Lewis: Williams using up mulligans as Pelicans losses mount

New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams yells to his team in the first half of an NBA basketball  against the Los Angeles Clippers in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Bill Haber) Show caption
New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams yells to his team in the first half of an NBA basketball against the Los Angeles Clippers in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

So just how many mulligans does Monty Williams get?

Sure, the Pelicans coach has had to deal with excessive adversity over the past three seasons: having to operate under league ownership before Tom Benson bought the team in 2012; the loss of All-Stars David West and Chris Paul with little to show in return; a decision to step down last season before trying to step back up this year, albeit with the NBA’s least-experienced roster; and the crippling loss of three frontline players for a combined 83 games and counting after Monday’s 123-110 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the team’s fourth in a row since the All-Star break.

Having Alexis Ajinca and Luke Babbitt, who weren’t in the league when the season started, replacing Jason Smith and Ryan Anderson is not a formula for success.

“I don’t want to rely on any of that,” Williams said before the Clippers game. “The bottom line is that we want to win, which is what this league is about.”

Well, at that bottom line, the Pelicans are bottoming out.

Since the start of the 2011-12 season — and the departure of Paul — the Pelicans’ 71 victories exceeds only three other teams: Sacramento (70), Cleveland (67) and Charlotte (56) — all of which have made coaching changes in that span.

Maybe more disconcerting — in the past two seasons, the then-Hornets won 15 and then 14 games against Western Conference foes. This year, they’re 9-23.

That’s not keeping with the Joneses, or the Thunder or even the Suns, whom the Pelicans were two games better than last year, but which presently have the No. 7 seed in the West.

The trend for the rest of the season is looking too good, either. Of the 26 games remaining on the schedule, only seven are against teams the Pelicans are better than recordwise.

For those looking for a silver lining, the Pelicans are only 4½ games out of reacquiring the protected draft pick they gave up to get Jrue Holiday, who on Monday missed his 22nd straight game with a stress fracture.

And for another, Williams hasn’t lost his team.

“As players, we know what we’re going to get from Monty, and that’s that he’s not going to waiver in his support for us,” said guard Brian Roberts, who elevated to starting duty because of injuries.

“We know that no matter who’s on the floor he wants us to play hard. We’re going to keep fighting hard and competing.”

But when the team returns from its seven-day, five-game western road trip at Mardi Gras, will Williams still have a job?

Probably so.

While the temptation level for a change might be strong, Benson has already expressed confidence in Williams and General Manager Dell Demps by giving them contract extensions rather than walking papers when he bought the team.

Both have two years to run, and Mr. B is not known as a man who likes to part with his money if he doesn’t have to.

Another sign: Trade deadline deals are often generated by new and/or desperate owners. Demps didn’t make any last week, although that might more of a sign of not having much to deal with than a lack of trying.

We don’t know which is true, because Demps has not made himself available for interviews or issued any statements. And neither have we gotten any of the dreaded votes of confidence from Benson, team president Dennis Lauscha or executive vice-president for basketball operations Mickey Loomis, none of whom were in attendance Monday night, although Loomis did have the excuse of being at the NFL combine.

Maybe for Williams, in this case no news is good news.

There is one thing to remember though.

During a preseason tour of the refurbished arena now know as the Smoothie King Center, Benson, didn’t talk much about winning, instead saying, “We expect a sellout for every game.

“That would be tremendous. Just think about that, both the Saints and now the Pelicans. That means our fans are really involved and really love what’s going on.”

Well, Benson isn’t getting his sellouts. And while the official average attendance of 16,300 per game is about 2,500 more than last season, there are thousands of empty seats for nearly every home game.

That will change any owner’s view of how quickly he needs to do something.

“You want to win,” one season ticket holder who asked not to be identified said Monday. “People were loyal to the Saints, but when they were losing, you saw the stands getting empty.

“At some time, they’ve got decide we’re going to make that next step, which is an NBA title. To do that, you’ve got to get the right personnel, and you may have to get the right coach.”

So maybe not just yet. But at some point, as it is for any coach and in any organization, there will be accountability.

And no more mulligans.