HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This parting of the ways between coach and franchise is not about Monty Williams and the job he did or did not do as coach of the New Orleans Pelicans.
No offense to the coach, dumped this afternoon after five years on the job, but this is about Anthony Davis.
Anthony Davis … the recent past, present and future of the franchise.
And in order to secure a shared future, the Pelicans have to spend the next few days carefully examining their options to replace Williams. That coaching search has to begin in the same place Davis rose to stardom, Lexington, Kentucky. That’s where John Calipari has continued his burger All-American-to-UK-to-the-NBA pipeline since Davis helped the Wildcats to a national championship in his only season on campus.
The first call needs to be to Calipari, an ambitious sort who has coached as many (current and future) NBA players the past few years as just about anyone collecting a NBA paycheck these days. If his relationship to Davis and so many other of the NBA’s stars, young and otherwise, is as rich as advertised, perhaps he can be the key to the Pelicans keeping Davis in the fold for years to come. There is the pesky detail of that five-year contract extension Davis can sign this summer to think about when finding the replacement for Williams.
Pelicans general manager Dell Demps knows it. The Benson family knows it. The entire city of New Orleans and Pelicans fans around the globe know it.
They have all experienced the pain of a losing a transcendent franchise player before (Chris Paul, anyone?), and what could be more painful than watching Paul and his new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, on the cusp of making franchise history by making the Western Conference finals, than having to announce that they are searching for direction once again by firing Williams and hunting for his replacement?
It’s hard for me to blame Williams for the Pelicans’ struggles during his tenure. Sure, he leaves with ownership of whatever shortcomings he had as a coach. And like every one of his (former and future) peers, he walked into the job knowing that he’d be tossed out the door at some point. Nothing lasts forever these days, unless your name is Gregg Popovich.
I understand what this season meant for Williams, Davis and the Pelicans. I was there courtside for that unbelievable win over Pop’s Spurs in the regular season finale for both teams. That was the game that secured the playoff fate for the Pelicans and Spurs, entry for the Pelicans and that early exit for the Spurs, courtesy of the seeding free-fall the loss produced.
The emotion coursing through Williams and his family as the postgame celebration commenced was impossible to ignore. Williams had grown tired of the criticism, the second-guessing and the whispers he and his family had to endure in New Orleans. That moment of triumph will never be erased. But it was buttressed by the reality of his situation. A first round sweep at the hands of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors would likely mean he’d coached his last game as the Pelicans’ coach.
That reality came to fruition this afternoon and now the Pelicans have to decide if they are ready for the regime change that would come with a coach like Calipari, or if Demps and the current brain trust want to retain control.
They’ll say all the right things and promise to do what is in the best interest of the franchise going forward, standard fare for these sorts of things.
But if the best thing does not jive with the wishes of Davis, the 21-year-old wunderkind who could one day soon be the face of the NBA, something has gone terribly wrong.
Rarely do I advocate for a franchise bowing down to their star player in these sort of situations. This is that rare exception where genuflection to the wishes of your best player makes more sense than any fragile attempt to maintain some semblance of control of the situation. Don’t let pride or ego get in the way of doing the right thing by Davis, and in turn the entire organization and its fans.
Yes, it’s a dangerous way of doing business if your franchise is not rooted in a championship culture that can withstand the pressures of the moment.
Think back to the beginning of the end for Paul in New Orleans. Byron Scott was dumped as coach without anyone consulting with the franchise player. It was a move dismissed by many, at the time, as something Paul would get over.
The Pelicans have to make sure Davis doesn’t follow that same script. Doing so means at least exploring whatever possibilities might be there with Calipari.
You have to at least poke those tires, make Calipari tell you he is not interested, and then move on to the next phase of the process.