David Griffin says Pelicans have focused on “good things that we can control”
NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Pelicans are hoping for better luck with health in the upcoming season.
But, David Griffin said Tuesday, “hope is not a plan.”
So Griffin, the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations, and the Pelicans have implemented an off-season plan based not on hope, but on actions related to the things they can control.
Griffin told the New Orleans Quarterback Club at its September meeting at the Cannery that he has “no idea” whether the Pelicans will get more games out of their key players – primarily All-Star forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, who missed a combined 90 games last season.
But, he added, “I can tell you that in every area that we do control we’re doing everything we can to bring that to fruition. We’re stacking together these good things that we can control.”
Griffin credited owner Gayle Benson for giving the front office “the financial bandwidth to address this in several different ways.”
Most notably the organization did not retain Aaron Nelson, its Vice President of Player Care and Performance for four years. It has yet to announce a replacement.
Griffin said the Pelicans already have “renovated our building’s strength and conditioning space.”
The Metairie practice facility also has been busy with greater off-season basketball activity from the players.
Griffin reminded the audience that the Pelicans were 18-8 and had the best record in the Western Conference in the middle of last December even though the “Big Three” of Williamson, Ingram and guard CJ McCollum played just 10 games together.
Williamson was lost for the season on January 2 and the Pelicans hid a slide before regrouping as Ingram led them to a 9-3 run to finish the regular season, which got them into the play-in tournament, where they lost their first elimination game to Oklahoma City.
“It’s remarkable that we’re deep enough to do that,” Griffin said.
He credited head coach Willie Green and his staff for developing young players to provide that depth and for reaching the play-in with a “shell of a basketball team.”
Green approached Griffin about bolstering the coaching staff and spear-headed an effort that landed the Pelicans highly sought-after former Charlotte Hornets head coach James Borrego – “an offensive guru” – as associate head coach in June.
Griffin credited Green, who he said has “the potential to be an elite head coach in this league” for being “humble enough to realize what he needs to be successful.”
As for the players, Griffin said Williamson, whose four-year career has been limited annually by a series of injuries, has been working out at the team’s facility more than he had in any previous off-season.
Griffin lauded veteran guard CJ McCollum, who’s entering his 11th NBA season, for committing to the most dedicated off-season conditioning program of his career.
“He has never in those (previous) seasons come into the season in elite condition,” Griffin said. “It was CJ’s habit to play himself into condition as the season goes along.”
Griffin said McCollum has been “far and away the best player in our gym this off-season.”
Ingram was away from the gym for much of the time because he spent his summer playing for the U.S. National Team in the FIBA World Cup in Asia.
Griffin said it’s significant that the international competition will allow Ingram to “tip off the season in elite basketball condition.”
Center Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania) and guard Dyson Daniels (Australia) also competed for their native countries’ national teams. It was the 17th consecutive year that Valanciunas played for the Lithuanian team.
Griffin said the Pelicans’ “special culture” enabled No. 1 pick Jordan Hawkins of Connecticut and veteran free agent center Cody Zeller to quickly acclimate to their new team and city.
One thing Griffin didn’t mention was the recent injuries suffered by forward Trey Murphy III and guard Jose Alvarado during workouts at the training facility.
The Pelicans announced September 7 that Murphy underwent “a successful partial meniscectomy and received a biologic injection” in his left knee and would “return to basketball activities in approximately 10-12 weeks.”
Reportedly, Alvarado recently suffered a sprained ankle and his status for training camp is uncertain.
The Pelicans report to training camp in two weeks and play their preseason opener October 10 against the Orlando Magic in the Smoothie King Center. They begin the regular season October 25 at Memphis and play their home opener October 28 against the New York Knicks.
Griffin, whose appearance at the Quarterback Club has become an annual event as the start of training camp looms, said he hopes that during his visit a year from now he’ll be able to talk about “a radically successful playoff season.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…