During a recent multi-day stretch, it appeared possible that the New Orleans Pelicans would be competing without their head coach and most experienced assistant coach being on the Disney World premises. As it turns out, fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry, 65, was cleared at the last minute to travel with the Pelicans to Orlando, but defensive-focused assistant Jeff Bzdelik, 67, will not be on the team’s bench.
Gentry found out not long before Wednesday’s team flight to Orlando that he was OK’d by the NBA to proceed with the Pelicans to the “bubble.”
“It’s been tough on everyone,” Gentry said Friday afternoon of the temporary uncertainty about his status. “I wish it would’ve been done sooner. I wish everything would’ve been decided sooner. It wasn’t. But I’m here. That was my ultimate goal, just to be able to be here and coach my team.”
Following New Orleans’ first full-team practice, Gentry noted that he has not discussed with the NBA if there are restrictions or guidelines he needs to follow when games begin July 30, which potentially could include coaches being required to wear a mask, for example.
Meanwhile, Bzdelik – who helped the Pelicans make a major in-season improvement defensively – will not physically be in Orlando, but via technology will still be able to make an impact during New Orleans preparations for games and practices. Adept at scouting opponent offensive attacks and helping Pelicans players improve their awareness of the tendencies of opposing players, Bzdelik will use video conferencing to communicate remotely.
“Jeff is going to be involved,” Gentry said. “It may be from afar, but he’s going to be involved in every practice and every game. He’ll be involved in every game-plan situation. So he’s not here from a physical standpoint, but he will still be involved in everything we do down here.”
“It’s definitely an adjustment,” guard Jrue Holiday said of not having Bzdelik or assistant coach Jamelle McMillan on hand in Orlando. “(In March), we started getting into a groove defensively. Today I feel like we tried to pick it back up. Without Jeff and Jamelle, not having them is kind of weird, but we adjusted well (in Friday’s practice) and did a pretty good job.”
Gentry concurred, saying New Orleans seemed to be hitting its stride on defense and thriving in Bzdelik’s schemes when the NBA season was halted. That progress helped the Pelicans go 21-13 after a 7-23 start.
“Any time you lose one of your coaches who is an integral part of what you’re doing – he took our defense (and improved it) once we got settled in,” Gentry said of Bzdelik. “We had one tough stretch of games, but once we got settled in, defensively we were really solid. The last month we played we were making great progress, guys were really locking in to the rotations and what we were doing.”