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From Alvin Gentry to Becky Hammon to Jerry Stackhouse to Sam Cassell, an examination of 14 head coaching candidates for the New Orleans Pelicans

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We have now entered the post lunch break portion of this miserable season. Nothing on the court matters much outside of the development of a few young guys that may be part of the long term future. It’s mostly just coasting until we escape the confines of our cubicles for the freedom of the offseason. Let’s do some clock-watching, day-dreaming and YouTubing while we explore what could be in a series of analogies built around fun, but also breaking down the potential future of the Pelicans. The second chapter — head coaching candidates.

Hurricane Katrina Aftermath - Day 20 Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If you missed chapter 1 of our New Orleans Index Ratings, please check it out as we laid out how New Orleans a handful of potential GM candidates rate. (Also, please check out our first collaboration where we redesigned the in-arena soundtrack.)

In chapter 2, Chris and I apply the same logic we used to breakdown those possible GMs to some potential head coaching candidates the Pelicans could consider. We hope you enjoy the ride — no matter how bad it is for your alignment.

Alvin Gentry

New Orleans Index Rating: The Welcome to Louisiana Sign at the Border of Mississippi and Slidell

My grandparents owned an old cabin on a small cliff along a narrow creek in Kiln, Mississippi from before I was born until Katrina took it away. My sister and I would spend nearly every weekend of our summers there as kids, playing volleyball in the shin deep creek, searching out swimming holes, running from copperheads and catching minnows. On the drive back to New Orleans, we’d cross the Pearl River on a raised portion of I-10 that my grandfather would call “The Bow-legged Cowboy” because of the way the opposite lanes of interstate bow out away from each other. As soon as you cross the river, there you are greeted by the ‘Welcome to Louisiana’ sign and third world country roads that shake your car like a non-sexual Shake Weight.

To say the Alvin Gentry era has been bumpy is as understated as a single lemon twist in a 5 gallon bucket of sazerac.

Coming off the heals of a championship with the Golden State Warriors, a champagne soaked Gentry grabbed the mic like Suge Knight at the Source Awards and declared that he and Anthony Davis would be celebrating with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy the very next season.

However, if Ron Howard was here narrating like an episode of Arrested Development, he’d say, “they were not back.”

An injury-plagued inaugural season resulted in a very disheartening 30-win season that saw Jrue Holiday only start 23 games, Tyreke Evans play in only 25 games, Anthony Davis play in 61 games, Eric Gordon play 45 games and 66 games from Ryan Anderson. In that season, we also suffered through minutes from Norris Cole, Orlando Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Alonzo Gee, Jimmer Fredette and Jordan Hamilton.

The one promising addition, Bryce Dejean-Jones (a late-season 6’6 wing find by our dumpster diving guru Dell Demps) died from a gunshot wound in the following offseason — a tragedy that I think we sometimes insensitively look passed.

Gentry’s first year reminds me a lot of one of my favorite dysfunctional New Orleans stories. My partner in season tickets rode his bike to City Hall to apply for a business license. It was a ride filled with excitement and promise of a new venture and era of life building off of some sense of success. When he returned to the City Hall bike rack where he had locked up his ride, he found a cut chain and a disappointing yet beautiful analogy for doing business with the city of a void where his bike once sat.

The following season would feel a lot like Gentry’s first. New Orleans managed 34 wins and an extended Jrue Holiday absence as he was given leave to deal with the frightening medical issues his wife Lauren was facing. However, unlike the tragic loss at the end of ‘15-16, the Pels would add a star next to Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. DeMarcus Cousins would not have to take his post All-Star game flight back to Sacramento as Dell Demps kept the big man in New Orleans, making a deal with the Kings during the contest. Oleh and I were in attendance — I stole Howard Beck’s seat on press row because Paul Flannery booted me from mine in the stands — following along as Woj dropped nuggets about a potential deal brewing. After sitting in on a few postgame interviews — a game were AD won the MVP — the deal was announced on our walk back to my sister’s condo in the CBD — a walk we didn’t finish because our excitement diverted us to a bar to celebrate.

The third year was that warm feeling you get when you see that welcome to LA sign and all the comforts of home you’ve been missing: the Pelicans won 48 games, finished 6th in the West, enjoyed a first round sweep of the Portland Trailblazers and had a decent showing in round 2 against the buzzsaw that is the Golden State Warriors.

However, even that silver-lining of a season was filled with sinkholes as the Pelicans would struggle to truly integrate Cousins, Davis and Holiday into Alvin Gentry’s offense and Darren Erman’s defense. The team bobbed in and out of playoff contention through the first half of the season, but then came the ultimate bump — as DeMarcus Cousins sealed a victory over the Rockets (the hottest team in the league at the time), his Achilles ruptured while hustling to nab a rebound off of his missed free throw in the closing seconds of the game.

