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Sisung: Pelicans primed for success with Griffin at helm

| Thursday, August 29, 2019

Acclaimed by multiple media outlets as the best prospect entering the NBA Draft since LeBron James, Zion Williamson has the opportunity to revitalize a small-market NBA team that has never found consistent success or a loyal fan base.

Zion has the chance to take the New Orleans Pelicans to a level that they could never reach with Anthony Davis. While Anthony Davis is a generational talent like Zion, he doesn’t have the personality to win over the hearts of casual sports fans in a city where football is king, especially when a second-round playoff run is the farthest Davis could bring the Pels.

Conversely, Zion, a lovable, loyal, mild-mannered star, enters an entirely new situation in New Orleans with a new front office and a revamped roster. With Dell Demps replaced as general manager by David Griffin, the mastermind behind LeBron James’ success in Cleveland, the Pelicans have proven, competent leadership in place to help guide Zion into becoming the next face of the NBA.

Free agent signings during the Dell Demps era included Alexis Ajinça, Omer Asik and Solomon Hill which were all disasters. Draft picks after Anthony Davis included Austin Rivers, Nerlens Noel (traded to the 76ers on draft night), and Buddy Hield (traded to the Sacramento Kings in the DeMarcus Cousins trade that ended up being a disaster), all which garnered no return on investment. Leadership in New Orleans had a win-now philosophy in order to reap the benefits of Anthony Davis’ prime and put player development on the back burner. The result turned out to be two playoff appearances in seven seasons and a team in shambles after the face of the franchise requested a trade. 

Enter David Griffin. Griffin received the biggest gift that any NBA front office could ask for in winning the NBA Draft lottery with the seventh best odds and winning the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. Then, he completed the biggest trade in NBA history sending Anthony Davis to the Lakers and came out on the winning side with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and multiple future draft picks and swaps including the fourth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft that was traded in exchange for Jaxson Hayes (eighth pick) and Nickell Alexander-Walker (17th pick). In the trade that sent the fourth pick to the Hawks for Hayes and Alexander-Walker, Griffin was also able to unload Solomon Hill’s horrendous 4-year, 48-million-dollar deal and clear cap space before free agency began.

During free agency, Griffin continued to prove that he is the right man to lead the Pelicans into a new decade with the signing of 3-point specialist JJ Redick and the trade for Utah Jazz big man Derrick Favors. The magnitude of the Redick signing is twofold: in one sense, Redick brings elite outside shooting which will be necessary for spacing in a Zion Williamson based offense, and in the other sense, the Redick signing shows that New Orleans can attract big-name free agents to a small market NBA team. The combination of a competent front office and the chance to play next to the NBA’s next potential star has made New Orleans a plausible venue for future max-salary free agents.

Furthermore, the clear vision for the future of the Pelicans as a team with elite young talent and a veteran leader in former All-Star and first-team all-defense Jrue Holiday has invigorated a city whose primary focus has been the Saints while the Pelicans have always been the “little brother” of the city. From the streets of the French Quarter to the banks of the Mississippi River, the Zion effect has been in full swing. Basketball is fun again in NOLA, and David Griffin and Zion Williamson are in a large part the reason why. 

The last part of the puzzle, however, is to be able to win on a consistent basis and make deep playoff runs not only to entice potential free agents but also to keep fans and players like Zion, Zo and Brandon Ingram happy and engaged. While the last piece of the puzzle is undetermined, David Griffin has without a doubt resurrected the Pelicans from a boring, irrelevant, small market team after the Anthony Davis trade request to a fun, fast-paced, athletic, young team with playoff hopes going into this year. In New Orleans style and in the words of Zion Williamson, “Let’s Dance.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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