can use this year as a learning experience.
In essence, the Pelicans have become victims over their own success.
If this team just goes out onto the court for the rest of the season not worrying about meeting dreamlike expectations — we may have something worth celebrating this season, after all……