Even David Griffin couldn’t keep up with the pace at which his franchise’s fortunes changed Tuesday night inside the Hilton Chicago.
The Pelican’s recently-hired executive vice president of basketball operations didn’t immediately realize that when the team wasn’t announced as holding the eighth pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, it signaled a jump into the ever-coveted top-four.
“I wasn’t smart enough to do the math,” said Griffin late Tuesday night on a call with local media. “Then (the Atlanta Hawks representative) had to say ‘You have to go stand up there (on the stage).’
“So now I’m completely phased out at this point. I can’t believe it’s happening. And I didn’t hear what they said (for the No. 2 pick). ‘Who got two?’ I didn’t realize it until someone congratulated us on winning.
“It was awesome.”
But make no mistake – Griffin is no rookie to landing top lottery picks or running an advanced team building process, after being part of the front office in Cleveland that selected first-overall in the 2011, 2013 and 2014 NBA Drafts, went to three consecutive NBA Finals from 2015-17 and won the city’s first professional sports championship in 52 years.
No – Griffin won’t say definitively yet whether the team will make what so many people around the league perceive to be the obvious choice in selecting Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson with the team’s first No. 1-overall pick sine the franchise selected Anthony Davis first in 2012.
No – Griffin doesn’t know what the specific road map of navigating Davis’ trade demand from late-January looks like.
And no again – he asserts the two conundrums aren’t directly related, beyond the broad spectrum of making the Pelicans far more competitive and stable for years to come that they’ve appeared since last season quickly took several turns for the worst.
“I understand why people want to link the two, because the assumption is that elite players want to play with other elite players, but this doesn’t change anything with the Anthony Davis situation,” Griffin said. “Maybe it gives him one more sign that things are changing in a different direction.
“This is just one more positive chip at this point, and if Anthony Davis is trying to decide if he can trust if we can build a winner, I hope we can build evidence of that day after day. And if AD wants to be part of that, wonderful. And if he doesn’t buy into what we’re trying to do, that’s OK too.
“This isn’t something for me that’s answered in a conversation. The answer is revealed over a period of time.”
In the near future, it means the Pelicans – from the front office staff to the ticket sales group to the basketball operations folks – will be indescribably busy. After a viral video spread on Twitter of the team’s ticket sales division exploding in unrestrained excitement with the reveal of Memphis landing the No. 2 pick – the final signal of the Pelicans’ fate – Griffin said that even at 11 p.m. on Tuesday, at least 50 people were at the team facility on Airline Drive fielding ticket inquiry calls.
With the hiring of well-respected NBA player performance guru Aaron Nelson as the team’s new vice president of player care and performance, Griffin said there will be “shovels in the ground to redo the aspects of the training and weight room and strength and condition area.” And he continues to field message after message of people around the sport who would love to be part of the resurgence he’s in the early stages of building.
“What it’s doing to a franchise and a city like New Orleans, I don’t think it’s even measurable at this moment. There’s a groundswell of excitement, and it’s palpable. Several good things are starting to happen, and positive energy breeds positive energy,” Griffin said. “Now we have to go make it mean something. This is a lot of fun, but we have to build a winner now.
“(The No. 1 pick) certainly jump-starts this process with the expectation of exciting moments like this that are fantastic, but this isn’t in a vacuum and doesn’t mean much. We have to take another positive step tomorrow and hope it starts to mean something.”
Late Tuesday night, Griffin said both he and head coach Alvin Gentry, who was in the lottery room for the actual ping pong ball selection that brought New Orleans the top pick, had already heard separately from Jrue Holiday, the team’s superstar guard who, without Davis, had been previously assumed to be the next face of the franchise.
When asked about the perceived obviousness of Williamson as the top pick in this year’s draft, Griffin explained that he and his staff see this year’s field as one of the deepest in quite some time. “We got better today, and we would have gotten better today if we’d been picking seventh.”
The key, Griffin said, is finding someone with the like-mindedness of Holiday – someone willing to fully buy into the franchise’s vision of long-term viability and consistent high-level success. One of the biggest pluses in building a team around Holiday, he said, is the guard’s attitude of a player who hasn’t achieved anything yet, with the body of work of a player who is fully in his prime. That, Griffin said, should make pairing the right person, who happens to be a decade younger than Holiday, no issue at all whoever they may be.
“Until we have time to visit with each other and feel each other out, it’s hard to know what matters to you,” said Griffin of the possibility of drafting Williamson. “Until we sit in a room together, it’s hard to know that. But I’m hopeful we yield the right fit for us, no matter who that is.”