NEW ORLEANS — Time and again this season, New Orleans found ways to lose fourth-quarter leads, sometimes of the double-digit variety, with mere minutes to play.
But while many wonder the reason why, coach Monty Williams wonders something else.
“It’s funny how you guys never asked about how’d you guys beat Boston, Denver and Memphis in a row,” Williams said Monday during the Pelicans’ season-ending news conference at the New Orleans Arena. “Everybody always brings up how we lost games in the fourth quarter when we were up by double digits. That always comes around.”
Williams is right.
Yet, if he were to switch places and be the one asking questions, he undoubtedly would be wondering the same thing.
He all but admitted as much.
“I think about it a lot,” Williams said. “Obviously it’s easy to sit there and blame it on youth or blame it on whatever the players did. The bottom line is not just them all the time. I’ve got to do my job as well and I’m not going to hide from that.”
It has been a rough two seasons for Williams. After guiding the then-Hornets to a 46-36 record in his first season on the job, he lost All-Stars Chris Paul and David West. In the subsequent two seasons, New Orleans has gone 21-45 and 27-55.
It’s after this campaign, however, that Williams might have learned the most.
In coaching one of the NBA’s youngest teams, he made assumptions early on that he says he’ll never make again.
“The one mistake I made was assuming that guys knew something when they didn’t,” Williams said. “We decided about two months into the season to go back to ground zero, and make sure we taught everything from the ABC’s even if we had to repeat it to guys. That’s the one thing that I wish I would have done in training camp.”
He added, “Going forward, we’re never going to allow that to happen again. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the NBA or how long you’ve been playing basketball, we’re going to make sure we start at ground zero and make sure every guy knows every rule in the game.”
Lost in the success and failures of the past three seasons is that Williams himself is young, coaching this year as a 41-year-old man, the second-youngest coach in the league this past season.
Williams, in other words, is still learning on the job how to handle professional personalities as well as rookies.
To that end, he speaks regularly with San Antonio Spurs coach and mentor Gregg Popovich as well as Boston Celtics coach and friend Doc Rivers. And this summer, he’ll spend time, he said, talking with people who aren’t basketball coaches.
“I’ve got to get better,” Williams said. “I’ve always said that since I’ve been here. I’m going to continue to try to do that. That’s not going to change. Hopefully our players can benefit from that.”