Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.
We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Jabari Young, who covered the Blazers last season for Comcast SportsNet Northwest and will cover the Spurs this season for the San Antonio Express-News. Click here to see all of the previous editions of this series.
Hoops Rumors: Most of the roster is back, and so is GM Dell Demps, so the shift from Monty Williams to Alvin Gentry was the most significant change for the Pelicans. Why do you think the front office singled out coaching as the one part of the team in need of a shakeup?
John Reid: After Monty Williams was fired in May, Pelicans executive vice president Mickey Loomis acknowledged that they thought their group needed something different to get them to the next level. If the Pelicans had not blown a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter in Game 3 against the Warriors in their first-round playoff series and not been swept in four games, Williams probably would have kept his job. The Pelicans’ front office felt they had enough talent, but the team wasn’t consistent enough despite finishing with a 45-37 record and landing the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Throughout the regular season, the Pelicans underperformed on the road, going 17-24, a record that included losses to the lowly Knicks and 76ers.
Hoops Rumors: Which player do you think will benefit most from the coaching change, and whose game is most liable to suffer with Williams out of the picture?
John Reid: Anthony Davis is likely to benefit the most from the coaching change because Alvin Gentry is going to get him the ball more in his choice spots that increase his usage rate. Davis is most effective in the open court and Gentry’s up-tempo offense is ideal for him. Also, Davis’ ofensive game will be more extensive and expect for him to take more three-pointers, which is something he worked on improving this offseason.
Omer Asik probably will not play as many minutes this season under Alvin Gentry as he did for Monty Williams. Asik’s minutes are going to be split with backup Alexis Ajinca, who is a more polished scoring threat in the post. Asik has limited offensive skills and with the Pelicans’ plan to push the tempo, Asik could struggle to emerge because he is more of a back-to-the-basket, low-post player who is more effective in the slow-down halfcourt game.
Hoops Rumors: Anthony Davis, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca all signed long-term deals with the team this summer, but Ryan Anderson is on an expiring contract. Given the crowded frontcourt, do you think the Pelicans still see Anderson as part of their long-term plan?
John Reid: I think Ryan Anderson is part of the franchise’s long-term plans.
There are not many players in the league like Anderson, a stretch four with three-point shooting ability. However, it has been difficult for him the past two seasons trying to overcome injuries. Anderson admitted last week that he is in the best shape of his career and could be poised to have a breakout season. If that happens, Anderson will be a priority for GM Dell Demps to re-sign next summer.
Hoops Rumors: Is the qualifying offer a better deal for Norris Cole, a better deal for the Pelicans, or simply a fair outcome for both sides?
John Reid: The qualifying offer was a better deal for the Pelicans since they had the leverage from the start because Norris Cole was a restricted free agent. The Pelicans wanted Cole to let the market dictate his value but in the end he couldn’t land a deal that would play him more than the Pelicans’ $3MM qualifying offer. So in turn, the Pelicans signed him to a one-year deal at the price they thought was warranted without having to overspend to re-sign him. But next summer, Cole will become an unrestricted free agent.
Hoops Rumors: The Pelicans have traded their last three first-round picks. Do you think the team will be especially hesitant to trade this year’s first-rounder as a result?
John Reid: The Pelicans have not had a first-round pick since the 2012 NBA Draft when they selected Anthony Davis as the No. 1 overall pick. Although the franchise appears to be stable, they still have to look ahead and there is a need to develop young talent instead of just relying on trades and free agency.
John Reid: The Western Conference is so tough and even with the Pelicans re-signing all of their top returning players in free agency this offseason, they will still be in a tough fight to earn a playoff spot. But I think this team is capable of landing a sixth or seventh seed under Alvin Gentry, if they can avoid injuries. I think the Pelicans are clearly ahead of Portland, who lost LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency and the Mavericks, who were unable to sign Clippers center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. The Pelicans will be in a fight with Phoenix and Oklahoma City for one of the final three seeds.