The Pelicans learned their lesson.
Four months ago, Anthony Davis dealt this franchise a hard truth. The status quo wasn’t working.
After building everything around the All-NBA stalwart over the past seven years, the Pelicans couldn't get Davis to even envision true contention in a New Orleans jersey. He requested a trade with more than a year remaining on his contract, sending the organization into a tailspin and confronting the highest-level stakeholders with a series of fundamental and introspective questions.
What went wrong? And how can it be fixed?
Since then, the Pelicans steadily went through the progression of evaluating their missteps and methodically correcting the issues. They fired general manager Dell Demps midway through his ninth season and decisively stated his replacement wouldn’t answer to Saints executive Mickey Loomis, instead receiving a direct line to owner Gayle Benson and removing one of the strangest ownership structures in the league.
On Friday, they placed an exclamation point on the process.
They hired David Griffin to lead their basketball operations, sources confirmed to The Advocate.
Make no mistake, adding Griffin is a more than just another hire. It’s a statement.
There is a new man in charge of the New Orleans Pelicans, according to an ESPN report.
The former Cavaliers general manager and Phoenix Suns executive and current NBA TV commentator helped build Cleveland’s 2017 NBA championship roster around LeBron James and was widely considered the hottest name on the open managerial market.
He landed in New Orleans. This, on its own, represents a narrative shift.
Griffin isn’t an up and coming assistant general manager or a re-tread desperate to get another chance atop an NBA front office. He is an established, accomplished and highly sought-after executive, someone the Pelicans were required to persuade rather than a prospect eager to take a top job with any of the 30 teams.
For years, perception around the league, fair or not, was that the Pelicans operated as a low-budget, low-priority unit. They were criticized for employing a relatively small front office, borrowing medical staff from the Saints and using a football general manager as a proxy owner for high-level basketball decisions.
That era is gone. In just one move, the Pelicans sent an entirely different message to the rest of the NBA.
This isn’t the Saints' side project or their little brother. This is an operation built to compete.
Several league sources told The Advocate that Griffin received assurances from the franchise it would expand the size of the front office, including the scouting department, executive staff and developmental arm. In fact, Griffin might still hire a general manager and several assistant general managers to work beneath him, though he will be the ultimate decision-maker on basketball moves, answering directly to Benson.
Put simply, Griffin’s arrival means the Pelicans are raising their standards. Making playoff appearances isn’t something they’d just like to do; it’s what they’re paying for, and this is an investment toward that end.
However, before any of those expectations become reality, a whole heap of work must occur.
The New Orleans Pelicans were at the mercy of the coin on Friday, and when it landed they were left sitting in the seat for the No. 7 pick in …
Griffin will take his final exam on the first day of class. Deciding what to do with Davis likely will do more to shape the future of the franchise than any other move he executes for the next several years.
And he will be judged on those results.
There’s no guarantee this is going to work. The trade could be abysmal, injuries could remain a constant drag and losing seasons could pile up just as they did under Demps.
But the Pelicans are removing the excuses and many of the obstacles, limiting the ability to point fingers toward the top of the organization when results don’t match fans’ hopes. If Griffin loses, it won’t be because he was unprepared for the job or shackled by unnecessary and unexpected burdens.
It will be because he failed.
In the end, that’s the most Pelicans fans can ask for at the onset of this new era. The franchise is adapting from its errors and changing its ways to better compete, paying more than just lip service to the idea of making the Pelicans a top-flight NBA organization.
There’s still a long way to go, and getting into contention is highly treacherous territory, but at least the path there finally is a straightforward one.