My first year as a blogger for The Bird Writes has been about as consistent as the Pelicans season. I have written posts on Eric Gordon's struggles (suggested that Austin Rivers should be a possible starter in his place), Tyreke Evans’ struggle to finish at the rim, Luke Babbitt and Jeff Withey.
Since the Gordon post, he was injured but has come back with a vengeance and is now second in the NBA in 3pt%. Austin was unceremoniously traded to Boston where he was held hostage before being sent to the LA Clippers ("Take that and tell your daddy I said hi!"- Mark Jackson).
Tyreke has continued with his inconsistent ways at the rim, but he is in the midst of a season where he is one of five players that is averaging 16ppg/6ast/5reb. The other four? James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Eric Bledsoe. Pretty elite company.
I called for Babbitt to receive more playing time because of the Pelicans need for more consistent three point shooting. Luke was relegated to the bench for a while, but he has maintained his 3pt% as he is now one of two players that have attempted at least 100 three-pointers and converted 50% of them. The other is All-Star Kyle Korver.
Lastly, poor Sweet Pea. My post calling for Withey to get more playing time has not helped his case as he has averaged less than 3 minutes per game, despite retaining a team leading 72.7% FTr.
So, I do not know what this means for this article, except that there is a possibility that Avery Johnson could be hired as the next Pelicans coach, not based off any merit, but strictly based off the fact that I wrote an article asking Pelicans management to not hire Johnson.
Before I get into why Avery Johnson should not replace Monty Williams, I feel you need to understand my thoughts on Monty.
I believe in continuity and stability, especially in a small market. The gap between large and small markets is closing, but places akin to New Orleans do not have the draw of a Los Angeles or New York which allows a free agent to overlook a poorly run, unstable organization. A team constantly in flux -- changing coaches and/or GMs every couple years -- will hurt the chances of attracting quality players.
One of the reasons Chris Paul and David West left the franchise was because the organization lacked this continuity and stability. Right now, the Pelicans future is a little murky due to the court battle within the Benson family; thus, if there is going to be a time that the Pels need to be steady at the coach/GM level, it is now.
That said, if you asked me to guess on who the Pelicans head coach will be when they win their first of many NBA Championships, my answer would not be Monty Williams. However, that is based on my feelings now. The jump Monty has made from 2013-14 to this season has been huge, and if he continues to develop next year, I believe he has the potential to grow into a championship coach.
It is my belief that coaches largely do not have a huge effect on the outcome of a game. I feel there are elite coaches such as Poppovich and Carlisle that will aid their teams in a few wins and there are the coaches like Brian Shaw that can lose a locker room and have a negative effect on the team. Everyone else is just kind of bunched up in the middle. There are rotations, plays that need to be drawn up, timeouts to be taken etc., I know. But Mike Brown won 66 games in a season and it wasn’t because of his rotations or because he called timeouts in the correct situations. It was due to Cleveland having the best player in the league, one who made the correct decisions on the court. Monty can draw up a play, but if Tyreke decides to take a step back jumper, that is not Monty’s fault.
Does Avery represent a clear upgrade?
All that being said, I only want to replace Monty if there is a clear upgrade available, not just new blood.
There was a time this season when many felt that Monty Williams was going to be fired in-season. Tweets and reports started popping up in the national media that highlighted how close Avery Johnson and the Pelicans/Saints upper management had become and Johnson would be a lead candidate should the job become available.
That may be some absurd logic, but is that more ridiculous than suggesting Avery Johnson should be the next coach of the Pelicans because he is from New Orleans?
A potential head coaching search will not result like the last time where the then-Hornets were spurned by Tom Thibodeau and then hired the unknown Williams. Because of the King of the South, Anthony Davis (I got you T-bob), the Pelicans will have their choice of head coaches -- birthplace of the candidate should not even be a consideration.
Hey, it would be great if the best candidate to guide Anthony Davis and the Pelicans was from Louisiana. Even better if he were from New Orleans. So why is Avery Johnson not a good fit for the Pelicans as a head coach?
**I have to be honest, when I began researching Johnson and his coaching philosophies; I started to think he wouldn’t be such a bad coach for the Pelicans.
