Pelicans, David Griffin deliver on promise to bring proven NBA veterans to Crescent City
At best, it seemed extremely ambitious. At worst, hopelessly unrealistic.
This spring, when New Orleans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin vowed to bring multiple, accomplished NBA veterans to the Big Easy, it seemed fair to ask a simple question: How?
Following a 33-49 campaign that seemed to set the stage for a rebuild, the Pelicans didn’t appear to be an ideal landing spot for proven NBA players like JJ Redick, 35; and Derrick Favors, 28; nor respected international player Nicolo Melli, 28. Yet amid a torrent of NBA transactions over the first 48 hours of July, there were reports that Griffin and New Orleans had landed the trio, which boasts a combined 30-plus seasons of professional experience.
“The fit and leadership you get from veterans in free agency is absolutely paramount,” Griffin had said in June, before alluding to the widespread youth on the Pelicans’ roster. “You don’t raise a family without a lot of the old heads who are able to bring wisdom to younger players. The caliber of human beings will be as important to raising this group over time than just the particular skill set… We’re very likely to find a lot of people who want to be a part of this process.”
Griffin’s logic made it easy to understand why the Pelicans were interested in acquiring Redick, Favors and Melli, but NBA transactions are a two-way street, meaning a team must also appeal to a player. In each case, Redick, Favors and Melli had their own list of reasons for targeting New Orleans as a destination.
“There was growing excitement about New Orleans,” said Redick, a 13-year NBA veteran. “I kept saying to my wife (Chelsea), I’d be really excited about going there. My agent was bringing me different (possibilities) and nothing got me very excited. But with New Orleans, I thought, ‘This could be awesome.’ There was a familiarity with Alvin (Gentry), an opportunity to play with Jrue (Holiday), excitement about drafting Zion (Williamson), and then New Orleans the city. I’ve been fortunate to live and play in some great cities, but New Orleans is one of the most unique places in all of the United States, so get to play here for a couple years and experience this culture is awesome.”
Favors, entering his 10th NBA year: “I wanted to come here because I saw the potential. We’ve got a good young team with a lot of young players like Zion, Jaxson (Hayes) and Nickeil (Alexander-Walker). After the Lakers trade, when they brought in Josh (Hart), Lonzo (Ball) and (Brandon) Ingram, I thought, ‘This team is going to be pretty good.’ You know it’s going to be exciting and draw a lot of attention. A lot of people are going to be writing about this team. I wanted to be a part of that, and saw where I could possibly fit in and make my mark.”
Melli brought a slightly different perspective, electing to debut in the NBA in ’19-20 after a very fruitful and productive career in Europe.
“I felt like it was the right moment to come,” Melli said. “I was honored by other (NBA) options I had in the past, but now I felt like it was the right moment to do it and I’m happy to be here. I wanted to come here because how Coach (Gentry) described me on the phone, the first time I talked to him, it was exactly what I think I can bring to a team. I couldn’t wait to get started.”
With a main roster filled with youngsters, including three rookies and seven players age 23 and under, New Orleans made it a priority to add experience and guidance for a large crop of Pelicans who have much to learn about the NBA.
“That was incredibly important,” GM Trajan Langdon said. “After the trade and after the draft, we all realized that we needed to bring in some experience and guys who have won.”
Redick reached the NBA Finals with Orlando and has made the postseason all 13 years of his pro career; Favors has been to the second round of the playoffs twice over the past three years; Melli won multiple championships in Europe.
“JJ and I were teammates in Orlando,” said 30-year-old wing E’Twaun Moore of the ’13-14 season. “He’s a good guy, hard worker and a winning player. He’s another great veteran to have in the locker room. Derrick, competing against him for my eight years in the league, you know he’s a competitor. He’s another hard-playing guy who does things the right way. Those two are great guys to have on the team.”
New Orleans forward Darius Miller was a teammate of Melli’s in Germany for two seasons and describes him similarly.
“He was definitely a well-liked guy and one of the leaders on the team,” Miller said of playing for Brose Bamberg. “He’s a great guy to be around, a great teammate. (The Pelicans front office) did a great job of just getting great people here. I think it will help us out a lot.”
New Orleans’ roster is so young that after just two years in the NBA, Hart, 24, is already its eighth-oldest player. Based on NBA.com writer John Schuhmann’s mid-July roster data, only 46 percent of the New Orleans’ minutes played in ’18-19 were logged by players who returned to the squad (Denver led the NBA at 92 percent). Combine those two facts and it’s evident why the Pelicans recognized the need to seek experience and add a few mentors.
“Leadership in any sport or organization is the biggest thing you can possibly have,” Hart said. “Jrue has been doing this for a long time and is an amazing leader. JJ has been doing it for 13 years at a high level. Derrick is the same way. These guys have won in their careers and been in every situation possible. To have that kind of leadership to help instill the kind of habits and mental focus in the young guys, guys like myself, you can’t put a price on that. We have some of the best leaders in the league in this organization.”