Entering his third season as New Orleans Pelicans head coach, Alvin Gentry sat down with Pelicans.com this week for an extensive interview. In the first of a two-part series, Gentry delved into the significance of training camp for his team this fall, the draft next month, the uniqueness of living in the Crescent City and more.
Pelicans.com: You’ve spoken extensively recently about the importance of having training camp for this team. For the casual fan, what does the mean? How is having a training camp important compared to other situations where you’ve kind of had to go on the fly with the players available at any given time?
Gentry: It’s the reason that you just said, going on the fly. What you have to do in training camp is establish what kind of team you’re going to be, what kind of defense you’re going to play, what you’re going to do offensively. The only way you can establish that is through repetition. The only opportunity to gain that repetition is through training camp, because you get the practice time, and you’re going twice a day (to begin camp). Then, in preseason games, you can experiment with what you’re trying to do, the different combinations of players you might want to play. There are so many different things that make those two or three weeks important, before you actually start playing regular season games.
Pelicans.com: Do you feel like that’s something you’ve never really had in the two years you’ve been here? To be able to say, this is the team we’re going to have on the floor and let’s go from there?
Gentry: I have not had that. And that’s probably the most frustrating thing that I’ve gone through here. I have not had an opportunity to have a training camp where the team I anticipated coaching when I got here, was there on the court. I’ve never coached the team – not for one day – that we played (against in the 2015 playoffs) when I was on the staff at Golden State. Not for one day. That team was never healthy, which is the most frustrating part.
The guy that I really thought was important to that (2014-15 Pelicans) team, who I’ve never coached for one day, was Quincy Pondexter. I thought he was kind of a glue guy and did a lot of things. He added shooting out on the floor. So that’s been really tough. We started (the 2015-16 regular season against Golden State) and had two guards (playing significant minutes) for us where we had just picked up one from the waiver wire (Ish Smith) and another one (Nate Robinson, who was unsigned that fall). We never really got to the point where we were healthy and knew our identity.
Then there was Jrue (Holiday’s) situation with the injury (early in 2015-16 that included a minute restriction and unavailability for back-to-backs) and then the situation with his wife (he missed the first 12 games of 2016-17 while caring for Lauren). We also had Anthony Davis go through the shoulder thing (where he was sidelined for the final 14 games of 2015-16) and Ryan (Anderson), Tyreke (Evans), Eric Gordon. It was one those things where you just wished you had an opportunity to have a healthy team and establish who you’re going to be, then see what the results would be.
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Pelicans.com: You mention Quincy Pondexter. I’m not sure anyone necessarily realized how much importance he had to the team two years ago, partly because he came to New Orleans midway through 2014-15. Do you think with the way the NBA is rapidly changing – where there is greater emphasis on three-point shooting and defensive versatility – that what he brings to a team may actually be even more valuable now than it was two years ago?
Gentry: I don’t think there is any doubt about that at all. Those kinds of players have become very valuable, guys who are multi-position players, guys who can be a stretch-four kind of player. The ability to give a team that option to play small is another aspect. Quincy fits the bill for all of that. It’s just unfortunate what he’s been going through. I hope that some kind of way he can get himself back to a position where he’s playing. But it’s been a tough road for him – I’ve got unbelievable sympathy for him in what he’s gone through and how he’s trying to get back on the floor.
Pelicans.com: It seems like he’s always been well-liked around the team, partly as a guy who is always positive around the fans and his teammates, even when he’s not playing.
Gentry: And I think he would’ve been one of the leaders of this team. He’s a natural leader. That would’ve been part of the equation here.
Pelicans.com: The team has the No. 40 pick in the June draft. What are your early impressions of this draft class in terms of depth?
Gentry: I think there are a lot of good players, but we may be a little bit naïve to think that we’re going to pick a guy at 40 who is going to be a real factor on our team (immediately). Now, you can get lucky and do that, and obviously there is a lot of research you do to prepare for trying to do that. But if you look over the history of the 40th pick in the draft, he’s not been a guy who’s been a huge contributor to a team, for the most part. We want to catch lightning in a bottle, but I don’t know if that’s realistic.
Pelicans.com: So is it possible you look more at that player as someone you try to develop?
Gentry: Yes, it’s probably going to be a developmental player. It’s somebody you evaluate from a scouting standpoint and see where he is, then put him in a position to develop him.
Pelicans.com: You’ve lived in a wide range of places during your coaching career. What are some of the biggest differences between living here in New Orleans and other cities?
Gentry: First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a city where the fan base is more loyal to their teams, whether it is the Saints, us, LSU, whatever. There is a loyalty here that you don’t see in very many places. To me, it’s the unconditional loyalty that makes this place special. There are not any fair-weather fans. They are in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve either been in a restaurant, or walking down the street, and all of a sudden someone comes up and says, “Hey Coach, we’re behind you. Hang in. We’re going to get healthy and we’re going to be good.” Or “Hey, I like the addition of DeMarcus Cousins.” I think that’s what makes this place so special. There is a genuine love for the teams here, but there is a genuine love for the city, and that’s what I appreciate. I love this city. I love the food, the people. I live in the Garden District and love where I live. It’s a place that is very addicting. When you spend a few years here, you become one of them. You really do.
Pelicans.com: One of the first things many people notice when they move here is the rampant pride people have to be from New Orleans, something that’s probably not as common in many other places.
Gentry: They brag about it all the time. For me, the most amazing thing was when I got here – I was an assistant coach for one season in the early 2000s – whenever you ask someone where they went to school, they always tell you their high school. I don’t think that’s happened anywhere else I’ve been. You ask where they went to school and they’ll say Newman or Brother Martin or Sacred Heart or Jesuit. That just doesn’t happen elsewhere. It lets you know how grounded the people are here in this city and what it means to them.
Pelicans.com: It also feels like the most tight-knit city you could ever imagine. You meet more people who are adamant about staying here permanently, as opposed to other places where high school or college-aged students can’t wait to move elsewhere.
Gentry: It’s unbelievable. One thing I found fascinating is you meet people who literally live in the same house where they mom or dad grew up in. That doesn’t happen very often, either, in other places. There are families who’ve had the same home for 70 years or whatever. I find that fascinating in and of itself.
In Part 2, Gentry will discuss the NBA’s changes in style of play that have taken place during his coaching career, the impact of social media and of players always being in the public eye, New Orleans’ big-man tandem and other topics.