Pelicans, Alvin Gentry might start looking toward the future

NEW ORLEANS -- On Thursday, Alvin Gentry lamented saying that the Pelicans are not a playoff team.

With a day to cool down after the New Orleans Pelicans let a six-point lead with 2:59 to play slip into a five-point loss to a team that set a new low for 3-point percentage (with a minimum of 30 attempts), Gentry admitted he shouldn't have tossed the Pelicans' postseason hopes, minimal as they might be, aside. TNT's Craig Sager reported during Thursday's Pelicans-Spurs broadcast that the first-year coach even apologized to general manager Dell Demps for doing so.

But after two days and two more losses, Gentry is now thinking aloud about what's to come following the Pelicans' disappointing 2015-16 season.

"At some stage we have to start thinking about the future, looking at the future," Gentry said after a 106-94 loss to the Utah Jazz dropped the Pelicans to 3-5 since the All-Star break. "That's one of the reasons why I stuck Jrue [Holiday] out there to start the second half. We have to start looking at Jrue as a starter some and playing him. And trying to find ways to get Anthony [Davis] the ball more in the flow of the game. Even if they're double-teaming him, that's gotta be something as coaches that we try to figure out also.

"At this stage, like I said, it would be a miracle almost for us to make the playoffs. We really have to start looking at developing a culture and how we're gonna play in the future and figuring out guys on this team, how they fit into the system and if they're going to be able to fit in a system."

Despite mounting evidence that the team plays better with Holiday on the floor -- his plus-1.0 net rating is best on the team, per NBA.com/Stats -- and that Davis, the main cog in the team's future, is more effective with Holiday alongside him -- 5.3 points better in true shooting percentage, to be exact -- the Pelicans have brought the 25-year-old guard off the bench since Dec. 4 to give a depleted second unit an extra "punch." Gentry said he didn't envision changing the setup as recently as two weeks ago, even though it put their two best players on the court together for only 19.3 minutes a game.

But a lot has changed even in the past two days. In his fourth game back, Eric Gordon refractured the same right ring finger that kept him out of 16 games. With three players (Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter, Bryce Dejean-Jones) out for the season, the Pelicans have lost the fourth-most games (183) in the NBA to injuries and illness, according to InStreetClothes.com. And after a fourth straight loss, the Pelicans are now 6 ½ games behind the Rockets for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs with 21 still to play. Even the most optimistic would admit that the odds -- 0.3 percent entering Saturday's games, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index -- are against them.

Holiday hadn't heard about Gentry's intentions after the loss to Utah, but when told by reporters his response was tantamount to: Oh, nice.

"Nah, that's the first I'm hearing about it. I'm cool with it," Holiday said. "With the lack of bodies I feel like [we] kinda have to. Whatever it is we need to win. Obviously our last three games haven't gone the way we wanted them to, but we still gonna try to win every game."

Even with the obstacles the Pelicans have faced, Davis made sure to note that he isn't ready to concede.

"I'm playing every game," he said after putting up 29 points on 11-for-31 shooting and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Jazz. "I still got hope for this team, still got faith in these guys. I feel like we still can do it. We just got to believe."

But the 22-year-old, who earns $23 million extra on the maximum extension he signed last offseason if he makes any of the three end-of-season All-NBA teams, also said he thinks playing well over the remainder of the season can establish a path back to success next season.

"Yeah, you kind of start building foundation for next year, to establish a culture that you want to have around the locker room, around this organization," he said. "You set it now to finish out the rest of the games. Leading into the offseason next year, you definitely want to keep that same culture, that same foundation."

Holiday, fresh off an All-Star selection in 2012-13, became a big part of that foundation as soon as the Pelicans traded two first-round picks for him to provide Davis with a young, high-quality pick-and-roll partner. Davis said that Holiday's scoring ability (career-high 20.9 points per 36 minutes this season) forces teams to respect him as both a scorer and a playmaker, and that he would look forward to be paired up with a player of his caliber right off the bat once again.

"Jrue is Jrue," Davis said. "Me and him got great chemistry. I don't know who's gonna start or whatever. He started the third quarter so it's good to have him back on the floor. If he does start, hopefully he'll take us to the next level."

Holiday, for what it's worth, has said he's open to any solution to the Pelicans' ever-changing starting lineup (28 so far, tied for the most in the NBA). After missing 90 games his first two seasons because of serious right leg injuries, Holiday said he's just "rolling with the punches."

"Hey, man. Everyone should take on this plan I got," Holiday said with a smile. "Nah, I'm happy to be playing, if you want me to be honest. I appreciate it. I don't take it for granted. Obviously with previous two years and what's happening now -- and I think Eric just went out with his finger -- I'm happy to be on the court."