The Pels would go on to lose five of the next six contests. Still, the warmth of home would return as Dell added a then-bearded Nikola Mirotic in a home run trade. New Orleans would become one of the hottest teams heading into the offseason, fueled by a drastically improved defense and a more comfortable in his role Jrue Holiday. The sweep of Portland had us converting potholes to lounges where we watched Saints playoff games — those bumpy roads we’d been traveling along became comfort zones.

Perhaps we became too comfortable — see the 2018-19 Pelicans. This level of almost arrogant comfort runs in our blood. We live in one of the most culturally unique cities in the world, but in doing so we also have accepted large scale incompetence. We deal with the failures of the sewage and water board and Entergy on an almost daily basis. Our roads, public transport and school system perfectly mirror each other in their astonishingly bad conditions. Rents are reaching New York-like levels in a city with no jobs. However, we have extremely strong people, a rich musical and culinary history and a warm and welcoming persona even if it is framed with horrific violence and some crippling poverty.

Alvin Gentry, like New Orleans, is filled with charm, but is built on a broken infrastructure. The city is facing an exodus of one of it’s brightest stars because of failed infrastructure and the loss of hope for sustained success. Gentry has unfairly been tasked with bearing the brunt of Anthony Davis’ escape plan, handling post game pressers like a charming regular at the neighborhood dive bar describing his marital issues to the bartender with a cayenne infused sense of humor. It has endeared him to many in the city — including myself who was very against his hiring — and reportedly to ownership as well. It’s what keeps his name in the potential candidates for next season, but I don’t think it saves him.

Dell Demps was given Monty Williams as a head coach. With a drastic restructuring of the basketball operations in New Orleans, I find it hard to believe that Gayle Benson would consider repeating mistakes of old and not allowing a new GM and/or President of Basketball Operations choose their own coach.

That being said, it doesn’t mean Gentry’s days in New Orleans are over. In fact, it’s been batted around the hallways of Airline and the tunnels at the Smoothie King Center that Gentry will likely be shifted into a front office role — perhaps just as a brand ambassador or that smiling familiar face to great you and immediately remind you of that broken foundation upon which this team was built — The ‘Welcome to Louisiana’ road sign.

Becky Hammon

New Orleans Index Rating: The Joan of Arc Statue and Parade

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joan of Arc was a French heroine for her role in the Hundred Year’s War. She is credited with having visions of the Archangel Michael and other Catholic saints that led to Charles VII to send Joan with a relief army to the siege of Orleans — the turning point in that battle. She would also lead the way in several other battles leading to Charles VII’s coronation and France being freed from English control.

In the 1400s war and war strategy were most certainly a man’s world. However, Joan’s unique visions, drive and leadership have cemented her as a feminist icon to this day because of her ability to shatter that stained glass ceiling and also because she was truly capable. While war will always be a terrible thing in my eyes, it brings people together (even if it is to tear others apart) in extremely difficult situations and forces leaders to rise from the background. This is why battle, war and soldiers are continually used in sports discourse despite the protests of many for the questionable tact of the comparison.

In what may be considered questionable taste (surely, it is not the first time I’ve been accused of such), I too will borrow from that low hanging fruit of analogies. Hammon is thriving in the male dominated league. She’s led championship level Summer League teams and been at the Archangel of NBA coaching Gregg Popovich’s side since 2014, consistently being draped in praise from her insanely accomplished boss.

“She talks the game. She understands the game. So for all those reasons, you really know she’s got that same sort of Avery Johnson, Steve Kerr, [Mike] Budenholzer-type thing.”

If given the opportunity, I believe that Hammon could save basketball in New Orleans, much like Joan Arc saved the city of Orleans during the Hundred Year’s War. Hopefully, if she is the anointed one, the city and the media (local and national) won’t burn her at the stake (or the blog, the article, the podcast or tweet) without a fair shake, and instead make her a celebrated icon like we’ve done with the martyr.

Chris Finch

New Orleans Index Rating: Traditional King Cake

We have become a society of extremes — everything is either the greatest of all time or the worst thing ever. Political moderates are as rare as a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle sighting. This removal of the middle ground has trickled down into NBA offenses: the mid-range shot has become a dirty word. Rip Hamilton’s shot chart would get the full capital treatment in this era of layups and threes — RIP. The Houston Rockets are the face of this movement, but Chris Finch was brought to New Orleans to follow suit and blot out the neutral ground.

I’m not much of a traditionalist when it comes to anything. I find a good deal of tradition rooted in lack of information, and in many cases racism and/or sexism. However, when it comes to king cake, I’m a total purist — please don’t put anything in the middle. King cake is the perfect cake. You don’t need to inject it with garbage like jellies, creams or worse, boudin. Chris Finch seems like the unfilled king cake of coaching candidates — removing the stuff you don’t need for a treat worthy of the risked foot amputation.

