Injured Zion, Griffin sound harmonious tune as Pelicans prepare for new season
So the New Orleans Pelicans are singing a harmonious tune.
If you listened to or watched any coverage of Media Day Monday and were unaware of any previous reports or rumors, the conclusion reached was that all was quiet on the southern front and that there is a peaceful bliss among management and players.
Of course, the latter could be shortened to the singular version of David Griffin and Zion Williamson.
Griffin, the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, is the boss.
Williamson, the star player with the giant mural, giant body and looming giant contract, is also a boss.
Such is life in the NBA.
The star players stir the drink.
If the star player is on your side, you are going to ride off into the sunset a happy person, likely to stay in your job for many, many years.
If the star player is after your hide, you are not going to stem the tide of a wave that will wash you out of that organization.
Williamson, for his part, says he and “Griff” are on the same page.
“It’s all love with me and Griff,” Williamson said. “It’s just love between us.”
Zion did acknowledge potential differences, if not conflict, between the two.
“We’re both competitors. We both want to win. Do we disagree on some things? Yeah. Who agrees on everything? We don’t. I think that’s what makes our relationship great.”
Reports by The Advocate and The Athletic in the offseason suggested that the differences were real and that the friction between the two was more substantial.
Sources have whispered the same to me.
When analyzing the player, it is always about who is in that player’s ear, particularly family members.
That was certainly the case with Anthony Davis, who was all in when he first arrived in New Orleans.
Davis was a reserved young man who embraced his role as the face of a franchise and went about the business of improving his game annually to become an elite player on both ends of the floor.
Then, the elite player developed a different, elite attitude and distanced himself from the organization, hired a new agent, and forced his way out of New Orleans in an unnerving, unprofessional, unsatisfactory manner, even mocking the franchise which paid him and paid homage to him with his Looney Tunes shirt “That’s All Folks.”
Davis then went looney, telling anyone that listens that he had no control over what he wears.
The premise was insulting.
The lie was absurd.
It was all about a young man getting advice, perhaps from a relative, perhaps from an agent, perhaps from a friend, perhaps all of the above.
Davis wanted out and he wanted to pair up with his buddy, LeBron James. He got his wish. To his credit and in defense of Davis, he got his ring, something that he would not have gotten in New Orleans.
Williamson is contracted through the 2022-23 season so there is time for Griffin and the Pelicans and now, new, personable head coach Willie Green, to earn his trust and get him on the same page.
Williamson was clearly not enamored of Stan Van Gundy.
Management and ownership got the memo and Van Gundy was vanished quickly after one quick season.
Willie Green is a Monty Williams disciple, the same Monty Williams who was vanished, not-so-quickly and not-so-smartly by Dell Demps after a winning season and playoff appearance.
Williams is now a very successful, highly respected coach in Phoenix.
Williamson said all the right things Monday about Green.
“I feel like me and him are going to have a great relationship,” Williamson said. “What I like about him is, he’s a straightforward guy. There’s not much beating around the bush. He wants to come in and do what he’s supposed to do, get done what he’s supposed to get done and move on. So I respect a guy like that.”
Williamson is due to make $10.7 million this season and $13.5 in the 2022-23 season.
Zion has massive endorsement deals, which he would have wherever he played.
Playing in small market New Orleans has not affected that earning potential.
The Pelicans can uniquely offer Williamson a max contract extension in the vicinity of $200 million.
Williamson was an improved player from year one to year two.
Davis was an improved player from year one to year two.
The difference is that Davis is much taller, with a long wingspan, and is an excellent defender, rim protector and has developed a reliable jump shot through hard work.
Williamson is perhaps the most unique talent the league has seen for his size, able to get his shot off, get fouled or both against much taller players in the paint.
On a team devoid of real shooters, Williamson attracted enormous attention on the block or in the paint.
That resulted in Zion playing some point forward to give him some degree of freedom on the perimeter.
Still, without the benefit of a reliable jump shot, opponents will devise schemes to make it even harder on Zion to score.
Then, there is the defensive end of the floor.
Unlike Davis, Williamson is not a good defender.
I have no doubt that he will continue to work hard to be that player on that end of the floor but he and Brandon Ingram, the team’s two best players, are simply not good defenders.
We will see if that changes under Green.
Williamson will never be the defender or rim protector that Davis is. They are simply different players but in similar situations in their lives and careers in New Orleans as one-and-done players who ended up in New Orleans by the luck of ping-pong-balls.
The 2021-22 Pelicans have a better roster than last season.
Jonas Valanciunas is an upgrade over Steven Adams at center.
Jaxson Hayes showed vast improvement in the second half of last season and is ready to put his offseason issue to bed and to learn from the experience.
Willy Hernangomez was a surprisingly solid option at center a year ago.
While Lonzo Ball improved his shooting, he was not even asked to lead his team at point guard last season and was inconsistent, not worth a big money deal. Devonte’ Graham has similar numbers at a similar point in his career and should fill the productivity Ball left here.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker showed flashes of being the best guard on the team before getting injured and he is back. So is the “Energizer Bunny,” Josh Hart, who provides so much off the bench.
Tomas Satoransky is a veteran presence and provides solid depth at guard.
Kira Lewis is quick, fast and a year older.
Naji Marshall was a real find, a good two-way player who defends.
Wenyen Gabriel is long and athletic.
Didi Louzada lacks offensive prowess but is a glue defender.
Garrett Temple is a veteran, calming presence and team player who has always defended in outstanding fashion.
Draft picks Trey Murphy III and Herbert Jones look to be good, if not very good picks.
Murphy has the look of a much desired, much needed “three and D” player who has length and can shoot it from deep while Jones is an outstanding defender and a smart player who can defend multiple positions and has a decent offensive game in the paint and in the short range jump shot area.
There is real promise.
There is the promise by Williamson that he wants to be here.
Let us take him at his word.
Meanwhile, we absorb the news that he is hurt again, once again getting hurt prior to the start of a season, as was the case with his rookie season when he missed 48 games after suffering a torn meniscus.
In the 2020-21 season, Williamson missed 11 games with a pair of hand injuries.
Griffin expressed optimism that Williamson would be ready for the start of the 2021-22 regular season opener, despite a broken bone in his right foot.
Let’s hope he is right.
The concern about Williamson’s unique, massive body on the frame of not being very tall, has always been a concern, whether he could withstand the rigors of a full NBA season, which returns via 82 games this season.
Clearly, the front on Monday was an effort at Kumbaya.
Hopefully, it is the same in the back, behind the scenes.
The mission is clear.
Williamson needs to get healthy and get on the floor to start the season.
Hayes needs to continue his maturation process.
Graham needs to replace Ball in solid fashion.
The rookies need to make their mark.
Valanciunas needs to help space the floor for Williamson in high-low sets.
Louzada and Gabriel need to take advantage of any opportunities, if and when presented.
Ingram, who looked a bit bigger by all accounts Monday, a good thing, needs to continue to score and be more dependable on defense.
Hart needs to continue being Hart.
Lewis needs to grow his game.
Alexander-Walker needs to become a solid starter.
Temple and Satoransky need to continue being who they have been in their careers.
Hernangomez needs to be ready to produce again, when called on.
Marshall needs to continue to grow his fine promise.
Green needs to make it all mesh while trying to connect with the most important player on the roster, to avoid a repeat of “That’s All Folks” with that star hitting the door with the quickness of Speedy Gonzales.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…