Firing Monty the right move

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Pop the cork and pour yourselves a brisk glass of bubbly, New Orleans Pelicans fans.

You guys are now officially a legitimate NBA organization.

The Pelicans rocked national basketball headlines this past week when they fired fifth-year head coach Monty Williams, despite his leading New Orleans to the playoffs in the 2014-15 season.

If it’s not already obvious by now, I am in 100 percent agreement with the decision. I can go so far as to say that I think Williams’ dismissal marks a new era in Pelicans’ basketball. It marks the day that owner Tom Benson and staff decided that the team wasn’t just a hobby to partake in during non-Saints months, but was instead a legitimate organization with the quest to win championships.

Simply put: Monty Williams just isn’t a very good coach. All one has to do is look at the numbers to figure that out.

In five seasons with the team, Williams compiled a 173-221 record, meaning that he won 43.9 percent of his games. Of course, that same math also means that the Pelicans lost 56.1 percent of the time when Williams was roaming the sidelines in control of the team.

Sure, a lot of that losing was of no fault to the outgoing coach. Yes, Chris Paul got traded and yes, the years recovering from that were lean. But now New Orleans has the best player in the world in Anthony Davis (yes, he is better than an aging LeBron James), and with Davis in tow, the Pelicans have to focus on becoming elite in all facets.

Monty Williams isn’t that.

The Pelicans’ Williams-coached teams were always flat and/or seemingly missing something to make them better than what they were on the floor.

Williams’ pace of play philosophy is old and outdated – a brand of basketball that doesn’t yet embrace fast-paced tempo or the 3-point shot, which is where the game is clearly evolving to.

He claims to be a defensive-first guy, but the Pelicans’ defense always stunk under his watch. New Orleans was No. 22 (out of 30 teams) in defensive efficiency in 2014-15. And this was after the team went all-in this past summer to stockpile the roster with players who specialize on that side of the ball.

With players like Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Davis and gunners like Ryan Anderson, the Pelicans have to play a fast-paced, up-tempo brand of ball that punishes people with speed and athleticism. The slow, boring style that Williams wanted wasn’t ever going to take the team to the top.

But pace, tempo and X’s and O’s aside, Williams’ shortcomings run deeper than that. The dude just isn’t an elite leader.

See, I think Monty Williams is a good guy. I think that he’s a guy that the Pelicans’ players would love to have a beer with on a Saturday night at a Bourbon Street pub.

But there’s a difference between a friendship and a boss-to-employee relationship, and it was painfully obvious that Williams never fully had control over this team.

Against the best teams in the league, the Pelicans were dynamite. They beat the Spurs, Thunder, Rockets, Cavs, Hawks and every other NBA elite in 2014-15. But against the worst teams in the league, the Pelicans had a lack of focus, which led to stupid, dumb-founded losses.

New Orleans lost to the Knicks and 76ers this past year – easily the two worst teams in the NBA. They also lost to the Jazz, Kings, Celtics and Magic, among many other awful and embarrassing losses.

The NBA is an ego-driven league. The best teams are those under control and those which stay poised at all times. The Pelicans are the opposite of that, and Anthony Davis deserves better than a herky-jerky operation that can’t be predicted from one day to the next.

But with Williams out of the picture, the Pelicans are still not yet out of the woods. They have to find a new coach who can be even better.

If I’d grade Monty Williams via an elementary school rubric, I’d say he’s a C, if not a C-. So the onus is on General Manager Dell Demps and Pelicans’ executives to find someone who can match that letter grade and be better.

That sounds like a low bar to set, but in the NBA, there are some pretty awful coaches out there, so it’s not a sure-fire guarantee.

The hot names on the street seem to be Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Alvin Gentry, Tom Thibodeau and even Scott Brooks.

Van Gundy is awful. Scratch him off my shortlist. Jackson isn’t too far behind. There’s a reason why the Golden State Warriors got better immediately after he left – he was holding them back.

I think Brooks is OK, but if you can’t win with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, can you really win with just Anthony Davis and spare parts?

I tend to think that the answer to that question would be a pretty large ‘no way in heck’.

So that leaves Gentry and Thibodeau.

Out of that list, I like Thibodeau the best because of his experience, savvy and hard-nosed approach to defense.

And heck, his last name is pronounced like the Louisiana last name Thibodaux, so it’s a match made in heaven.

Gentry has experience, and even took a team to the Western Conference Finals – the place, of course, that the Pelicans are trying to be in the future seasons as Davis reaches his peak.

Either way, Monty Williams is gone, and that’s a date the basketball fans in our state should mark as significant.

It’s the date that the Pelicans officially went all-in on being an NBA championship contender in the all-to near future.

It was time.