Kaleb Canales

New Orleans Index Rating: Lee Dorsey

Should Gersson Rosas become the next Pelicans general manager, it’d be a safe bet to assume that Knick’s assistant coach, Kaleb Canales, would be very high on his list of potential head coaches. This is not based purely on his Mexican-American heritage — though the above quote would support such an idea — they already have a history together.

Canales entered the NBA as a video intern with the Portland Trail Blazers before being promoted to the team’s video coordinator — much like his current boss, David Fizdale did with the Miami Heat. Canales would advance to an assistant coaching role with the Blazers and would be named interim coach in 2012 when Portland fired Nate McMillan. The then 33 year-old was passed over for the permanent gig by Terry Stotts, who retained Canales as an assistant. However, Gersson Rosas would take a brief sabbatical from a career with the Houston Rockets the following year to spend one year further west as part of the Dallas Mavericks front office. In a likely related move, the Mavericks would also add Canales to their bench where he served as an offensive assistant, until the Knicks added him to Fizdale’s staff.

Should Rosas be the producer of the next iteration of the Pelicans, the pair could mirror the success of the soul legends Allen Toussaint and Lee Dorsey. Like Rosas and Canales, Toussaint and Dorsey briefly paired up on the “Lottie Mo/Lover of Love” 7 inch with little breakthrough success.

Dorsey would then leave Valiant Records for Fury Records where he would be paired for the long-haul with Toussaint by A&R man Marshall Sehorn and label owner Bobby Robinson. Their first single in this new partnership, “Ya Ya,” went to number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 — nabbing a gold record for the trophy case. There would be another brief period of struggle, but in 1965 the duo spit out absolute classics: “Get Out My Life, Woman,” “Holy Cow,” “Yes We Can,” and “Working in a Coal Mine.”

The stories of Canales and Dorsey have other parallels outside of potential pairings. The NBA is very much built on nepotisim and fraternity-like hires — ex-players and sons of coaches and general managers fill the benches and front offices. Canales defied those odds with hard work and a lot of patience, starting literally from the bottom with an internship. Dorsey may have had a childhood friendship with Fats Domino, but he wasn’t groomed to be a soul savant. In fact, Dorsey left New Orleans when he was 10 years old for Portland, Oregon (another tie to Canales), and after serving in WWII, he became a professional boxer under the name Kid Chocolate for five years before returning to New Orleans to open an auto repair shop and to sing in dive bars — the unpaid internship of the music industry. If Rosas and Canales find their way to New Orleans, I’d expect them to put in the work, work, work.

Melvin Hunt

New Orleans Index Rating: MoPho

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Melvin Hunt was once college backcourt mates with our own David Wesley and Utah Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey. He’s also a native of Louisiana who went to Grambling University for graduate school. Hunt is currently an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks, but his diverse background makes him an interesting candidate for the Pelicans. Hunt taught 7th and 8th grade math, he was an academic advisor at Baylor, coached an AAU team, coached a women’s team, refereed and coached high school basketball before the NBA came calling.

That call was from ex-teammate Dennis Lindsey, who was working for the Rockets at the time. Hunt was officially hired as the assistant video coordinator, but as he explains below, Rockets’ coach Rudy Tomjanovich insisted that everyone “cross-train” — meaning they all needed to learn to do a little of everything.

Hunt took part in everything, from sitting in on free agent meetings and oversea scouting — including Yao Ming in China — to being an assistant on the bench. Hunt accompanied Tomjanovich to the Lakers for a year as an assistant before joining the Cavaliers, and then he followed that up with the Nuggets (where he’d be interim coach briefly), the Mavericks and now the Hawks. Hunt has coached Kobe, LeBron, Dirk, Shaq, Hakeem, Barkley, Melo, and Chauncey. Now he is doing great work with young stars like Trae Young and John Collins. He’s coached alongside Rudy T, George Karl and Rick Carlisle. He’s left fingerprints on a lot of greatness. Hunt believes that he should be a head coach in this league and has been treated like one by one of the best in the league — as he notes in this interview from Mavs.com.

“Rick is putting the final schlacking on and polishing me off as a coach and a leader. It’s getting me ready for one day when it is my day to be a head coach. Right now, Rick treats me like a head coach. Everything he goes about with me he treats me like a head coach. When we make decisions in the game, ultimately we know he has the final say, but he comes to me just like I’m another head coach over there. He asks and listens. I give information and sometimes I call him out and he really listens. He knows I’m ready and prepared.”

Carlisle also echoed his belief in Melvin:

“Melvin is a veteran assistant that is very well thought of. He’s done a great job for us. He has been a head coach so he has that perspective. He has been a long-time assistant and a former player too. Those are things to contribute to his ability to communicate and be a real asset on the staff.”

MoPho is the brainchild of two waiters and a chef — full disclosure: one of those waiters is my cousin — who were service industry lifers working in some of the most respected restaurants in the city. Like Hunt, they decided they should be the main guys. With the baseline being an Eastbank — NO proper — alternative to the greatest hangover remedy this side of a bloody mary — a trip to the Westbank for some pho — they were no longer the assistant.

