New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry stood outside his team’s locker room Thursday night and added imagery to the toxicity surrounding his team.
“This whole thing has been a dumpster fire,” he said.
Dell Demps didn’t start that fire. The match was lighted and flicked into the dumpster by Anthony Davis and his agent, Rich Paul, when they went public with a trade request seemingly designed to get the All-Star forward from New Orleans to the Lakers with a year-plus left on his contract.
Firing Demps, which New Orleans did on Friday, is a step toward extinguishing the flames that have engulfed the organization for the last month. Whatever New Orleans decides to do next will have a massive influence on the Lakers — and maybe the Clippers.
“As difficult as these decisions are, my responsibility is to provide the leadership and resources necessary to deliver a winning team to our fans and community,” Pelicans owner Gayle Benson said. “My expectations, and the expectations of our fans, are that this team will compete at a high level for the remainder of the season. While we still have many more critical decisions to make when this season comes to an end, I am focused on making sure we are properly positioned to succeed and that we are headed in the right direction.”
Danny Ferry, who had been working for the team as an advisor, will act as the interim general manager.
The Pelicans’ last month has been unsettling for people like Gentry. The speculation about Davis’ future has been tremendously awkward, and that frustration boiled over Thursday night in a 131-122 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Pelicans, forced to play Davis or risk being fined up to $100,000 per game, watched the six-time All-Star forward injure his left shoulder during the first half. Television cameras caught Davis leaving the arena before the game ended, reportedly to get an MRI exam on his shoulder. He is expected to play in the All-Star game on Sunday after the exam showed only a bruised shoulder.
Demps failed to build a winning roster around Davis, with the team’s record at 26-33 heading into the All-Star break, six games behind the Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot. As the days and hours ticked down to the NBA’s trade deadline, speculation about Demps’ future added another layer to the Davis drama.
The Los Angeles Times reported the Lakers offered New Orleans a trade package that included Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball plus two first-round picks, but Demps and the Pelicans didn’t accept the offer.
The Pelicans should be able to attract better candidates for general manager because of it, too. Had the Pelicans made a move and then fired Demps — people with knowledge of the situation expected his ousting at the end of the season regardless — the new general manager would’ve inherited a team he didn’t construct.
In addition to handling the Davis trade, which should happen this offseason, the next Pelicans general manager will apparently get to work with a new front office. Demps, the general manager, had to report to basketball operations president Mickey Loomis — who is also the Saints’ general manager.
Benson, who owns both teams, said there will be a search for “a new leader of our basketball operations, directly reporting to me.”
Demps’ replacement will be charged with rebuilding the Pelicans, and likely rebuilding relationships and trade talks with the Lakers.
The Clippers, who stockpiled assets thanks to trading Tobias Harris to Philadelphia, could also get involved in the bidding for Davis. The Boston Celtics are expected to be a strong suitor as are the New York Knicks, particularly if they land the No. 1 overall draft pick.
There are problems for the Pelicans to solve. Davis’ position in the team’s rotation doesn’t seem sustainable. That’s a problem for now. The future, which can’t come soon enough for New Orleans, is what matters most.