As far as Anthony Davis was concerned, there wasn’t much to discuss. He appeared eager to escape the Pelicans’ locker room rather than stew over what was arguably the most demoralizing of New Orleans’ 16 losses this young season.
Davis, who is having one of the best individual seasons of anyone in the NBA, had just seen his latest impressive stat line go to waste. He scored 26 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked two shots on Thursday night. Yet the Philadelphia 76ers not only won their first road game in nearly 11 months, they did it going away, 99-88.
“We’re just not playing right,” the former University of Kentucky star said, the agitation evident in his eyes as he sat in front of his locker. “Whatever it is we need to do, we need to figure it out.”
Davis said Thursday’s loss was the most frustrating one of his five seasons since he was drafted first overall by New Orleans in 2012 — just months after leading Cats to an NCAA national championship.
Coach Alvin Gentry said Davis isn’t getting enough help on the offensive end.
“We just can’t come down and throw the ball into Anthony,” Gentry said, adding that the Pelicans know defenses will often double- and triple-team Davis. “We’re supposed to be passing the basketball, cutting and moving, trying to get back out to space and we didn’t do that. That’s on me. I take responsibility for that. We’ll find the people that’ll do that.”
Davis is on his second coach since turning pro, and the lineup around him has been constantly in flux, sometimes because of injuries, other times because of trades.
General Manager Dell Demps traded the Pelicans’ 2013 first-round draft choice to bring in Jrue Holiday, who is currently sidelined by a toe injury. Holiday also missed the first 12 games of this season while on personal leave to tend to his wife, retired U.S. soccer player Lauren Holiday, who needed brain surgery shortly after giving birth to their first child. Holiday didn’t play much during his first two seasons in New Orleans, either, because of a stress fracture in his lower right leg.
Holiday returned for most of last season, albeit on minute restrictions for many games, but by then, New Orleans was dealing with other significant injuries. Guard Tyreke Evans missed most of last season with a right knee injury and hasn’t yet played this season, although he appears close to returning. Small forward Quincy Pondexter missed all of last season with a left knee injury and his absence remains indefinite.
“I didn’t expect this,” said Gentry, who is in his second season but has not for one game — one practice, even — been able to coach the entire team he thought he was taking over when he was hired away from Golden State’s staff. “The bottom line is, I don’t care who we have in the locker room. All I expect them to do is compete and play hard, which they’ve done most of the nights, and then we’ve got to try to find a way to execute and then we’ve got to make some shots.”
Gentry is the only coach hired by Demps, who came to New Orleans in the summer of 2010 and inherited former coach Monty Williams. Demps fired Williams after he coached the Pelicans to the 2015 playoffs, securing the Western Conference’s eighth seed on the last day of the regular season before the Warriors eliminated New Orleans in a four-game sweep.
Demps said he expected Gentry’s up-tempo brand of basketball to better suit Davis and a supporting cast that last season included guard Eric Gordon and sharp-shooting forward Ryan Anderson. But Gordon and Anderson both struggled with injuries last season and then left in free agency, and New Orleans brought in forward Solomon Hill, who has averaged less than six points, and guard E’Twaun Moore, who was averaging 11 points before he went out this week with a toe injury.
While Davis is averaging nearly 32 points per game, the Pelicans’ shooting percentage of 43.9 ranks 22nd in the 30-team NBA. Their three-point percentage of 31.4 ranks 29th.
Pelicans owner Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL’s Saints, has exercised patience in his approach to his basketball team so far. How long that lasts remains to be seen. Pelicans players who took questions about the possibility of front office or coaching upheaval didn’t seem eager to express an opinion about it.
“I don’t worry about any of that. If it happens, it happens,” Hill said. “Everybody knows it’s a business.
“You never come into a situation where you have an MVP candidate and some good, tough players and think you’re going to be in this position,” Hill continued. “We’ve shown spurts of how we want to play basketball. We just can’t be consistent.”