Pelicans’ New Philosophy, Leadership Establishes Foundation for Present and Future Success

19:11 July 18, 2019
By: Reed Darcey

Today David Griffin is the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for the New Orleans Pelicans. Listen to him speak a handful of times over a few months, and an alternate reality will emerge in which Griffin, had he chosen a different career path, becomes a success not in basketball, but in philosophy or motivational speaking.

"I became a general manager after starting in the league as a game night intern in media relations. Did not play at a very high level at all," he said. "The only reason I'm sitting here is because I believe you can speak it into existence."

Where Griffin sat was at a press conference, introducing to the local media some of the players the team's front office acquired this offseason via trades. To his left sat Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, on his right Derrick Favors and Lonzo Ball.

Griffin continued his philosophical musings.

"I was joking with Derrick [Favors] that leading up to that trade, we were trying to generate the energy that was going to make that happen," he said.

He invoked "energy" later in the afternoon as well, in response to a question about the challenges of building a championship team in this era of the NBA.

"...The energy you put out in the universe is going to attract like energy, right? So, our job is to make these guys feel as much as part of the family as they can, such that they can't imagine doing this anywhere else," he said.

"I mean, it's very clearly now not just about winning. And it's very clearly now, not about geography. There's something else that's at work there."

"Our job as we build is to always have a template that we can attract the right energy to."

Griffin exudes an aura of positivity. He likely subscribes to the belief that his perception affects his attitude, and that his attitude bolsters his confidence. As a leader, he can spread his confidence to the rest of the organization.

Alluding to comments he made to SiriusXM radio about his belief that Jrue Holiday can win MVP, Griffin said, "there's no reason in the world any of us should limit what we dream of."

"There's no reason to limit the scope of what you're trying to do in your life. It doesn't make any sense," he argued.

Griffin believes he can accomplish the tall task of constructing a championship team in a small market at the peak of the league's player empowerment era. The first step was to infuse a stale franchise with new "energy."

The Pelicans aimlessly wandered through this decade without adhering to a plan. They failed to establish an identity on the court and a culture that attracts free agents.

A change in leadership sparked a shift in team culture, improving the franchise's reputation to the point at which veteran free agents were attracted to the franchise. Favors and JJ Redick chose New Orleans, and Griffin hopes that they will each contribute to the Pelicans' present and future.

This season Holiday, Favors, and Redick will elevate the young team's floor.

The task of scoring will primarily fall on Holiday, relieving Ingram and Zion Williamson of the burden that principal scoring threats must carry.

Favors will draw defenders to the paint on his rolls to the rim, leaving more open space for perimeter players to shoot. Ball, Ingram, and Williamson need as much space as possible, for each will struggle to consistently shoot well from deep.

Favors developed a deadly screen-and-roll attack in Utah with Joe Ingles. Perhaps he can duplicate this action with Williamson, who has untapped potential as a ball handler.

Redick will shoot efficiently for a team in desperate need of reliable spacers. His pin-down actions with Williamson will confuse defenders.

If all goes according to plan, the veteran Pelicans will help the team reach the playoffs, placing the young Pels in meaningful action early in the rebuilding process.

This course is a deviation from the pattern set by some of the league's recent rebuilds, where teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks would use their cap space not as a means of signing veterans to improve their roster, but as a way to acquire first-round picks attached to overpriced contracts. The plan was to fall down the standings and scoop up high lottery picks down there, who can then bring the team back up into the playoffs.

In an interview on Bleacher Report's podcast The Full 48, Griffin outlined the thinking behind his front office's latest moves.

"The value of growing together and learning how to win together is what really made the Golden State Warriors the animal and the flamethrower that they were," he said. The Warriors "took their lumps together, they learned how to win together in meaningful basketball games."

According to Griffin, "learning how to win together is a really big deal."

"We want to develop our young kids in an environment where winning in April and May matters," he said, noting that Holiday, Favors, and Redick can show the young players how to win.

Of course, a unique set of circumstances brought Favors and Redick to the Big Easy, and to become a contender, Griffin acknowledges that the team will need the stars to align again.

Griffin arrived after Anthony Davis's trade request. Williamson arrived through sheer luck. Ball, Ingram, Hart, and a horde of draft capital arrived through Griffin's shrewd negotiation tactics. Holiday stayed after Griffin denied multiple trade requests for him.

The result was an appealing situation for Favors and Redick to join and a foundation that brews future success.

But Griffin's idea of success is more complex than one might think.

In an interview with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Griffin shared his philosophical proposition about championship contention.

"Championships are not a destination," he said, "they're a state of mind. They're just sort of the residue of being successful."

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