PHOENIX — The beginning of Alvin Gentry’s new head coaching gig has gone a lot like the end of his last, when he parted ways with the Suns in the middle of a miserable 2012-13 campaign.
But even with his New Orleans Pelicans at 3-11 entering a Wednesday night game against Phoenix, Gentry didn’t look worn out — like he did at the end of his Suns tenure.
By the end of a 120-114 victory that saw his Pelicans win their third game in a row, the former Suns coach was pumping his fists and playfully punching former Suns point guard Ish Smith in the gut after Smith’s 20-point, 11-assist performance.
“It’s been a long time coming, really,” Gentry said after the game. “I think we’re healthy and we’re starting to figure it out a little bit.”
This looked like the same Gentry that led the Suns for six years as an assistant and then three-plus more as a head coach.
Gentry remains positive about New Orleans’ potential once it gets the roster healthy. He loves how Anthony Davis is growing smarter with his shot selection and how Smith went from waiver wire pick-up to the fourth-best assist man and sixth-best NBA player in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Gentry hardly appears bitter or wishful watching from afar as his last team, the Golden State Warriors, make NBA history with a 16-0 start.
Those Warriors roll into Phoenix the day after Thanksgiving.
With Golden State head coach Steve Kerr sidelined because of a back injury, the Warriors are led by former Arizona forward Luke Walton, the new lead assistant who Gentry calls “the perfect guy” for his team.
It’s easy to wonder what-if: What if Gentry had found himself in Walton’s place this year?
But like the Warriors, a fat championship ring won’t satisfy him.
After his Phoenix tenure, Gentry spent a year as an assistant for a Clippers team that played its part in creating the narrative of Golden State’s championship — having to do with luck. He joined Kerr’s staff as the offensive coordinator of sorts, helping turn the Warriors into one of the most unique scoring teams in NBA history.
So Gentry knows what drives the perfect Warriors, and he can speak for the “why” in determining how Golden State didn’t get fat and happy despite earning championship rings.
Maybe it’s the same “why” that has him back on the sideline as another team’s head coach.
“I know if you take every guy on that team, every single one of them are really hard working guys,” Gentry said of Phoenix’s next opponent. “I think when everyone assumed they were lucky to win the championship because they didn’t play certain teams, that motivated them to then show that they’re for real. I don’t think there’s any question about it now. I don’t think there’s any question they were good enough to win the championship, no matter who they played.”
While the irked Warriors fight for more respect that most rational people know they deserve, Gentry’s challenge is to show that what he left in Phoenix wasn’t representative of him as a coach.
The Suns are far removed from Gentry’s ugly departure that saw his top two assistants, Dan Majerle and Elston Turner, step down alongside their leader, who former general manager Lance Blanks replaced with then-player development coach Lindsey Hunter.
That’s in the past. Gentry has already returned to Phoenix as assistant coach for Los Angeles and Golden State, and his immediate family still lives in the Valley, after all.
So he can be complimentary in evaluating where the Suns franchise has gone since he stalked the sidelines (“I really believe they’re as good as any backcourt in the league”) and he can praise general manager Ryan McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek, who of course weren’t around when he left.
In New Orleans, a string of injuries derailed the start for an expected playoff contender.
“It’s been frustrating,” Gentry said of the Pelicans’ rocky start, “but it’s reality.”
It’s apparent the Pelicans will follow the same formula Gentry used leading Phoenix. The head coach talked about how stretch power forward Ryan Anderson has helped Davis — much like how Channing Frye helped Amare Stoudemire — and it’s showed in two games of 120 outputs or more points against Phoenix.
Of course, it’s easy to imagine Gentry staying with Golden State, remaining in a situation with less turbulence.
Here he is, using two games against his old club to build his team back up after a disappointing start that may not have completely buried their playoff chances.
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