Prior to February 8, New Orleans Pelicans executive director VIce Presiding in Bbasketball oroperations David Griffin was cornered by the sorry state of the team he was overseeing. The Pelicans were 21 and 32 years old and by then were heading for another disastrous season. At the same time, Zion Williamson avoided the team at all costs, rehabilitating a broken right foot across the country in Portland. In his third year at the helm, Griffin was headed for a New Orleans bombing. The Zion-to-Knicks rumor mill was churning. The Pelicans seemed set for a never-ending rebuild when they lost their seemingly disgruntled Superstar before signing his rookie-max extension. Desperate and in need, Griffin knew he had to work a miracle to keep his job and turn the tide of hope and happiness into one of the league’s most failing franchises.
All that changed on February 8th.
CJ McCollum, The Sharpshooter, All Staran aging core in Portland, is heading towards full recovery. Damian Lillard was out for the season after abdominal surgery and the Blazers made no secret of their epic tank. Seeing an opportunity to improve the roster, Griffin pounced and dumped the Trailblazers for McCollum while giving up only Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. and Didi Louzada, as well as a protected pick for the 2022 first round, and two future second-round picks. With that trade, the Pelicans paired another all-star with a thriving heart, Brandon Ingram, while keeping the rest of the Pelican core intact.
That trade alone should have propelled Griffin to the top of the Executive of the Year race. But he wasn’t done yet.
Included in the deal was a move by the Blazers to save on salary caps to bring in Larry Nance Jr., who never worked at Portland as a big floor spacer with elite athleticism and playoff experience with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Griffin knew what Nance could be, having been traded for a young Nance while he was Cleveland’s top front office manager.
For the Pelicans, Nance has reached his full potential. Nance was the X Factor for the Pelicans bench unit before being eliminated in a hard-hitting six-game streak with the Phoenix Suns. The double-double machine was one of the reasons the Pelicans almost stood a chance in this series, until Devin Booker returned and got all of New Orleans to pay respect to his name. Additionally, Nance’s defense, rush and offensive rebounds gave the Pelicans a constant threat on the glass when starting center Jonas Valančiūnas took a breather.
Speaking of Valančiūnas, McCullom wasn’t Griffin’s first brilliant trade this season. During the summer, Griffin traded the obsolete dinosaur Steven Adams for Valančiūnas. The Lithuanian Viking brought clearance and toughness to a Pelicans team that needed help on the forecourt as Zion was eliminated. Rarely discussed in NBA circles, Valančiūnas remains one of the league’s most underrated players. When he took on the Suns’ Deandre Ayton, he passed the young great and routinely scored double-doubles throughout the series.
Prior to the season, Griffin signed Devonte Graham from the Charlotte Hornets after deciding not to re-sign Zion favorite Lonzo Ball. Graham wasn’t great but he has shown he can be a solid replacement now that a certain rookie is emerging.
Jose Alvarado could be the next great New York point guard. The Queens native battled point god Chris Paul every minute they shared the court. Alvarado is a feisty, tenacious defender who plays with a BallIsLife panache and frustrated CP3. It’s a testament to Griffin’s scouting department in New Orleans that Alvarado was not called up before signing with the Pelicans. The other two Pelicans rookies, Herb Jones (drafted 35th) and Trey Murphy III (drafted 17th), played significant roles in the playoffs. Murphy showed a real knack for perimeter, shooting 47 percent of three in 20 minutes per game.
Meanwhile, Jones emerged as one of the top rookies in an already stacked 2021 draft class. Jones’ defense is a combination of Lu Dort and Bruce Bowen. Despite owning one of the most nondescript NBA names, he’s a 6-foot-7 phenom who, thanks to his superb athleticism, can turn on all three wide positions, play the passing lanes, and block three-point attempts with ease. The Pelicans may have won this year’s draft, which is shaping up to be one of the best ever.
Griffin’s success in trading and the draft make him the clear front-runner for the annual Executive of the Year award. Sure, the Chicago Bulls might have been livelier, but the Pelicans’ moves tended to stay under the radar (Valančiūnas, Jones, Alvarado) and contributed to an overall better playoff performance. While the bulls’ window is only two to three years, providing Zach Lavine re-signs, the Pelicans appear competitive for at least five. And that’s without mentioning the elephant in the room – Zion Williamson. With his health and signing the Max Rookie Extension this summer, the Pelicans will add 27 PPG to an already star-studded roster. When everyone returns next year, the Pelicans will field a starting XI with Alvarado, McCullom, Ingrahm, Zion and Valančiūnas. Holy hell, that’s good.
It’s good enough to win Griffin back the respect he almost lost as a leader and could be good enough to win it all next year. Imagine the parties in the French Quarter if that happened? We’re talking about the man who helped give the Cleveland Cavaliers a championship. Stranger things have happened.