Michael Gulotta — the chef — is a graduate of the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, but he also lets his partners — his brother, Jeffrey, and my cousin, Jeffery Bybee, — “cross-train” like Rudy T., adding their ideas into the restaurants menu. A menu that starts at being a pho joint, but incorporates decades of classic New Orleans cooking as well as drawing from other similar food cultures. In my time living and traveling around Asia, I’d say that South East Asian cuisine has much in common with creole and cajun cooking, making it a natural meld despite it seeming an odd pairing at a quick glance.

Like Melvin Hunt could draw from his experiences with the greats of the game — serving alongside in so many different capacities — to blend together a unique playbook, MoPho’s menu includes such hybrids like a deconstructed red beans and rice special on Mondays, chicken vindaloo and waffles on Tuesdays. They offer banh mi style hot sausage, shrimp and oyster poboys. You will also find entrees like a red curry shrimp and grits, chicken curry pot pie and whole roasted pig plates served with roti and pickled veggies on Saturdays. Then there’s the build-your-own-pho or curated versions of the Vietnamese staple like “The Hangover,” a bacon fat topped beef broth pho with bacon, beef shank, mushrooms and poached eggs. MoPho also introduced alcohol filled bubble teas — a very new spin on New Orleans’ daiquiri culture. Their past experiences, blending of styles and drive have resulted in tremendous success.

MOPHO was nominated for America’s Best New Restaurant by Bon Appétit Magazine and named Restaurant of the Year by New Orleans Magazine. In 2016 Michael was named one of Top 30 Chefs to Watch in the nation by Plate Magazine, A New Orleans Rising Star by Starchefs, and a Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine. They’ve also started a culinary tree if you will with a CBD located sister restaurant — Maypop — and will soon have a second MoPho in the Louis Armstrong Airport. Should Hunt be given his opportunity in New Orleans, I believe he could have a similar career, both in terms of accolades and in developing his own coaching tree because of the culmination of his grooming.

Wes Unseld Jr.

New Orleans Index Rating: The Levee System

New Orleans Braces For Flooding From Harvey’s Storm System, Amid Problems With City’s Pumps Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets offense has been a juggernaut during the Nikola Jokic era; however, their defense had been the constantly threatening rising river levels and hurricane season preventing them from being a contender or even a playoff team. All of that changed this offseason when Wes Unseld Jr. was tasked with rebuilding their defensive schemes all the way down to individual habits.

Unseld started started this by changing the way Jokic — a pick-and-roll whipping boy thus far in his career — defended his Achilles heel. Instead of dropping to defend the rim, Unseld has asked him to stay up shielding the ball handler and forcing his help defenders to cover the rim and communicate. Communication was an area they desperately needed to fix as Paolo Uggetti laid out in this Ringer article.

Before the Nuggets could get better at defense, they first had to get better at communicating. And before they could get comfortable shouting out assignments and coverages in games, they first had to make their training-camp practices quiet. The abrupt silence would occur during the team’s defensive drills. Players looked toward the bench in confusion, waiting for instruction...Not a word was uttered. The players soon got the point. It became known as “the quiet drill,” according to Plumlee. From then on, whenever they weren’t communicating in practice, coaches would make them go through drills again even if they had run the coverage to perfection. Unseld and the rest of the staff wanted to hear them talk through every possession...“It sounds very simple, but I think it helps,” Unseld said. “Just like we talk about muscle memory on the physical side, it’s the same thing with the aspect of communicating, making that a habit.”

Following the changes in P&R coverage and the emphasis on communication, Unseld also had the Nuggets abandon hitting the offensive glass hard in favor of transition defense. The Nuggets were already a bucket-making force but a wet paper bag in transition, finishing 23rd in the league last season. Mike Malone’s staff felt they could gamble trading a little offense for defense and the changes paid off handsomely.

Instead of collapsing into the rubble at the bottom of the Western Conference again, Denver sports a top 10 defense and has a firm grasp on the 2nd seed in the Western Conference. The key has been those effective concepts implemented by Unseld which have kept the Nuggets’ heads well above water.

It’s exciting to think about what he could do with a team built around a defensive masterpiece like Jrue Holiday — especially if he gets to pair him with Marcus Smart.

David Vanterpool

New Orleans Index Rating: Festival international de Louisiane

NBA Europe Live - Philadelphia 76ers vs CSKA Moscow - October 11, 2006 Photo by Mansoor Ahmed/Getty Images

On NBA Twitter, the blogosphere and the digital waves of podcasts, there lives a large segment of the population that demands championship contention or destruction to rebuild. Lost in this ideology is the very fun and sustained success teams built around discernible identities and being invited to the postseason dance even without having a real shot at being the prom king — like the Portland Trail Blazers or the Grit and Grind Grizzlies.

