Today, both Dell Demps and Mickey Loomis commented on the reasons the organization let go of Monty Williams.
Dell Demps: "We decided a coaching change was best for the long-term success of the organization.''— John Reid (@JohnReid64) May 12, 2015
Mickey Loomis: ''We just felt like our group needed something different.''— John Reid (@JohnReid64) May 12, 2015
Mickey Loomis: "To get to the next level.''— John Reid (@JohnReid64) May 12, 2015
While all of this may be true, it doesn't do justice to the facts leading up to today's announcement.
On the last day of the season, after the New Orleans Pelicans had beaten the San Antonio Spurs and secured the 8th playoff seed in the Western Conference, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted the following:
Ownership gave GM Dell Demps and Monty Williams preseason mandate to make playoffs to keep jobs, w/ no allowance for injuries. They made it.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 16, 2015
Despite the team's continuous upward trajectory over the last several seasons, it appeared several members within the Pelicans organization had an ultimatum to meet at the conclusion of 2014-15, regardless of surrounding circumstances such as injury.
Well, as Woj aptly put, they made it. Then, although the Pelicans were swept by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, Tom Benson issued the following letter.
"Dear Monty, Dell and all of the Pelicans Coaches and Players:
"I wanted to thank each and every one of you for a job well done this past season. We made the playoffs in a very strong finish at the end of the season. That is a tribute to your hard work and determination. You were able to overcome the adversities that face every team, but it was the way you all came together as a team that made us all very proud.
"Our fans were truly galvanized by your dedication. Our theme this year was to Take Flight. I am confident that we have begun to take flight as a team. We now must turn our attention to getting better and coming back for the 2015-16 season with an even stronger resolve.
"I am very excited about the future of our Pelicans and you have my word and my resolve to bring everything to bear to win. New Orleans deserves an NBA Championship and we have the foundation, facilities and fans to make this a reality.
Tom Benson, Owner."
In conjunction with this letter, a gleeful Monty Williams gave a press conference at the end of the season. He certainly didn't look or say anything like a coach whose future was in any doubt.
So, what the hell happened, and more importantly, did Monty deserve to get blindsided? Especially when the feeling among the majority was that the Pelicans had exceeded expectations???
Williams, who had one year left on his contract and a team option for a second, had a scheduled meeting with management Tuesday morning, where there was an expectation that the franchise would pick up the 2016-17 option on his deal, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Instead, New Orleans president Mickey Loomis let Williams go.
In my opinion, the Pelicans organization, and in particular the ownership group, had a sudden change of heart during these last several weeks. There existed three likely scenarios.
- Since the Benson letter, a larger rift developed between Monty Williams and Dell Demps.
- Firing Monty was always in the cards, regardless of how the Pelicans finished.
- A new voice became instrumental in making the decision to fire Monty.
1. Monty became disgruntled
My initial reaction to today's news was that Williams had become dissatisfied with the direction of the team during the last several weeks, most likely with the moves Demps was planning to make this summer. After all, it's been reported on multiple occasions that the two men have not always seen eye to eye. In fact, during Monty's post-season conference, he made mention of this fact yet again. Then, this piece from the aforementioned Wojnarowski article seemed to clarify the situation.
General manager Dell Demps had been wrestling for greater control of the franchise and pushed out Williams. Around Williams’ staff this season, there was a sense of decreasing management support and unnecessary obstacles, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
In order for Demps to move the team closer towards his vision, he may have believed the atmosphere needed a cleaning to get everyone on the same page -- it wasn't going to happen with Monty still in tow.
After plenty of reflection, I have trouble believing in this scenario. First, why would the ownership group side with Demps? He has always had even less support in the city of New Orleans than Monty, plus he likely didn't have anywhere near the love of the players.
Still in shock.. Monty is a great coach! Couldn't be a better person off the court as well. Tough to… https://t.co/ePBXyXqvka— Quincy Pondexter (@QuincyPondexter) May 12, 2015
Second, during today's news conference, Demps immediately came off as someone who showed nothing but remorse -- "Obviously this is not a fun day for me." His typical smile never flashed once, and honestly, he looked like a deer in headlights, someone who was given a script because he had just found out the news himself moments earlier. Just watch the video for yourselves, he's reading what to say word for word!
Demps emphasized this was an ownership decision. He repeatedly dismissed the claims that his personal relationship was to blame and stated that he and Monty communicated plenty of times. "We met after most practices, after most games."
In fact, it was during this part of the video that Demps appeared to be the most genuine. I'm sorry, but two people who dislike one another, especially if the claim is that one of them wants to the other out the door, would have not gone out of his way to explain their relationship in such a detailed and positive manner. He concluded by saying, "I didn't feel that. "
You know what Dell, neither do I.
What really brought it home for me, though, was the fact he admitted he had not even talked to Monty. Loomis was the one who called and notified Monty of the organization's decision. If Demps had "won" or outlasted Monty Williams, he would have spoken from a place of higher authority today. He would have given the appearance that he is and will continue to be one of the most important decision makers.
Instead, he looked like a lowly messenger who had just returned from a loved one's funeral. Dell has been around long enough to put on a more professional appearance than the one we witnessed at 3 PM Central Time.
2. Ownership had always wanted to replace Monty
It is well-known that Tom Benson and his people did not select Demps or Williams. For many, this is a major red flag as normally an ownership group will handpick the individuals to run their show. Further, during Demp's conference, he made a point in saying that it wasn't about what Monty did or did not do.
