David Griffin took the stage Wednesday as the Pelicans next visionary, an owner of something the organization, its players, coaches and fans crave the most — and something he was hesitant to take full credit for. Even as the team’s new executive vice president of basketball operations, Griffin stated unequivocally his vision that has little to do with each staff member walking into work everyday with a dead-eye focus on what he will now only refer to as “the c-word.”
“We won a championship (in Cleveland) because the greatest player of his generation was from Akron,” he said. “Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s a big part of what happened. But we put ourselves in a great place to capitalize on that opportunity.”
Capitalizing on LeBron James’ generational talent came less from the X’s and O’s that the Cavaliers coaching staff drew up in the locker room and more from installing the right leadership personnel around the team facility to convey a message that was less about winning championships and more about aiming for a championship mentality.
“You don’t say ‘championship’. You earn the right to have other people say it about you with the actions you take every single day,” he said. “If we’re really good in what we do in delivering on Mrs. Benson’s vision, then everyone else can use that word for us.”
The Pelicans learned their lesson.
It’s a vision Griffin is proud of. One he stood up for when peppered with questions from different angles from separate people. And it’s one he’s said he’s spoken with each player or his agent about and one that he said he’s unequivocally been supported in.
And yes, that includes Anthony Davis’ team.
Before he could be asked a question, Griffin quickly shot down the idea that he was at the Pelicans facilities Wednesday to espouse his clear-cut vision for trading Davis. Rather, he said, he sees a history of trust between him and those closest to the young superstar.
That history, though, leans less on his ability to end the city of Cleveland’s 52-year professional sports title drought than it was with Griffin’s talent in building sustained excellence within an organization while Paul and his most famous client, James, were heavily involved.
“He saw LeBron buy into our plan and respect what we did, and I think LeBron himself has been very supportive of us in saying ‘Listen, they know what they’re doing.’ I think he’ll have the right voices in his ear,” he said.
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The heavy weight Griffin places on relationships is why he won’t hesitate to work with a player who, with a single t-shirt, made a cartoon joke out of his seven-year history in New Orleans. It’s also why he won’t waste time if the All-Star forward appears hesitant to dedicate himself fully to Griffin’s vision for the team.
“It’s about ‘Are you all the way in, or are you all the way out?’ There’s not going to be something like ‘Yeah, I want to be here, but…’,” he said.
“This is what we’re doing, and this is where we’re going and what we want to achieve and what we think (Davis) wants to achieve, and hopefully he’s like-minded as the front office and ownership are.”
It wasn't the first time Alvin Gentry had said these past 10 weeks were the strangest of his 31-year coaching career.
Part of Davis’ message when he first addressed the media following Paul’s statement about his client’s future wishes was that it was “his time.” That he had put his due in during his seven years of trying to win for the small-market team that drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. And to that point, Griffin wouldn’t give a specific timeline he’s working on in order to bring the Pelicans into consistent championship contention. If he were to stay, Davis would require a change of heart.
“Team-building, everyone has become really lazy in this area, and they’ve become a binary. You either have to be terrible and tank, or you have to try and win this championship, and that just doesn’t work,” Griffin said. “What we have to try and do is get several small wins every day and cobble those wins together.
“This situation is about playing the long game and being mindful about sustaining success.”
And if Davis decides the time has come and gone to build, slowly and methodically around him toward the ultimate goal, don’t expect to see the war of words that played out in the media around the trade deadline.
But don’t expect Griffin to hesitate for a second to deal the franchise’s best player in its history, either. The conversation, in the end, is a business decision — one of the first he’ll make while transforming the Pelicans into the franchise of his vision.
“It’s not rocket surgery,” he said. This is ‘do you love where you are and winning here, and do you want to be part of what we want to build, and if you don’t? Okay, help me help you.’
“If we’re really good at this, we’ll build something that everyone wants to be part of.”