Willie Green could’ve waited until October to begin coaching his new team in games, but when the opportunity arose to do so at Las Vegas summer league, he jumped at the chance. Similarly, New Orleans players could’ve waited until next week to get together as a group, but eager to begin building chemistry, they recently convened in Nashville, Tenn., for voluntary workouts.
As Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin noted Tuesday in a Zoom meeting with team sponsors, there’s a palpable feeling within the organization that there’s “something to prove” in 2021-22. That’s provided plenty of motivation for the Pelicans as they prepare to open training camp Sept. 28.
“This team knows they have something to prove,” Griffin said. “I think you’ve seen from top to bottom, our guys are really anxious to do that.”
“It starts with us being able to raise the level (of competition) and raise the bar with each other,” Green said. “There is an opportunity here. They understand what’s in front of them and understand where we are as a team and an organization. We’re excited. Everybody is excited to see this team on the floor, to see us practice. I’m excited.”
Although it’s not common for NBA head coaches to fill the same role during summer league, Green went 5-0 while guiding the Pelicans in early August. After serving as an assistant coach for teams in Golden State and Phoenix that won two championships and reached four of the last five NBA Finals, the former New Orleans guard from the 2011 playoff-qualifying Hornets wanted to quickly establish how the Pelicans will play. Aggressive defense and unselfish offense sparked New Orleans’ unbeaten run in Las Vegas.
“Everything counts for me,” Green said of the decision to coach the summer squad. “It started once I was hired. Summer league was the next step. We wanted to set the tone right away, for how we want to play, what type of team we want to be, how we want to represent our city. That was my mindset and it still is. There is a lot of work in front of us, but we wanted to create a culture and set the tone for how we want to play on the defensive end. And we want to share the ball on offense and play a fun style of basketball.”
One of the Pelicans’ primary goals is for that style of play to reflect some of the values of their fans, many of whom suffered from the effects of Hurricane Ida. In outlining what he wants to see from the team, Griffin referenced the region’s ability to persevere amid difficult circumstances.
“We owe them an effort that’s representative of their ability to overcome adversity,” Griffin said. “Our city and our fan base does that at a really high level… New Orleans knows how to overcome adversity better than any place on the planet. If our team doesn’t embody that, then our fans shouldn’t give us the response we need. If we do embody that in the way that Coach Green wants us to, I think it has a chance to be an entirely unique relationship that a team and a fan base have. That’s what we’re trying to build toward. The character and passion of this team need to reflect our city.”