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Transcript: Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry conference call - April 30, 2020
Gentry: “Believe it or not, I really do miss you guys (the media). I hope you are all safe and your families are safe. These are trying times not just for Louisiana and not just the United States but throughout the world. This has just been an unbelievably difficult time for everyone. I’ll just continue to say I hope that you are all safe and your families are safe. Obviously, everyone has heard we’re supposed to be re-opening the [practice facilities] throughout the league starting on (May 8th). We’ve decided here that the earliest we would open would be (May 15th). We’re going to align ourselves with what’s going on in [Louisiana] and with the Governor’s office and the mayor’s office and so we will not be doing anything until the 15th at the earliest. There’s still so many more questions that have to be answered. I’ll try to answer for you as we get into the Q&A. There’s also going to be so many things you ask that doesn’t have an answer right now, but I have total confidence in what we’re doing. From the [NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s office], we’ve got a great commissioner, and they’ve got committees and everyone is working 24-7 to try to come up with a solution, and we’re going to trust that they’re going to do the greatest job, and the number one thing for them is the health of the players, the health of the coaches and the health of the fans, so we have to take that under consideration when there’s any decisions being made. With that, if you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them as best I can.”
Has the team identified who the hygiene officer would be to ensure the facility remains sanitary and everyone in the facility be safe?
Gentry: “That’s going to be (Vice President of Player Care & Performance) Aaron Nelson. He’s going to make sure that everything…he’s talked to the league and there’s a steadfast number of rules that have to be followed, and then with Aaron, I know he’ll go beyond that to ensure the safety of the players, disinfecting the facility, and all of that stuff. It’s not going to change from what we had in place right before everything was shut down. There will only be two coaches allowed, none of those will be bench coaches, and there will only be four players allowed in the facility at a time. Those are just some of the things that were talked about yesterday on our call, but like I said, we’re going to go beyond everything as far as [the facility] is disinfected and the players are safe.”
Should the city or state push the stay-at-home order past May 15th, would the Pelicans adhere to that or will the team try to get back into the facility?
Gentry: “That’s something we will have to wait and see what the situation is. I know the one thing with [David Griffin] is he’s aligned us with what’s going on in the state, so that would be something that would have to be discussed, but I would say there is a possibility that yes, if they did push [the stay-at-home order] back that we may push it back also, but we don’t know the answer to that. That’s one of those questions that is tough to answer right now until it actually happens.”
What has it been like keeping in touch with the players and making sure they are mentally and physically ready when play resumes?
Gentry: “I’m sure it’s been like that with everyone in the league. You try to stay in contact through text and phone calls. I’ve spoken to the majority of our guys on the phone just to see how they’re doing and to just see what’s going on. Like I said, the number one thing is that we worry about the health of them and the health of their families. We’ve talked about it, but some of our guys have been able to get in some workouts and do some things and stay a little bit in touch with the basketball part of it, but for the
most part, I just talk to them about their families. I think we’ll have time to talk about the basketball part and how that would look when the time comes.”
How closely do you follow all the ideas being floated around about returning to play, and do you think any idea a bad idea, or is anything a feasible possibility?
Gentry: “First of all, there’s so much speculation out there right now that I don’t know if any of it is very accurate right now. I don’t think the NBA has come to any conclusion as to what that would be or what that would look like right now, but I know, as I said, they’re working 24-7 to find some solution as to what it’s going to look like when we get back, but I do know most of it right now is speculation. I’m on a sub-committee with some other GMs and some other head coaches concerning how it’s going to look when we get back [to play], and I just know that there’s nothing definite out there right now, or there’s not one [idea] that is ahead of another right now. I just know, like I said, everything is based on what’s the safest way of doing, and then, how can we do this as fairly as we possibly can. That’s going to take a lot on maneuvering, a lot of talking, a lot of going through it with the coaches and the players and the GMs and the executive vice presidents, and trying to do what we think is best for everyone involved, and that number one priority will always be health.”
What was your evaluation of the team at full strength?
