Pelicans coaching search complex and worthy of patience
The New Orleans Pelicans are working on the most important coaching hire since the franchise arrived here in 2002.
Everyone is eager for the hire to happen and speculation about who will be hired began as soon as Alvin Gentry was fired more than three weeks ago.
It is obviously a deliberate search, which is what Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin promised when he dismissed Gentry.
“This is not a rush,” Griffin said. “We have a job that we believe is going to be the most attractive in the NBA, quite frankly.”
Griffin was right.
The Pelicans do have the most attractive job opening in the NBA. That’s primarily but not exclusively because they have a generational talent in 20-year-old Zion Williamson.
They have other emerging and promising youngsters in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, Frank Jackson, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Veterans Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick and perhaps Derrick Favors (if he re-signs) provide enough veteran leadership to allow for immediate competitiveness for the playoffs even before Griffin gets to work on next season’s roster.
Throw in a lottery pick in this fall’s draft and a stockpile of future picks and this team should be on an upward trajectory for the foreseeable future.
So Griffin can and should be patient. He can wait on any candidate who’s on a staff that’s still competing in the playoffs or anyone else because the Pelicans are operating from a position of strength.
Griffin said this will not be a search conducted “solely on Zoom.” He plans to meet face to face with his primary candidates and that’s not as simple during the COVID-19 pandemic and as it was before the pandemic.
Being patient and thorough isn’t going to prevent the Pelicans from hiring the best candidate so Griffin should be as patient and thorough as necessary to hire the best candidate.
The deliberateness of the search has provided plenty of time for speculation about who ultimately will be hired.
But don’t be surprised if the person hired isn’t among the candidates most frequently speculated about.
It’s easy and appropriate to seek clues to how any significant coaching search might go. Those who have worked previously with Griffin or general manager Trajan Langdon are logical considerations and they likely will receive consideration.
One of them might even get hired, but this isn’t going to be a superficial but rather an in-depth evaluation of the possibilities.
If you’ve been paying attention to Griffin in the year-plus that he has been on the job you know that he’s different. He’s unusually thoughtful, he talks about “sustainable success,” he uses words like “ethos.”
So this hire isn’t going to be made solely on a single previous relationship or by plucking someone from the top of the “hot coaching candidates” lists that float across the Internet.
If you’re inclined to make assumptions about Griffin’s approach to this search you need to do no more than look at his approach to Williamson’s rookie season.
Williamson underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on the eve of this season’s opener. The Pelicans were unusually cautious and deliberate in bringing him back after he had missed more than half the games in a season that was rapidly slipping away.
New Orleans recovered well enough after Williamson’s return to join the playoff competition just before the season was shut down March 11 because of COVID-19. When the team reconvened in Orlando in July, Williamson missed 13 days of preparation as he tended to a family emergency.
When Williamson returned the Pelicans brought him back either responsibly or overly cautiously, depending on your point of view.
The rookie played just 15 minutes, none down the stretch, as the Pelicans were outscored by 10 points in the fourth quarter of a two-point loss to Utah.
Griffin recognizes that New Orleans hit the lottery, literally and figuratively, when it landed Williamson last summer. He can be an elite player for the next decade and a half.
The Pelicans are taking a patient, long-term approach to maximize the opportunity presented by Williamson’s presence.
The most important element to maximizing that opportunity is hiring the right coach. This isn’t about familiarity or even resumes, though those things certainly will be considerations.
This is about deliberately, methodically, creatively evaluating and determining which individual is best able to manage the rare opportunity that the New Orleans franchise has.
Who can best reach Williamson and the other players on a basketball and personal level? Who can best mature as a coach and simultaneously shepherd his or her players through their own maturation both individually and collectively?
Who can best fit into the culture of New Orleans and blend its basketball team into that of its community while maximizing the championship prospects?
That’s a complex evaluation – and one worthy of patience.
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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…