Some teams have embraced small market life and perfectly embedded themselves into the fabric of their communities. They understand their position within the league, and even without championship contention, they find a way to stay relevant every season. I’d be overjoyed if the Pelicans could unearth a marketable identity and sustain relevance year after year. Wouldn’t you?

Portland assistant coach David Vanterpool could be the key to that kind of success if given the opportunity many around the league think he deserves. Vanterpool is well traveled; a native of the Virgin Islands, he played college basketball at St. Bonaventure before beginning a professional career that took him around the globe. He was drafted by the Quad City Thunder of the Canadian Basketball Association, played in Italy and China, had a brief stop in the NBA, and then went back to Europe, spending time in Italy (where he won an MVP in 2004) and finally Russia.

Upon retirement as a player from CSKA Moscow, Vanterpool joined their coaching staff before being named Director of Pro Personnel for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He then became a fixture on the Blazers bench, where he’s been for the last 6 years, and has also served as an assistant for the Canadian national team. It must be noted that Vanterpool has been a 5-time coach for Basketball Without Borders and runs coaching clinics in the Bahamas. These broad horizons should enable him to communicate with players from all walks of life, giving him that advantage in dealing with players on and off the court as he explained to Alex Kennedy earlier this year.

“My favorite part of the job is the opportunity to impact these young men’s lives,” Vanterpool said. “You’d be surprised how many times the conversation gravitates from basketball to life. In this job, you get an opportunity to be closely related to some of the most admired people in sports. But, aside from them being admired for their athletic prowess, they’re still people. They’re highly talented; more talented than I could’ve ever dreamed to be. But you realize that you can contribute to their lives aside from their profession. If I have some little tidbit I can offer a player and it can impact his life, that is really gratifying. Sometimes, it’s telling them about a mistake that I made in the past. That means a lot to me. You’re watching these kids’ lives completely transform.”

Much like the 3rd-seeded Blazers who live in the dark, expansive shadow of the Warriors, Festival International is also clouded over by the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Jazz Fest has gone from a local fest to a major festival attracting acts like the Rolling Stones — and you pay through the teeth too for the big names while often having to watch from a mile away.

Festival International is much more accessible should you make the journey west on I-10 to Lafayette. It’s free, not over crowded and brings together local culture and tradition. The event is infused with world music: part of its mission statement is to “Educate the public of the historical achievements and artistic expressions of related global cultures while developing an appreciation for the arts.”

This desire to educate and introduce through experiences with cultures from overseas fits right in with everything David Vanterpool has learned and tied to his coaching methodology.

Dave Joerger

New Orleans Index Rating: A Bourbon Street Bar’s Signature Cocktail Complete with Souvenir Cup

As a bartender you need to develop some really bad jokes to earn an extra buck or two from the lingering customer who wants a song-and-dance. After nine years, I’ve got a whole routine.

We have a famous signature cocktail that has given me “Monsoon Elbow” from the amount of times I’ve poured it in nearly a decade’s time. One of my jokes is based on the ingredients list to that specific drink. When asked what goes in it, I usually reply, “it’s 3-parts regret and 1-part diabetes.” This pretty much summarizes the contents of all of the French Quarter party bars’ signature drinks. Joerger-Bomb jokes aside — that punchline may also be a fair description of Dave Joerger’s coaching career — there have been some pretty sweet moments but some hazy regret.

Joerger, despite putting up 50, 55 and then 42 wins in Memphis — all playoff appearances with one trip to the 2nd round, was dumped for David Fizdale. However, he was quickly picked up by the Sacramento Kings. Coaching a perennial rebuild of a team — not a lot was expected of the Kings and not much was delivered in his first two seasons — 32 and 27 wins. However, in year three, Joerger, a re-imagined De’Aaron Fox and a lethal Buddy Hield had the Kings lockstep with the Brooklyn Nets for everyone lacking a social life and deep love of basketball’s (me included) B-Side League Pass darlings — especially pre-All-Star break for the Kings.

Despite the fact they’ll be watching the playoffs from home again, the Kings are one of the more promising teams heading into next season. Still, even with this being their best year since Mike Malone was dumped, questions have circled Joerger’s job status like a mismanaged committee of vultures ready to cherry-pick the eyeballs out of his rotations. Maybe it is just the Kings reverting to Kangzing, maybe it is just Joerger, or maybe those rumors are just that. However, it is possible that he’s the giant sugar soaked cocktail that you love for the first round or two — delivering drunken bliss and a sense of adventure for a few hours, but that gets you so sick you’ll never touch it again in a hurry.

Avery Johnson

New Orleans Index Rating: A fried seafood platter

NCAA Basketball: Lipscomb at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Being from a city that has such a rich culture of food options, I take serious offense to any celebration of fried seafood platters locally. Don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s me. I don’t knock those who visit or live in New Orleans indulging in such meals, but we can all do so much better, and this isn’t even about the health facts at hand.

