The New Orleans Pelicans' 2019-20 season was a bit of a rollercoaster and ultimately ended in disappointment when they were unable to close the gap to earn a spot in the play-in game during the NBA restart in Orlando. But there was a lot to like from what is a very young team. Brandon Ingram solidified himself as a 20 point per game scorer at only 22-years-old. Lonzo Ball looked like he found something resembling a jumper, even if consistency still escapes him. Zion Williamson was Zion Williamson when he was on the floor before the season was postponed.
The front office execs didn't think all that was enough, however, to let Alvin Gentry keep his job. Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Saturday that the franchise had relieved Gentry of his duties after five seasons at the helm.
The Pelicans now approach a crossroads with just about everything riding on the decision they'll make. They need to find their guy, the coach who can both help mold the young talent on the roster and put together a successful product on the floor. That's not easy to find, but New Orleans knows they have to find it.
How the team chooses to handle Zion, both in terms of his usage and kinds of load management, will decide the immediate and long-term future of the team. Whatever coach they decide upon will need to be creative enough to find the most effective and least-stressful way to use their generational superstar. The Pelicans have a good blend of youthful talent and quality vets right now, but if winning basketball isn't being played, things could fall apart rather quickly.
They just can't mess this up. If they hire the wrong coach and ride with him for the next three years to little success, the situation will be dire. Zion will be coming up on his rookie extension. Ingram will be nearing the end of the second deal he's quite likely to sign this offseason. Those two are the future of New Orleans basketball, and if they aren't pleased with how things are going, circumstances can go south in a hurry. The Pelicans certainly need no reminder of this after their Anthony Davis debacle only last season.
Kenny Atkinson seems like the natural choice. He worked with current Pelicans GM Trajan Langdon in Brooklyn and has shown great skill for getting the most out of the talent he has. He appeared to have left the Nets because of his relationship with the superstars on the team, not because his coaching was shoddy. He knows what he's doing and the sky feels like the limit if he's given the blank slate of the New Orleans' young talents to work with. Atkinson is also the safe choice because of his track record of development. Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie were basically nobodies before they went to work for Atkinson. Now they're both legitimate starters in the NBA and have been compensated as such. Imagine what he could do with someone like Zion after turning G League reclamation projects into playoff teams in New York.
It didn't feel like Gentry got a fair shake. Zion was hurt for most of the season, and they had to be cautious with him even when he came back. The Pelicans were the most disappointing team in the bubble, but I would certainly not be offended if we chalked a lot of that up to the extreme extenuating circumstances surrounding the restart in general. But the Pelicans moved on, and what they go next will change everything.