David Griffin at a press conference

David Griffin: Pelicans won’t rush process to fill ‘attractive’ head-coaching post

by Jim Eichenhofer

For a variety of reasons – some of them unprecedented -- the process to hire a new head coach for the New Orleans Pelicans is likely to take some time, despite the fact that this NBA offseason will be unusually brief. Working in the team’s favor: There should be plenty of interest in guiding one of the league’s more talented and promising rosters.

After five seasons at the helm, highlighted by the franchise’s first trip in a decade to the second round of the playoffs in 2018, head coach Alvin Gentry was relieved by the Pelicans of his coaching duties Saturday. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said the move was not made as a direct result of New Orleans’ 2-6 record during the NBA re-start.

“I’ve known Alvin for more than 15 years, so this is really difficult on a human level,” said Griffin, who previously worked with Gentry in Phoenix.

“He hasn’t forgotten how to coach and this isn’t about any shortcomings. This is far more about finding the right fit and a shared vision for a very young and ambitious group moving forward.”

Partly led by three starters age 22 and under, New Orleans (30-42) demonstrated its upside during stretches of ’19-20, including going 21-13 from late December through the NBA’s mid-March shutdown. Brandon Ingram, 22, emerged as a first-time All-Star, while 22-year-old point guard Lonzo Ball also made major strides in his third pro season. Zion Williamson, 20, is one of three finalists for Rookie of the Year, after averaging 22.5 points in 24 regular season games. That young core, combined with several other major considerations, should make coaching the Pelicans an appealing proposition.

“Starting with ownership and Mrs. Benson’s total commitment to this, that’s really attractive when you’re building a staff,” Griffin said. “And I think if you look at the roster and the talent we have – and the potential talent we can add, utilizing the (future) draft picks we have – this is an opportunity that anecdotally most people would tell you is in a good position to succeed for any coach that comes in.”

Griffin praised the team’s group of assistant coaches when asked about their status.

“We feel very strongly about the assistant coaching staff we have,” Griffin said. “I’ve connected with almost all of them. We feel very strongly about the quality of staff we have. Some of those individuals potentially will be head coaching candidates elsewhere, Chris Finch certainly among them. He’ll be part of our conversation moving forward and it’s our intention that many of our staffers will continue to be with the next regime at some point.”

As with any NBA head-coaching job that becomes available, there was immediate speculation about possible New Orleans candidates, but Griffin emphasized that the hiring process will require some time. Travel restrictions due to Covid-19 present an obvious obstacle for teams that need to make significant hires this offseason, because they make in-person interviews more difficult.

“We will not be quick with this at all. This is not a rush,” Griffin said, when asked for a timetable. “We have a job that we believe is going to be the most attractive in the NBA, quite frankly. With all of the candidates still in the (Orlando) bubble – and there are some that may not be – candidates you may want to talk to are still with teams, in many circumstances.

“The virus itself is going to dictate some of our timeline. This (hiring process) isn’t going to be done solely via Zoom (conference calls). Depending on when we’re able to sit down and really get to know one another, we’ll have more updates from then on.”

The NBA has set a target date of Dec. 1 to begin the next regular season, which would place training camp roughly three months from now, but that’s not set in stone, another factor to consider.

“This is going be unprecedented in terms of turnaround time, the lack of available salary-cap numbers as you’re building toward next season,” Griffin said. “You really don’t know when (next) season starts. It’s going to be challenging in many, many ways. That’s a big part of the reason we’re going to be really slow to make a decision in this, because there are so many factors that contribute to the right fit. We need to have far more information about next season itself before we can properly identity the right human being to lead the group.”

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