I understand the value in going to “Deanie’s” for example and getting a giant fried variety of seafood to last you for four days. I really do. It’s quick and straightforward, but it’s also a shortcut of sorts. The allure of seafood in NOLA is not just about the plethora offered, but the “fresh” factor combined with a unique blend of seasonings and styles to consider. And even if there’s a dislike involved, it’s a much better experience than ordering the contents of something that can be obtained almost anywhere. What’s the fun in that? And I care how good it tastes when you’re drunk.

Avery Johnson brings a similar flavor. He’s from New Orleans and would be a microwave pace, quick fix type of hire. But does he jump out of the water? And is he anything better than what you already have?

That answer is probably no, and let’s not forget Alvin Gentry is also from New Orleans — that story has already been used. Johnson, for sure, has some bright spots dating back to his winning days when taking over for Don Nelson with the Dallas Mavericks. And he also has a 2017-18 NCAA Tournament appearance with the Collin Sexton-led Alabama Crimson Tide under his belt.

But he would simply be too shortsighted of a hire, especially for a guy who seems more interested in a NBA front-office opportunity than another sideline gig. Even if Johnson is interested, the Pelicans should stay away from making the easy, recycled selection. If NOLA basketball is looking for a rebrand of sorts, it’s going to need to start with a challenging, fresh face.

Chris Fleming

New Orleans Index Rating: Daiquiri shops with an assortment of pool tables

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Daiquiri shops and pool halls segregated, are awesome. Together, they’re magical. I’ll never forget the first shop I visited with a variety of pool tables inside. Maybe it was just my luck to only have been inside shops with slot machines or drive-thrus.

You literally don’t have a choice but to play a game or two even if you’re a novice, and especially if you down your drinks like I do. Daiquiri’s simply play a perfect wingman while the pool tables watch you from a distance.

In this comparison the Brooklyn Nets are the daiquiri shop and Chris Fleming is the pool table. Sure, Fleming has a wonderful resume that involves time as a player and a few coaching stints over with Germany’s national team. He has also coached various other overseas teams in a career that has spanned 20 years. But outside of Brooklyn, the most experience he has in the NBA dates back to the 2015-16 season where Fleming spent time with the Denver Nuggets as an assistant.

The Brooklyn Nets are booming right now as an organization, so while you’re admiring them, it’s only right to take a peek at every level of their organization including the coaching staff. Everything looks better standing next to them. And it won’t cost you much, most pool games only cost a dollar.

Like anything else in life, there’s always the possibility of failure or getting hustled. But those events often take place when assumption meets poor observation.

No matter your fears or feelings on Fleming, his association with Brooklyn paints him in a very attractive light, especially if the Pelicans are able to nab his current assistant GM Trajan Langdon. You know what they say about the company you keep.

Jerry Stackhouse

New Orleans Index Rating: The opening of “Jazzland”

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

There’s something about amusement parks I hate. Maybe it’s the organized fun aspect of it all. But no one could downplay the excitement that buzzed through New Orleans when an amusement park, which later changed to the more mainstream name “Six Flags,” opened in May of 2000. Nola simply hadn’t owned many attractions like Jazzland for people, and it really provided a new way to plan out some summer fun.

Unfortunately, this attraction is more known for its abandoned state after Hurricane Katrina today, but that’s an entirely different story. Jerry Stackhouse is everything that the grand opening of Jazzland was about. He’s relatively young as a coach, highly recognized, has a grand history away from New Orleans, and possesses a long following of believers.

When I was growing up, if you didn’t go outside and play with friends, or could find a basketball and a pole, your options were limited for outside enjoyment as a child. Maybe I was sheltered, but Jazzland changed all of that. Between it’s original summer passes and the quick commute (like everywhere else in New Orleans), it was an easy sell.

Stackhouse played 18 years in the NBA after being a top-five draft selection out of the historic North Carolina University. He was a member of two NBA All-Star teams. In total, he brings a resume that not many coaches can compare with; thus, Stackhouse commands a different level of respect from the minute he walks into a locker room.

But eventually that respect wears off if your coaching methods and philosophies aren’t successful. In just his third year of coaching as a professional, all Stackhouse did was win Coach of the Year and lead the Raptors 905 (G League affiliate to the Toronto Raptors) to the 2017 NBA G League championship.

But like Jazzland, with all of the buzz and spectacle, comes a long line of people waiting for their chance to experience the hype.

Some may be right in believing Stackhouse doesn’t possess the experience yet to secure a lead role in the NBA, just as some believed that New Orleans wasn’t big enough and lacked a history with seismic theme parks to have long term stability. The truth is, however, no one can foretell the future, and throughout the excitement of a young coach with early minor league success, lies a man just looking for somebody to cash in their tokens.