Here's the problem with this theory on it's own: it spits in the face of actual improvement and the events that have taken place. It conveniently forgets the Wojnarowski mandate that was made to Demps and Williams before the start of the season. Worse, this route makes Tom Benson's letter at the end of April look like a complete fabrication. For a man who is mired in a family battle to prove mental competency, one doesn't make a complete 180 degree, irrational turn during a very important time of a number of legal proceedings.
No, if today's outcome was invariably the intention, ownership would have never handed out illusionary goals nor accoladed all personnel in the manner they did following the end of the season. This isn't ownership's first rodeo as Benson had bought the New Orleans Saints over three decades ago. He and the people around him know how to proceed with personnel changes without it making a mockery of the man at the top of the food chain.
Although it now appears they've always wanted their own people in at head coach and probably general manager, they got a helping hand...
3. An instrumental new voice
After leaving the Detroit Pistons, the rumors have been on/off that Joe Dumars would eventually return to the NBA via the Pelicans. Going back to the end of last season, Zach Lowe mentioned that Dumars coming to New Orleans was a strong possibility.
Two names to watch if the Pellies eventually part ways with Demps: Joe Dumars and Bobby Marks, the Nets’ assistant GM. Dumars is from Louisiana and tight with higher-ups from the New Orleans Saints, a relationship that dates to well before any real possibility Tom Benson would ever own an NBA team.
Throughout this season, there were more hints. First, Ric Bucher stated that Benson's love for the region could play a decisive role.
The love for all things Louisiana by Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle, is well-known. That could be why the hot rumor circulating around the league right now is that if Benson decides the team is not meeting expectations and makes changes, he will bring in two Louisiana natives as replacements—former Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars and former Nets/Mavericks head coach Avery Johnson.
Then, about a week ago, Fletcher Mackel stated that Dumars could join the organization even if Dell Demps were to be retained.
Dumars is a Louisiana native who has become good friends with Saints and Pelicans executives Mickey Loomis and Greg Bensel, as well as Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Dumars accompanied Loomis to most of the Saints road games in 2014. A Pelicans source said "Loomis is carefully evaluating the basketball side and is taking his time, carefully evaluating all aspects of basketball operations."
Although the Advocate would go on to shoot that down, there certainly has been enough smoke already created about Dumars return to Louisiana in some official capacity. Ken Berger admitted as much as recently as today.
But league sources pointed out Tuesday that the people whose names were on the press release may not be the ones making the decision. Former Pistons executive Joe Dumars, a Louisiana native, has been providing input with the team and has a close relationship with Loomis and owner Tom Benson.
An unnecessarily hurtful smoke screen
In his Yahoo article, the most famous NBA insider failed to make mention of Dumars anywhere. By now, it's common knowledge that Dumars is close to the Pelicans ownership group, yet it remains very pertinent news that no knowledgeable writer would fail to include...but Wojnarowski didn't even glance his way.
I fear the reason for this is because of Woj's own personal relationship with Joe Dumars. In case you haven't heard, Dumars was fined $500,000 by the NBA in 2010 for leaking multiple confidential league memos to none other than Wojnarowski. Before the infraction, this very good read on the New Republic wrote that for his efforts, Dumars name wouldn't be dragged through the mud by one of the most influential NBA writers of our time, despite some disastrous decision-making (drafting Darko Milicic, signing Ben Gordon/Charlie Villanueva) that any columnist would have gladly had a field day with.
Ask yourselves this, who broke the news? Who announced it was 100% about a power struggle between Dell Demps and Monty Williams in the second paragraph of his story? And who was conveniently left out, even though his peers saw it fit to include, Joe Dumars name?
Coincidence? I think not.
Lame duck GM, fired a coach who's a team USA asst & well respected, don't consult superstar player on move. Dark day for @PelicansNBA— Fletcher Mackel (@FletcherMackel) May 12, 2015
I agree Fletch.
Unfortunately, this is the end result when ownership has a change of heart and is manipulated by an omnipotent voice. What clinches it for me was that Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news, implicated Dell Demps as the sole reason and failed to make mention of a very relevant newsworthy bit, his old friend, Joe Dumars.
Right now, I'm sick to my stomach thinking about how, not why, everything may have transpired today. Sadly, it probably wasn't about whether Monty Williams should have been fired or not even though he should be the story. In lieu, it's about a power move behind the scenes that took place because the ownership group wishes to install their own hires.
Sure, Dell Demps is still here, but until I see the Pelicans sign him to a longer extension and/or publicly give more him more authority, I'll be waiting for that other shoe to drop. And when it does and we find Joe Dumars sitting at the podium, I'll lose most if not all my respect for Tom Benson and his entourage.
Dumars used to use his position in the NBA for his own personal gain -- keeping the monkey off his back. Now, it appears he's leveraged out one, and probably soon two, important members of the organization not based on any legitimate merit.
The Pelicans should have just manned up and stated their intentions to Monty, Dell and all the fans immediately at the conclusion of the season (or whenever they chose to go down this path). I agree that keeping Monty Williams for the long term may not have been ideal for the team's future prospects, but I agree with Monty that I don't like their decision. The manner in which it appears to have been executed was low and deceitful and I pray that it will not influence Anthony Davis and cost the city of his spectacular services some day.