Gentry: “Well, obviously, I thought we were playing really good basketball. I thought the Christmas trip really showed us what we could possibly do even when we weren’t at full strength. When we got everyone back, obviously we had our rotations that we felt we were going to have at the start of the year and we had guys that had kind of stepped up. Brandon (Ingram) has shown us the kind of player he can be, and obviously, getting (Derrick) Favors back and him anchoring our defense was a real key right there, because we’ve been so solid with our defense. We were the sixth best defensive team in the league since the All-Star break, so, I thought we were headed in the right direction. Obviously, being able to have Zion (Williamson) on the floor, and him getting better every single game, and our guys embracing what he brought to our team. That’s the one thing I think with this group – we were never the least bit fragmented or anything. That’s really, really tough to do when you lose 13 straight games, and usually, in the NBA, it’s almost impossible to survive that as a coach, to be honest with you. Our guys never wavered one bit, and Griff was great through this whole thing, saying ‘We’re going to get it turned around, I can see this team and we just gotta be patient with it.’ We did that, and we did it because of the leadership on this team. With Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick and guys like E’Twaun Moore, who’s more of a silent leader behind all of this, and Fave (Derrick Favors) and those guys. They kept this group together and we kept playing for a purpose, and when we did get Zion, those guys, there was not one bit of jealousy. They knew what we had in him. They, as a matter of fact, wanted him to be more aggressive and wanted him to do things that doesn’t really happen when you have a rookie on a team that has a bunch of veteran guys, so this is a great team with high character. We were playing great basketball, and I thought were going in a direction where we were going to be playing our best basketball when it mattered most.”
Any indication of whether the regular season would finish when basketball returns, or would you skip right to the playoffs? Any thoughts on how that would play out?
Gentry: “That is one of those questions that I don’t think anyone has the answer to right now. I don’t know what it’s going to look like when we do get out playing. I think that is something that is continually
being worked on and talked about, starting in the league office. We don’t have any indication of how that would look and what it would be, we’re just hoping that we have that opportunity.”
Given that it will be difficult to get players into game shape if only two or three are allowed at the facility at a time, will that affect how you approach the season if it does restart? Do you play a more expanded rotation due to guys not being in full game shape?
Gentry: “I think what will happen – and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t – I think we will be given adequate time, in the best of situations, to try to get our guys in the position where they are in at least decent game shape to go out and play. I don’t think it’s going to be one of those things that if we come back they’re going to say, ‘Oh, we have five days and then we’re playing.’ I don’t see that possibility because I think that as the league has talked to everyone and understands how this is going to work, I think one of the things that they will always do is give guys adequate time to try to get themselves in decent shape so that we’re putting a good product out on the floor.”
What do you think the timeline looks like for ramping up and getting ready to play games?
Gentry: “I don’t know. We’ve talked about that as coaches. I’ve talked to some guys, some of my friends, about it and talked about, ‘How will that look? How many days will we need to try to get that going?’ I think everybody has been between 20 and 30 (days). Things like that, you’ve got to take into consideration. These guys have to get their core strength back from a weightlifting standpoint. Then you have to get them on the court and you have to do some things along those lines. I don’t know the exact number right now, [but] I think it will be something that when we do receive that and understand that, then I think we can reorganize or schedule our practices and strength and conditioning things based on the number that we get from the league when that happens.”
How eager are the players to get the season restarted and do they have any reservations about restarting the season with no COVID-19 vaccine?
Gentry: “Well, I think that’s in the back of everyone’s mind. It’s not something just from a basketball standpoint…going back to work, the hotels re-opening, the restaurants re-opening. I think that’s in everyone’s mind, so I don’t think there’s anything unusual about having concerns in that area right there. I think that in general our guys are just eager to get back to playing. I think in our case, our guys were really disappointed because, as I said, I thought and they felt like we were starting to peak and play our best basketball. When you look at the schedule that we had remaining, most of the teams that we were trying to catch, we were going to be able to play those teams. We really felt good that we still had an opportunity to hold our destiny in our own hands and not have to look at the scoreboard and pull for this team or that team. We were going to be able to control our own destiny and I think that was another thing that they were really excited about. If you’re talking about the general psyche of the guys, I think they’re concerned about how we can get on the court and still play. They just really felt good in the direction we were going.”
Did anything Zion Williamson did on the court this year surprise you, or was it what you expected?
Gentry: “Well, it’s pretty much what we expected. I still think that in all the years that I’ve been in the league, I’ve never seen anyone that has a second jump like this kid. It’s amazing how he can hit the ground and be back up before anyone is really reacting to the first move that he had. I would say that’s been a pleasant surprise in those areas right there. I think what we found out is that he’s an excellent
passer, also. I think as he gets more comfortable handling a basketball, that’s going to be an area that everyone sees that he can be an elite guy from the position that he’s playing right there. He’s such a good guy, just from a teammate standpoint, that I knew our guys would be pulling for him. Our guys have embraced the fact that he’s a guy that we can finish games with, he’s a guy that we can go to when we need a basket, and he’ll make the right play. Like I said, from the standpoint of embracing a young player and understanding that, our guys have been great with him and he has been great with our guys.”
How would games without fans affect the players who feed off of the momentum and energy of the crowd?
