In the first installment of this week’s question-and-answer session with New Orleans Pelicans third-year head coach Alvin Gentry, he addressed several team-specific topics, including the importance of fall training camp. In this second edition, Gentry examines a few broader subjects related to the current NBA, its changing style of play and several off-the-court issues.
Pelicans.com: How much do you think the league has changed on the court since you first started coaching in the NBA in the late 1980s?
Gentry: I think it’s changed tremendously. First of all, I think it is a lot more athletic league. It’s gone through phases where a lot of teams have quick point guards, then it’s big point guards, then you have to pound the ball into a big guy, then you have to spread the floor. It’s been trendy, certain trends you go through over the course of NBA seasons. That’s what makes it so great. Right now, shooting is at a premium. And you’ve got to be able to have versatile players that can do a lot of things and not just be specialized players. I think the league is probably as much as fun as it’s ever been. Obviously Golden State right now, or Phoenix with Mike D’Antoni, the way they play is how all the teams are trying to play – to get up and down the court. San Antonio really changed the way they played (earlier this decade), going to a transition team that gets early offense and quick shots.
Pelicans.com: What do you think is the biggest factor behind why that style of play has changed in the NBA in recent years?
Gentry: A lot of it is the skill level most of the bigs are developing. There has been an influx of foreign players who are big guys that still have the ability to step up and shoot the ball, or be passers and playmakers. That has caught on in the U.S. now, with the young AAU players. So you get Karl-Anthony Towns or Joel Embiid, who are good, physical inside players, but can also shoot three-point shots.
Pelicans.com: We often hear people say that with two All-Star bigs, the Pelicans are going against the grain in terms of the NBA’s style of play. Do you see that as accurate or maybe a bit overblown?
Gentry: I think they make a good point, but when you look at our two guys, they both have the ability to play out on the floor. That makes it a little different. They’re not back-to-the-basket, throw-it-inside kind of players. They are very gifted players who are comfortable away from the paint and can be facilitators also.
Pelicans.com: When you spoke to Adrian Wojnarowski on his podcast recently, you discussed how DeMarcus Cousins did a good job of only picking up one technical in his 17 games here. What do you think was the key to him improving in that area?
Gentry: I think we made a concerted effort as a coaching staff to always talk to him and say there’s a way of handling something. What we wanted to do is take away the emotional hijacking and just try to make you understand that there are going to be some things that don’t go your way, but we’ve got to continue to work on handling them properly. I thought he did everything he could to try to do that for us.
Pelicans.com: With the league getting younger all the time it seems, does that have any impact on a coach’s role, as far as teaching and laying foundations for careers?
Gentry: What it’s done is we have become somewhat franchises that have to draft on potential. You see a young kid who is 18 or 19 years old, and you have to kind of guess where he’s going to be two or three years from now. You have to look at the maturation of his body, and mentally where he’s going to go. From a physicality standpoint, how is he going to be react (to the NBA)? Those are all things you have to guess on, when you’re talking about an 18- or 19-year-old kid. You’re guessing how his body and mind are going to develop.
It’s hurt college basketball, I think. And it’s hurt the NBA. But you can’t just pass on these guys, so you have to take chances on them. Some of them hit and some of them don’t.
Pelicans.com: Parental involvement in teams seems like a high school or college issue, but the rampant attention on LaVar Ball has prompted some people to wonder, is interacting with parents something NBA head coaches also have to deal with?
Gentry: Yes, but to use the LaVar Ball case, it’s one guy who feels like he’s doing right by his son. What most people haven’t noticed is that his son (Lonzo) hasn’t said a thing. He just likes playing and is going to be a great player – and to me, everything other than that is white noise. The dad has a right to speak and say anything he wants to say. His son has handled it beautifully. I don’t think he could do it any better. All he wants to do is just be on the court and play. To me, that’s what it’s all about. So yes, you’re going to get the influx of much younger players than you used to, but that’s kind of the way it is.
Pelicans.com: There have been situations in the recent past where family members, siblings or relatives have tweeted unproductive things in terms of an NBA team. How much do you need to be aware of social media by players or the family of players?
Gentry: Well, I think we try to tell (players) to be professional about it. Obviously, no matter who it is, what you put on social media is always followed and being watched. I always tell players, whatever you put out there, just understand that it will be seen. Just like wherever you are (in public) now, there is always a camera. You’ve just got to be smart as what you’re doing.
Pelicans.com: Is that one of the biggest things that has changed since you began coaching in the league, the visibility of the players?
Gentry: Oh, definitely. What has happened – which didn’t exist when I first came into the league – is everybody is concerned about their brand. The players and their brand, their name recognition, or however they describe it. It’s become a very lucrative thing that involves millions of dollars. So you can’t really fault them for trying to promote their brand. Social media has given them a great platform for that, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. All of those help push their brand.
Pelicans.com: Do you address with players the importance of always being aware of what they’re doing while in public, whether it’s a restaurant or anywhere they might be?
Gentry: Anywhere. Yes, because there is always a camera on them now. There is always somebody watching, somebody observing. Every time you’re in the public eye, you’re being evaluated.