Monty Williams expressed little concern about his contract after a season in which the New Orleans Pelicans improved by 11 victories, despite lousy luck with injuries, and made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
The fifth-year head coach is more focused on keeping 7-foot center Omer Asik from leaving in free agency and figuring out how to help point guard Jure Holiday get past a lingering lower right leg injury.
”We’re going to do everything we can, work with his doctors in (Los Angeles) to try to figure out how we can get him back on the floor,” Williams said of Holiday while holding his end-of-season meeting with reporters on Tuesday. ”No matter how you slice it, concern or frustration, the bottom line is I’m more saddened that he can’t play for him.”
Holiday missed half the regular season and was on minute restrictions after he returned shortly before the Pelicans’ first-round playoff loss to top-seeded Golden State. Recently, Holiday mentioned he may have a screw removed from his right shin, where he had surgery to repair a stress fracture more than a year ago.
”I can’t sit here and try to diminish that,” Williams said. ”There is concern there just because he’s unsure and he hasn’t been able to play.”
Holiday was an Eastern Conference All-Star before his trade to New Orleans from Philadelphia two seasons ago. He averaged 14.8 points and 6.9 assists this season.
Asik averaged 7.3 points and 9.8 rebounds while providing defensive bulk in the interior.
”Omer certainly added great value to our team, not just as defender,” Williams said. ”As he got more comfortable with me, we began to talk more and I think that’s when you started to see our defense get a lot better. … So he’s highly valued by this organization.”
Williams has one season left on his contract and declined to say whether he’s had any extension talks with the club, but he and general manager Dell Demps received a letter of support from team owner Tom Benson.
”I wanted to thank each and every one of you for a job well done,” said the letter, obtained by The Associated Press. ”It was the way you all came together as a team that made us all very proud. … You have my word and my resolve to bring everything to bear to win.”
New Orleans won 45 games this season, clinching the Western Conference’s final playoff spot with a victory over San Antonio on the last night of the regular season.
The Pelicans were swept by Golden State, which won an NBA-best 67 games in the regular season. But New Orleans was competitive in each game and might have won Game 3 if not for Stephen Curry’s tying 3 at the end of regulation.
”We exceeded expectations in many ways,” Williams said. ”Most people didn’t think we would do what we did this year and our players have gotten better.”
There were also several mid-season roster moves that made a difference. Dante Cunningham was signed as a free agent. He played in 66 games, primarily in a defensive role because New Orleans already had proven scorers including Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson.
Later came trades for Quincy Pondexter and Norris Cole, both defense-oriented guards who could provide periodic scoring punch.
Pondexter remains under contract, while Cole will be a restricted free agent and Cunningham is due to join Asik in free agency, along with Alexis Ajinca, who made significant strides as a backup center. Barring a trade, New Orleans also won’t have a first-round draft pick this summer. It went to Houston as part of last summer’s Asik trade.
Davis, a two-time All-Star at only 22 years old, expressed hope that the Pelicans’ young core would get a chance to continue to jell – along with the current coach.
”He’s a great coach. The whole team loves him,” said Davis, who averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. ”He’s done a lot for this organization since he got here. He’s taken a lot of heat, but he really doesn’t let it bother him.”
Williams said he wouldn’t oppose a trade or signing that makes the team better, but otherwise believes his current team could make another big jump with better health.
”I would love to be able to have most of core guys back, which I feel like we will,” Williams said. ”The best thing that we have going for us is we have young guys that have gotten better every year.”