It took David Griffin 30 minutes to know he was ready for his life to change.
After spurning interest from various places across the league over the past two years, Griffin was in the midst of his formal interview with the New Orleans Pelicans when he began to recognize the franchise in front of him isn’t what he expected.
For most of the organization’s history, the Pelicans (and Hornets) brandished a reputation across the NBA as a thrifty, unambitious outfit which sought ways to win without participating in many aspects of the arms race attached to today’s costly, cutthroat environment.
The team’s infrastructure was limited. Their G-League franchise doesn’t start until next season, and there’s no massive analytics department, or immense luxury tax payment being made.
Instead, the Pelicans are like many of the league’s small-market teams, eager to compete with the NBA’s best on the court but not feasibly able to match the structural advantages because of revenue disparities.
But that wasn’t the message Griffin received when sitting face-to-face with owner Gayle Benson two weeks ago.
He didn’t hear about living within his means, or setting up his operation on value. Instead, nearly everything the former Cavaliers general manager desired was met with an affirmative response by Benson, who acquired the franchise from her late husband last year.
Smash cut to Wednesday, and there’s Griffin standing next to Benson, officially being named the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations.
“Believe me I made some outrageous demands in that conversation,” Griffin confessed. “And I’m very comfortable in saying she’s 100 percent committed. She is excited to put her stamp on the franchise.”
Let’s take a second to recognize the gravity of that statement.
David Griffin took the stage Wednesday as the Pelicans next visionary, an owner of something the organization, its players, coaches and fans c…
While it’s entirely unknown whether Griffin can actually acquire the necessary talent to win at a high level and turn this moribund unit into a playoff fixture, this part matters. Investment counts.
Based purely on market size and economics, it’s unreasonable to expect the revenue gap between the Pelicans and Lakers to narrow, even if the Pelicans maximize their local TV deal and sell out the Smoothie King Center every night.
But what drew Griffin to New Orleans is his belief those realities won’t hinder his plan of attack, because it’s not determining what kind of commitment is being made.
“In terms of their willingness to deliver on those things,” Griffin said, “I was probably in the room for 30 minutes before I started feeling like, ‘Wow, I hope I don’t mess this up.’ ”
Now the challenge begins. According to Griffin, the Pelicans have done their part.
The future of head coaches often has less to do with records than you may think.
They’ve committed the money and resources to build a robust front office, not handcuffed by a small staff or lacking technology. But properly utilizing those resources to actually gain a meaningful edge in the intensely competitive NBA landscape is far more challenging proposition.
Griffin has some ideas on where to start. And it begins with personnel.
Before he concerns himself with titles, like potentially adding a general manager beneath him, Griffin explained his larger concern is attracting the right people to New Orleans. And he’s been given assurances from ownership he can pick a wide-ranging staff to suit his needs.
“We need to get all the right people on the bus and we can figure out what we call each other once we are rolling to the right place, and I think that’s a really meaningful thing,” Griffin said. “I think the areas you have the biggest ability to build competitive advantage in infrastructure is very much in performance and player care. It’s an area I put a lot of weight on and area I’m very familiar with re-working and believing in.”
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Considering the Pelicans’ lack of roster development (due largely to trading every first-round pick since 2012) and incessant battle with calamitous injuries, few fans would contest Griffin’s priorities there.
But, his desires to gain an edge go beyond those obvious on-court angles and dig deeper into statistical trends and measurements, an area the Pelicans never fully explored during Demps’ tenure.
“I think you can (gain an advantage) with the analytics side,” Griffin said. “Not necessarily relative to saying we have the greatest ‘Nerd Cave’ in the NBA, which is what we called our group in Cleveland. It’s not about that. It’s about, do we have the best ability to translate what the data reveals in a meaningful way? Because data is not an answer in and of itself.
“It’s only as good as quality of questions you ask it to solve. That’s what analytics needs to be able to do. That requires not just the right people crunching numbers, but the right people communicating them.”
The overarching theme to Griffin’s introduction was his desire to bring a holistic, sustainable approach to a franchise that, for many reasons, never fully employed one. Wednesday’s comments crystallized the notion many of the obvious obstacles have been cleared.
While the distaste of losing and the ugliness of upheaval made for a difficult season, particularly Anthony Davis’ midseason trade request, the long-term ramifications could reap major benefits. Not only does Griffin arrive possessing the budget and backing to build out a first-rate front office, he also answers to a reshaped power structure by getting a direct line to Benson, while not being beholden to the franchise’s sins of the past.
Those are all fundamental, foundational fixes a playoff season likely wouldn’t have solved.
There are no more excuses to allow mortgaging the long term for the short term. There’s no more finger-pointing about what the franchise doesn’t have.
Griffin began the interview process with a clear vision about what resources were necessary to win and waited to find a team willing to let him unleash them.
No, there aren’t guarantees Griffin’s tenure will be successful on the scoreboard, where it matters most. The road to winning requires a re-tooled roster created by a litany of correct decisions over a long period of time.
But, Griffin heard the pitch he’d been waiting for. And now it’s up to him to leverage those tools into the kind of sustainable success this franchise has never experienced.
“My biggest goal in all of this is, when I get run out of town on a rail, and we all do eventually, this can sustain itself for Mrs. Benson,” Griffin said. “So, the next person she puts in charge will know they’re starting on really solid footing.”