Gentry ready to bring new atmosphere to New Orleans

Jim Eichenhofer
New Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry. Photo by NBA.com.

The Golden State Warriors led the NBA in regular season victories (67) and team defense, while boasting the league’s MVP (Stephen Curry) and top executive (Bob Myers). They also featured the runners-up in voting for premier coach (Steve Kerr) and defensive player (Draymond Green). But there was another, less tangible category in which the 2014-15 NBA champions placed near the top of league: fun.

From the Warriors’ Instagram videos of players celebrating wins on the team plane, to the music they blared during practices, to long-range shooting competitions involving coaches, to impromptu bowling trips, to doctoring video during film sessions in order to prank someone, to a hilarious exchange between coaches while soaked in champagne, it seemed like Golden State thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the franchise’s first title run in 40 years.

After spending last season as a Warriors assistant coach under Kerr, new Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry experienced first-hand how that kind of bonding and atmosphere can benefit a team. He’s vowing to bring a similar vibe to New Orleans.

“I believe basketball has to be fun,” Gentry said at his introductory press conference. “You can get your work done, you can concentrate and do everything that’s necessary, but in order to really enjoy the game, it has to be fun. We’re going to do a lot of things to make it fun.”

One of the first additions to the Pelicans’ two-year-old practice facility under Gentry will be speakers that can pipe music down to the court, which he believes makes workouts more upbeat. It was a concept Kerr borrowed from paying a visit to Pete Carroll at the Seattle Seahawks’ training camp last year.

“The one thing we tried to do, and I’ve always been this way, is you’ve got to try to make practice fun,” Gentry said on Tuesday’s Black & Blue Report. “So we do a lot of competitive things (such as shooting contests). We play music throughout most of the practice, unless we’ve got instructional things that we’re talking about. The guys seem to really like it. It seems to really put an energy into the practice that’s usually not there.”

Referring to Warriors players’ musical tastes at practices being from a different generation, the 60-year-old Gentry added, “Now half the music (that was played), I had no idea what it was, but I thought it was very interesting. ... We played everything from Trombone Shorty to country to rap to jazz. Every now and then they’d throw a bone to the old guys, so we can listen to some good stuff.”

The longtime NBA coach also subscribes to the theory that teams should make efficient use of their practice time. In a league that packs in 82 games over a six-month schedule, that can be important in maximizing the brief windows teams have to practice.

“We had extremely upbeat, very intense practices that didn’t last very long,” Gentry said of Golden State’s philosophy. “We didn’t go two, three-hour practices. Most of ours were an hour and a half, but it was really up-tempo and the guys really liked them.”

During games, the Pelicans are also likely to adopt an enjoyable style, one that relies more heavily on fast breaks and three-point shooting. Every team Gentry has coached in recent years has placed near the top of the NBA in pace, including the champion Warriors ranking No. 1. Golden State finished second in three-pointers made per game (10.8), compared to New Orleans in 19th (7.1).

Gentry noted that, according to analytics, the Pelicans had seven players last season who made 35 percent or more of their catch-and-shoot three-point tries. However, New Orleans didn’t always capitalize on those weapons, placing 23rd in trey attempts per game (19.3).

“I just think the attempts have to be up,” Gentry said of making the Pelicans more prolific from beyond the arc. “We’ll probably shoot a heck of a lot more threes than they normally would here, because I think we’ve got good catch-and-shoot guys who are capable of doing it.

“I think more teams right now are playing up-tempo and had a lot of success with it. “We (in Golden State) played that way. You look at the teams that are successful that play that way, (including) San Antonio, the Clippers. (Former Suns coach) Mike D’Antoni kind of changed that when he came to Phoenix, with the up-tempo basketball where you spread the floor and guys are versatile players. I think that’s the kind of basketball fans really appreciate watching and that’s the kind of basketball we’re going to try to do here.”