Ettore Messina

New Orleans Index Rating: Turk from the Hot Boys

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on how much of a New Orleans rap “stan” you are, Turk’s musical contributions alongside Cash Money and the Hot Boys are vastly underrated. But unfortunately, Turk’s overall impact was masked behind the company he was next to, none of which being his fault. Juvenile, B.G, and Lil Wayne were no question the main attractions.

To make another comparison, Turk was Tito, and the rest of the Hot Boys were playing their more noticeable roles throughout the Jackson Five.

We still must point out he arguably had the best verse on “I Need a Hot Girl”, and introduced the mainstream to the hook for what would later be called “Project B*tch.” The talent was there for sure.

As for Messina, his circumstances are fairly similar except that he has a championship-filled coaching career overseas to add to an NBA resume which includes an assistant to head coach Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs.

Messina has almost 30 years of coaching experience to his name and has been around several fantastic basketball minds. But at the age of 59, he is somehow still without his first head coaching opportunity. One would think a coach with such an illustrious work history would have already broken through. Especially when you consider the long list of coaches Popovich has helped secure future gigs from Brett and Mike Brown to Mike Budenholzer.

Messina has interviewed previously but remains in the shadows of current and former San Antonio Spur assistants from Becky Hammon to Ime Udoka to James Borrego to former Pelicans coach Monty Williams. Not to mention, the legendary and New England Patriots-like culture the aforementioned Popovich has built. Messina has come close but has yet to land the opportunity.

The latest Interest in Messina has come from outside the NBA with the Canadian National Basketball team reportedly listing him as a top candidate. He’s also had multiple stints as the Italian National Team’s head coach.

And there’s a reason Messina’s name is always being discussed, the guy lives and breathes basketball. He understands the game almost at a romantic level, and has been noted as a transparent teacher and communicator.

As each opportunity passes by, it’s fair to question if Messina is destined to forever remain behind the curtains next to his younger and more uniquely discussed colleagues. His comparison, Turk, faced a similar battle, as he’s dropped several solo projects and collaborated with a few of his early Cash Money running mates since a long-awaited return from prison in 2012. He even returned back to Cash Money in February after a 2015 lawsuit. But when you ask about Turk today, the masses mainly remember his young adult days with camouflage bandannas surrounded by current and future superstars.

Maybe that’s part of the reason we’ve never seen the solo breakouts that every single other Hot Boys member once journeyed on, or at least had a chance to. Time will only tell if Messina will be welcomed a similar fate as his first crack as an NBA coach still awaits.

Ime Udoka

New Orleans Index Rating: Blue Bell Mardi Gras King Cake Ice Cream

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I’m really picky about my ice cream — and my head coaches. They all can’t be treated the same. Some brands are too chalky, others lack flavor, and the rest are unacceptably sweet in the most blatant form of diabetes consumed in a container.

Blue Bell, however, has always checked all the boxes of deliciousness for me, no matter the flavor. I just don’t like gimmicks, and that’s where the hypocrite in me comes out the most against Blue Bell. There’s probably a way another brand could sell me king cake ice cream, but ideally, I’d prefer it separately, even with good reviews.

In my mind, why can’t we just take vanilla ice cream, some king cake from the bakery, remove the baby, and combine the two the old fashioned way? Because people want fresh concepts at their fingertips and their visions already prepared. Blue Bell is just the force behind the opportunity.

The machine behind the things we buy can easily shift the elements we accept.

Ime Udoka is from the same tree of coaches as our earlier listed possible candidate Ettore Messina. Like Messina, Udoka has been well traveled throughout his basketball career and spent 12 years as a player, including three with the San Antonio Spurs.

The intrigue in Udoka revolves around the comments people throughout the league have made about him in detail, not to mention he’s been one of Popovich’s trustee assistants for seven years. But it’s not just Pop who believes in Ime, which speaks to the teams that have reached out to Udoka over time.

Francis Okupa did a story in 2018 for africa.espn.com that gave insight into Udoka, and a couple of Spurs players dissected his mindset and growth as an assistant coach.

Udoka described similarities between himself and Popovich with their approach to correcting players.

And when former and current Spurs players Kyle Anderson and LaMarcus Aldridge were asked about Udoka they also offered high praise.

Anderson:

“If he has to get on you he’ll get on you but he knows how to talk to us, [he] knows how to handle players.”

Aldridge:

“I think he’s gonna be a big-time head coach. He understands the game, he played, he’s kind of like Pop’s right-hand man at times here. I think once he gets the opportunity, he’s gonna be great.”

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

That praise should not be taken lightly, and with the interviews over the years Udoka has wrapped up, it should only continue to tally as he continues his rapid ascension towards a head coaching opportunity.

When you consider the fact that Udoka’s philosophy channels beyond X’s and O’s and more towards relationship building, you have to be at least open to his potential, even if that isn’t your style. Similar to Blue Bell, that Spurs badge of prominence should only strengthen his argument.

