Pelicans should be desirable destination in free agency

Pelicans introduce head coach Willie Green.
Pelicans introduce head coach Willie Green.(Chris Hagan)
Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 3:25 PM CDT
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The Pelicans, despite their flaws, should be an attractive landing spot for players looking to compete in the playoffs sooner than later. Why? Well, to start, their new head coach Willie Green inherits a roster equipped with a generational talent, Zion Williamson. But he’s not the first Pelicans coach to walk into that situation. Alvin Gentry did in 2016. So did Stan Van Gundy in 2020.

But what Green has that those two did not is a front office that appears to be its most motivated to put together a winning roster that makes sense.

Green was just the first part of the equation. Before he was even officially introduced in New Orleans, the Pelicans began moving aggressively in the trade market by dumping the contracts of Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams to increase their cap space, while also upgrading the center position with Jonas Valanciunas.

Now, they hope coach Green has an effect on the free agent market as well.

“Willie is a big part of why we feel confident that we feel we’ll be able to attract more interest in this team,” says executive vice president Griffin. “He’s a destination coach. He’s someone that the outpouring of positivism around was palpable. And it was unusual.”

And he means unusual in a good way. It wasn’t just Phoenix head coach Monty Williams or Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker hyping up their assistant coach.

“Once it became known that he was a real candidate, players that were with me in different stages of our career, players that won our championship in Cleveland, reached out, totally unsolicited,” says Griffin. “‘Absolutely unbelievable guy. You have to hire Willie Green.’”

That’s because they know the type of person he is and how well he’ll probably fit in with Griffin, who also promotes a philosophy or building personal relationships as well as basketball culture.

“The best coaches are not the X’s and O’s,” says Green. “People can do that. The best coaches are people that you know care about you, the best teachers. Connecting with players is no different than connecting with people. You realize really quickly that you have a lot more in common than you don’t.”

Ideally, that philosophy helps Green succeed where those that came before him did not. Green, like any successful coach, believes defense is what will ultimately win a championship. But to get that trait out of the Pelicans stars, he has to connect with them as a person first.

“I figure it’s easier to get guys or get people to reach their max when they know you care about them,” says Green. “That’s my way, or our way, of connecting with players.”

Helping him in that regard will be the addition of two rookies that share a belief in defense. In fact, first round pick Trey Murphy III says the reason he transferred to Virginia was to learn how to play the type of defense that would lead him to the NBA. Along with Herb Jones, selected in the second round, the Pelicans have already taken a step forward on that side of the ball.

“Going to Virginia, you have to play defense,” says Murphy. “I took a lot of pride in it being there. And we repped it out a lot, and I became a much better defender. Now I enjoy playing defense a lot. I know that’s something that’s going to keep me on the floor. I know my shooting will get me there, but keeping me on the floor will be my defense.”

Hopefully, that attitude rubs off on some of his new teammates as well.

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