Gentry: “No doubt that’s going to be a tough situation if that ends up being what it is. It’s just an adjustment the players, the coaches, and everyone will have to make. Obviously every game has been played with fans in the stands for the entire career for everybody on this team and really for every coach. It will be something that I think in general you’ll have to adjust to, but I think guys and everyone will want to get back to playing and if that has to be the agenda right now, then we’ll have to do that. Obviously I know that everyone is working to the point of ‘When can we have the fans back in the stands?’ That’s a very important thing when you’re playing a basketball game or any sporting event, having the fans there to represent your team."
What are your thoughts on having everybody in one location to finish out the season?
Gentry: “I don’t know. Obviously there’s a lot of good to it, there’s a lot of questionable things there. I really hadn’t speculated on any of it because I don’t have the ability to start and have all the answers of saying if we do this, then this will be the case, or if we do it in three cities, this will be the case. What I’m doing is I’m just sitting back just like everyone else waiting until the people who have the authority to make those decisions, make those decisions, and then we’ll go from there.”
How will you handle Zion Williamson regarding minute restrictions?
Gentry: “We’ll have those conversations. Obviously, his health will be the number one priority, but the restriction was really off after his first 5-6 games. So, he was playing the minutes that he would normally play, considering with any situation really. But, it will be something that we talk about when we do resume and as far as how it looks for Zion from a minute standpoint, and we’ll do that really with some of the other players. This is unprecedented, really. You play in a basketball game, you play 60 games and then all of a sudden the season ends, and then now it’s going to start back up. So, this is going to be something that is different for every single player that has ever played in the NBA or is playing in the NBA now. So, as far as – I mean we’ll get with our medical people. I mean obviously Aaron (Nelson), (Head Athletic Trainer) Tom (Maystadt), and those guys are going to have a big say-so into how we play our rotations and how we practice and how long we practice, and this along those lines. I’ll sit down with those guys, and they’ll have input into all of those situations.”
How would you grade this season?
Gentry: “I would say that the start was not an accurate evaluation of what we felt this team was going to be. There were some injuries. There were some things that went on that was out of the control of people. The tragedy with (Derrick) Favors’ mom passing away that kept him away from the team for such a long stretch and then getting him back and realizing what an impact he had on our team from a defensive standpoint. And then just implementing Zion (Williamson) into the whole chemistry of the team, and everything worked out. And then I just thought we found our groove if you want to call it that. And the rotations were good. Everybody was very accepting of their roles, and we were playing really good basketball. I thought that was more of an indication of what we were capable of. We had won 10 of our last 13 road games, I think. That’s tough to do in this league, and the thing that we continue to try to stress and we had to get better at is that we had to do a better job of playing at home on our home court and having a home-court advantage, and that was the thing that we were starting to stress and really put emphasis on because that’s where I thought we had the most struggles.”
How have you been supporting local restaurants, and how are you handling the stay at home order?
Gentry: “I have been supporting a lot of local restaurants, but I also have been doing a lot of my own cooking that I didn’t think I had the ability to do. So, when you’re forced into a situation, I think sometimes you’re forced to do things that puts you in an uncomfortable situation. Cooking is not my comfort zone really, but I can read directions and follow them, so I’ve been doing some things as far as that. To be honest with you, the Fresh Market has been my savior because they basically put everything together that you need and give you directions, so I can come home, and in 20 minutes I can cook a meal that’s even edible from my standpoint. But it’s been tough, and I do want to say that it’s just a really tough time because in New Orleans obviously the music and the food is what we live by here and the two teams we got here with the Pelicans and the Saints. I mean, that’s what this city is all about. So, their going through a real, real tough time, so I will say this, that anytime you have a chance to do something for the local economy here, I would say that I hope everyone would do that. And I love the commercials that we have on T.V. because we will get through this and we’ll do it together. Everyone here knows that, and everyone that’s ever been associated with this city knows what this city represents, and everyone says how tough (Hurricane) Katrina was, and everyone pulled together and got through that. I think everyone will do the same thing with this. They’ll continue to try to follow directions of the leaders of this city and the leaders of this state. And we’ll find a way to get through this, and we’ll do it together as this city does with everything else.”
What do you think the quality of play will be like once the NBA resumes?
Gentry: “Well, obviously, the guys have been off for a while. So, regardless of how many days we get, I think it’s going to take a little while for everyone to get timing back and game-type situations and things like this. But, I think the guys are so eager to get back out on the court that I think the level of play from an intensity standpoint is going to be fine, and then it will take a few games for everybody to get their timing back and everything like that. But, I think from an intensity standpoint everybody’s going to compete at a real, real high level.”
Gentry: “Yeah. I look forward to seeing you guys, I really do. I miss that part of it, just talking and communicating and having you guys around the practice facility. All of those things right there are something that I think that we all miss, and we all miss just being together and talking. So, hang in there, and hopefully, we can get that situation resolved, and we can get back to the new normal. So, please stay healthy and stay safe.”