Udoka added, “Obviously, showing he (Popovich) cares for them is a big part of it. That’s the thing I’ll probably take away the most, the overall relationship with players. Once they know you care about them you can coach them a certain way and they allow you to coach them, but if it was that easy anybody that has a job would be able to coach guys and that’s not always the case.”

There are still questions to be asked about his ability as a basketball teacher, and his future patience in dealing with more difficult personality groups, but it at least appears to be a challenge Udoka is willing to face.

He’s young, he’s African American and stands next to a star-studded coaching staff, but Udoka could also be Monty Williams part-two and in the end, considered a failure in New Orleans. So like the king cake ice cream I don’t know if I’ll like it, but I’m willing to give it a shot because of the brand, and the reviews listed.

Sam Cassell

New Orleans Index Rating: Waffle House

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the unfortunate passing of rap artist Young Greatness, Waffle house’s in NOLA just have a different feel to them. But there’s nothing like an upgrade from your standard 24-hour fast food options in any light, especially in a city that isn’t shy about it’s late-night partying talents.

Almost everyone can relate to being dehydrated after a long night out and needing nourishment to fill up before bed, a long slumber, or possibly work the next morning. If not, what about those annoying late night cravings most can’t escape? Waffle House provided NOLA exactly what it needed, given its environment and surroundings. At worst, it’s a place to chatter with friends and family at the strangest hours at night or in the morning. It’s overall just an option that most cities that are drive-thru dependent on late nights, don’t possess.

We’re on to “Sam I Am” Sam Cassell.

If you’re looking to hire a head coach in any sport, there are certain leadership skills you want to see and expect to accompany all candidates. You want someone who can rally their players in a variety of ways, be unbothered by tense situations, and is capable of making tough decisions against the grain.

Now, think about the nicknames for the point guard position we’ve seen used over time. A floor general, coach on the floor, signal caller, coach’s son (Sorry Austin). The point being, if you can find the right one, a point guard should make for a damn good coach at the next level. And an easy one to train.

Sam Cassell spent 14 years as a point guard in the NBA, and very similar to Jerry Stackhouse, had a great resume on the floor. But unlike Jerry, Cassell has taken a much longer road to a possible head coaching opportunity, combined with garnering significantly greater experience. Sam has been an assistant coach since 2009, when he started with the Washington Wizards, and is currently an assistant under Doc Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers, where he’s been since 2014.

As a player, Cassell was a ruthless, trash-talking bull from Baltimore that retired a three-time NBA champion. As a coach, Cassell is more reserved, but he still carries a level of intensity with him reminiscent of his playing days.

The Pels need natural leadership and a winner as their next sheriff, and Cassell fits the bill. Almost every team he was a part of as a professional flourished around his presence one way or another.

That helps speak to Cassell being a member of 11 playoff-eligible teams in his 14-year career. As an assistant, guards from Bradley Beal and John Wall, to Chris Paul and Austin Rivers have all spoken about the improvements they’ve made individually while under his tutelage.

The Pelicans are going to need to find another point guard, and whether Elfrid Payton stays another year, the Pels would be wise to acquire or draft one this summer. Ja Morant, of course, is everyone’s favorite, but can you imagine a talent like his being coached by someone as strong and hands-on as Cassell? It’s a perfect marriage.

At the very least, Sam would help Elfrid continue to transform his game as the Pelicans lead general. Either way, Cassell, like Waffle House, makes really good sense for New Orleans when you consider need, fit, and attitude. After being behind Doc Rivers, Cassell has had even more of an opportunity to sit back and learn the subtle details of what coaching demands. But that’s something Cassell has never been afraid of.

He could be an upgrade from your standard selection of coaches as he’s put in at least ten years both on and off the floor at a high level. Sam has references from top talents that not many other candidates can counter and won’t possess. He could be the perfect type of candidate for a Pelicans new attitude and era of basketball.

Conclusion

In a city like New Orleans, culture smacks you square in the face immediately upon arrival. And it’s as big of a melting pot as you’ll find in America. While some cities are still highly segregated throughout the United States, the Big Easy provides a different mix of backgrounds that parallels the Gumbo dish that is famously known for (among several others) its unique ingredients. Sure, Nola has many “traditional” areas of an American city, but overall it is riddled with distinct flavors that any civilian can get accustomed to.

New Orleans may lack the size of a large populated town, but it has a personality that will comfortably make you forget that everything is 15-20 minutes away at it’s furthest — no, no, we will not dwell on the potential for traffic. Anything that steps inside of it must reach a certain standard far from regular. The people want a story, adversity, the gritty, and then they’ll sit back and listen to the success. So an index ranking goes beyond the usual status quo of comparisons.

The Pelicans head coach for next season should follow a similar trace.

Stay tuned for the finale of our series where we conclude diving into several Pelicans players, bringing the comparisons that only the Big Easy can provide.