These are Johnson’s offensive philosophies:
Be the aggressor, not the reactor
After a missed shot by the opponents, he wants to go. Whether it is the point guard, shooting guard or small forward, he wants the outlet pass to be made quickly and for the ball to be pushed up the floor.
Johnson doesn’t want the ball to be kept on the same side of the floor too long. If a lane to drive to the rim is not available, whip the ball around the perimeter to keep the defense moving and increase the percentage of a good shot.
When the ball is swung, he prefers a quick catch and shoot, catch and drive or catch and pass—anything but hold the ball so the defender cannot catch up.
Sounds great right? I want the Pelicans to attack, push the ball off missed shots, make quick passes around the perimeter. I want that! But wait, there is also this:
Johnson favors an isolation heavy system
In critical moments, Johnson’s teams stop playing basketball and start playing "heroball." Give the ball to your best perimeter player and let them create a moment.
Johnson has butted heads with Jason Kidd and Deron Williams over the offensive systems in place in both Dallas and New Jersey.
Johnson may prefer a fast-paced system, but the teams he has coached have been at the bottom of the league in terms of pace. In fact, the Pelicans Pace of 92.2 and 91.7 the past two years are better than any season Avery Johnson has ever had as a head coach.
Johnson has been known to turn a light game day shoot around into an intense practice
Offensively, it seems that Johnson’s philosophies are ones I agree with, yet those ideas never came to fruition during the seasons of Johnson-coached teams. He has also had issues with his more established players in both of his coaching opportunities.
Just do a quick Google search of the discrepancies Avery Johnson has had with a player: from Brook Lopez cursing him out to Deron Williams criticizing his offense to Jason Kidd questioning his strategy. Granted, Kidd and Williams are two guards notoriously known for being "coach killers." But Brook Lopez? Not so much. This isn't an element that anyone should want within the Pelicans organization.
One reason why Johnson was let go from the Mavericks position was the offense Johnson ran was not best suited for Kidd. Kidd was responsible for getting the ball to Dirk and initiating the offense, but he felt that Johnson’s offense was an inhibition. This is concerning because this shows a coach that wants to run his offense regardless of personnel. The best coaches will always adapt their strategies based upon who is on the court.
Johnson’s stubbornness ended up costing him his job with the Mavs. They replaced him with Rick Carlisle, who installed an offense better suited to Kidd’s strengths. Lo and behold, they ended up winning a championship.
For any of you that followed the latest Sloan Convention and the tweets emanating from it, you probably remember Mike D’Antoni stating analytics show that lighter, shorter practices are preferred to save the players legs over the long season. The Pels certainly do not need a coach that will turn a shoot around on game day into an intense practice for both the short term (the game that day) and the long term (buildup of all those practices over the whole season).
One may argue, "but he won Coach of the Year" or "look at how good the Mavericks were during his tenure." After all, they did win an average of 59 games over his three seasons. Not to discredit anything Johnson did, but he had one of the league’s all-time great scorers in his absolute prime. In addition, the Mavericks were so stacked that there was really no way to fail.
Johnson received accolades during his first season as Mavericks coach because of the improvement the Mavs made on the defensive side of the ball, long a Pelican fans stomach ache. He oversaw a Mavericks turnaround that saw their Defensive Rating improve slightly from 105 to 103.2. However, the same metric for his Nets team was no different than that of the recent Pelicans teams.
The worst thing the Pelicans can do is make a change, just because. If Monty’s message is not falling on deaf ears in the locker room, if the players are still buying into him as a coach and the Pels continue to show improvement each season, do not make a change.
I saw Ryan Anderson at the airport over the All-Star break and I introduced myself. We talked about many things because our flight was delayed, but I brought up Monty. Obviously, he did not disparage the Pelicans head coach to me, a stranger. It wasn't the right thing to do, nor do I think Ryno is that type of guy.
Instead, he described how close the players are and how the team was similar to a college team -- they all have an affinity for one another. He credits Monty for this, for creating and maintaining this atmosphere in the locker room. One reason the Warriors are said to have made such a leap this season is because they all really like playing with each other. That makes a difference (see the Clippers).
I am not sure if Monty can be a championship coach, but my plea is to not make a change unless a home run candidate is sitting out there. And for God’s sake, it's certainly not Avery Johnson!