New Pelicans GM Trajan Langdon: Goal is to create ‘sustainable excellence’

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

From the moment he took over last month as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for New Orleans, David Griffin has emphasized that the Pelicans want to build a team “organically” that can grow together, setting the foundation for future sustained success. When he recently decided to join Griffin in the Crescent City, that message resonated for Trajan Langdon – for multiple reasons.

“Organic growth” is a fitting way to describe how Langdon and Brooklyn’s front office transformed the Nets from one of the NBA’s worst teams into a 2019 playoff qualifier over a three-year period, despite being hamstrung without a first-round pick in several recent drafts. Instead of seeking shortcuts, Brooklyn emphasized a play-hard mentality and methodically built a roster filled with hungry players, eager to prove themselves and sacrifice for the betterment of the team. Based on Langdon’s comments during a Tuesday introductory conference call, that sounds like the long-term vision for New Orleans as well.

“David talked about bringing in high-class people that are about the right things and doing things the right way, and moving forward in the same direction,” said Langdon, who was named general manager for the Pelicans on Monday. “Those are exactly the same things I take away from my time in Brooklyn. We brought in some really, really good people that all had the same mindset and were very competitive, and all wanted to do things the right way and believed in doing things as an organization that were greater than themselves. As long as you have the right people and they have the right vision, with the same goals, you can do special things.”


LISTEN TO PELICANS CONFERENCE CALL WITH TRAJAN LANGDON

Throughout much of this decade, New Orleans has been focused on the near future, trying to make year-to-year improvements that would allow the Pelicans to produce big jumps in the standings. Even after a 27-win season during Anthony Davis’ rookie year, New Orleans made multiple trades with a goal of immediately improving its competitiveness, rapidly surrounding Davis with mid-career veterans. The approach resulted in two playoff appearances over the next six seasons – as well as the franchise’s first postseason-series triumph in 10 years – but the Pelicans were unable to gain much traction. New Orleans has not made back-to-back trips to the playoffs since ’09.

In order to achieve the big-picture objective of making New Orleans a perennial force in the NBA, a foundation needs to be built that sets up the Pelicans to be competitive long term. As Langdon noted, it’s a process that includes several key steps, one Brooklyn was able to execute over multiple offseasons under Langdon and top Nets executive Sean Marks, who coincidentally played for New Orleans from 2008-10.

“Sure, we want to win, but want to build this organization the right way, with the right people, and have sustainable excellence,” Langdon said, alluding to some of the discussion he had with Griffin and owner Gayle Benson about the Pelicans’ direction. “That’s something I think is important. I don’t think you can be in a win-now mode, when you have to develop a culture and there are a lot of things that need to be done, bringing in the right people on the bus and making sure we’re headed in the right direction. I think you can’t skip steps. If you look back, a lot of organizations when they try to skip steps, it puts them behind.”

Langdon also emphasized the importance of developing players internally and identifying contributors who have the potential to improve, something that will be part of the Pelicans’ philosophy.

“Griffin has talked already about that we’re looking for small wins day-to-day,” Langdon said, before referencing the success of Nets guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris, respectively. “That’s one important thing we did in Brooklyn that led to the success there. It wasn’t ‘go out and get big-name players.’ It was ‘We’re going to build from within, develop and find diamonds in the rough that we think our coaching staff can develop’ from a G League player into a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate (Dinwiddie), or a three-point champion (Harris). Those are the things we did in Brooklyn and the exact same thing we’ll look to do in New Orleans as well.”

With the June 20 draft approaching in less than a month and free agency beginning 10 days later, New Orleans’ new front office has plenty on its plate. Langdon noted that the Pelicans have quickly developed a philosophy on how they want to approach this summer.

“Obviously there is a lot of fluidity with the roster, and a lot (of potential decisions) has to do with what we do with the No. 1 pick,” Langdon said. “Free agency is looming as well, so there are a lot of decisions that need to be made. The team that was on the floor (last season) could look similar, or it could look different. A lot of it is decisions that we need to make, and decisions that other players make as well. We’re going to do our best to keep those players we want. The main thing we need to do is continue to bring in the right people, and create the culture that attracts players who want to be here. As Griff has said in the past, we want players who are all in on New Orleans. We look forward to having those kinds of people and those kinds of players.”

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