Basketball Operation Executive Vice President David Griffin’s vision is finally taking shape after his third year in charge of the New Orleans Pelicans. With the help of Vice President of Team Development Swin Cash and General Manager Trajan Langdon, the Pelicans enter the offseason with the roster, cap space and resources to open a championship window for the next decade.
New Orleans has come a long way since Griffin came to town. The respect now shown by national media and rival front offices is more noticeable than ever. Griffin remained firm on his “untradeable” roster and the Pelicans remained in the spotlight even after being knocked out of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns.
Some outsiders might say that calming Zion Williamson and getting back into his good graces was the biggest priority this season. Those inside the building are adamant that this project is bigger than one person in the field and at reception. The hope is that the culture remains, no matter who goes there. Griffin admitted this in several interviews, including his first at work.
“We came into the year wanting to play meaningful basketball games, and that was going to be the hallmark of success,” Griffin said in exit interviews. “So I think by every other metric, you have to say it’s been an incredibly successful season, based on the fact that we’ve had eight postseason games and three playoff games. What that’s going to do for us in terms of starting our future is almost unimaginable, as the year approaches, and certainly, when you’re 1-12 and 3-16, it’s absolutely unimaginable.
End of the head coach carousel
Every squad needs a leader to help them move forward. Critics may point to three coaches in three years, but at least Griffin finally got it right. Keeping Alvin Gentry wasn’t totally his call, and then the relationship soured. Hiring and then firing Stan Van Gundy after one season were questionable decisions at the time of the two announcements.
No one questions Willie Green’s authority and stamina. Contract extensions for the front office and Green would be in order if the Pelicans make another playoff run next season. Green’s coaching “from a place of love” also caught Zion’s attention.
“I’m grateful that (Williamson) understands exactly what he’s witnessing,” Griffin said in exit interviews. “He was visibly emotional in the dressing room last night, as was the whole team and so we’re grateful that he and the rest of the squad were on board with what we’re trying to achieve.”
Trade market movements
Griffin replaced “dealer” Dell Demps as head of the organization. Honestly, the team’s reputation was questionable before Griffin came to town. The star players didn’t seem to want to stay here, and then Griffin’s reputation took a beating in the first two years.
The teams were like vultures to a carcass after the Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday trades, leading to the Lonzo Ball signing and trade fiasco and the filing of a grievance with the league office. Griffin shrugged off low ball offers trying to split his playoff roster and now looks all the wiser after taking two games away from Chris Paul and Monty Williams.
Davis for Brandon Ingram might have been the best trade in franchise history. The Pelicans still receive awards from the Lakers. The Pelicans exceed expectations but were lucky with the Los Angeles Lakers pick falling in the lottery.
Los Angeles pick falls in 8and spot gives New Orleans another affordable talent to add to an increasingly expensive roster by the day. Holiday brought back enough assets that the Pelicans could acquire CJ McCollum and still have ammunition left to nab a playoff-caliber starter, if not another All-Star, before the next trade deadline.
Griffin has effectively traded the team’s two picks in 2022 three times. He split the protections on the 2022 Pelicans pick between the Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers to bring in CJ McCollum and Devonte ‘Graham. The Hornets get the 15th pick this year while Portland will wait until 2025 to get the Milwaukee Bucks’ pick via holiday trade.
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He used the other pick in a trade with Memphis to catch Valanciunas. Memphis can grab the 2022 Lakers pick, but it’s more likely that New Orleans will instead pass a few second-rounders to Memphis that wouldn’t make the roster anyway.
Finding Affordable Free Agents
The Pelicans could hardly bring a free agent to town to hear the pitch last summer. Perhaps that’s why the team extended the trade target contracts. The deal with Steven Adams was called off, but he helped bring in Jonas Valanciunas.
Devonte’ Graham is always comfortable. His role changed four times last season. He signed up to play with Zion, ended up leading the team for a few weeks, then ended the year playing in playoff pain. He’s not in line for an extension, but there’s reason to believe he can contribute more next season. .
The Pelicans don’t need to go big name shopping this offseason. New Orleans only has room to sign its first draft pick with 14 players already signed up. Their only free agents are Tony Snell, Gary Clark Jr. and Jared Harper. Expect a quieter offseason than usual, according to Griffin.
Writing with a purpose
Zion Williamson was the obvious choice for the Pelicans in Griffin’s first draft. Negotiate the 4and the 2019 overall pick brought in Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Hayes has emerged as a decent starter this year but will return to a reserve role splitting time with Larry Nance Jr. behind Williamson next season.
The jury is still out on a young Kira Lewis Jr. undergoing rehabilitation. Didi Silva has always been a long time staying in the NBA and has been moved before with Alexander-Walker. Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado might be the best three-man rookie class in league history. So far, the front office has gotten positive value from every pick except Williamson.
The hope is that the wait is over and Zion will enter next season healthy with dried ink on a five-year contract extension. Griffin explained that contract extension talks “will be a challenge. When it’s time to have it, we’ll have it. And right now what we’re focusing on is that he’s healthy and (be) in some kind of elite condition to play basketball and we’ll start there.
Front Office Final Notes
The hiring of Van Gundy, the exchange of Holiday for Bledsoe, and then the extension of Adams were not setbacks. These were just moves that stalled the progress of the ongoing “sustainable championship culture”. Now those sideline spots are occupied by Willie Green, Jonas Valanciunas and CJ McCollum. Most of the moves that looked like a mistake have been corrected, which also deserves credit.
No front office stands a chance in this type of culture. Larry Nance Jr. said he had never seen such a culture in his professional career. Willy Hernangomez was “untouchable” for family reasons that went beyond what scouts saw on the field. The front office has created a culture that values each player, not for the salary cap they hit, but for their overall chemistry.
It’s not quite ring racing, but it’s a foundation that attracted highly respected NBPA President CJ McCollum. That says a lot in itself. The front office is getting A’s all over for putting together a team that this city embraces because of how it represents New Orleans.