Eric Bledsoe gets on the floor to grab a loose ball vs. Oklahoma City

Pelicans’ primary offseason objective was to add grit, toughness, ‘ferocious competitors’

by Jim Eichenhofer

Less than a minute into the NBA’s revamped “Media Week” on Monday afternoon, David Griffin launched into what could serve as a refrain for the New Orleans Pelicans’ series of rapid-fire offseason roster transactions.

“We wanted to express a higher level of competitiveness as a group,” Griffin said of discussions the front office had after a disappointing 2-6 showing in the summer Orlando bubble. “We needed more grit and toughness, and more of a defensive identity. And literally every move we’ve made since then fits that theme. There is not a player we brought in here that’s not about the things we cared the most about.”

Begin with 10-year NBA veteran guard Eric Bledsoe and seven-year pro center Steven Adams, part of a multi-team trade that gives the Pelicans two new defensive cogs for the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively. Bledsoe has been selected to an NBA All-Defensive team two consecutive seasons, while Adams is an intimidating, 6-foot-11, 265-pound presence in the paint. They will be part of a starting lineup tasked with helping New Orleans improve from 21st in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season.

“All of us around here want our identity to be largely about toughness and competitiveness,” new Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Certainly the additions of Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams add to that. That’s what we hope to be.”

Bledsoe is often described as an intense player on both ends of the floor, with Van Gundy noting that the former Milwaukee guard “has the kind of disposition and mentality that I really like. He’s a tough, hard-playing guy who will really compete on the defensive end.” Meanwhile, Griffin acknowledged that he’s been interested in acquiring Adams for the entirety of the New Zealand native’s career, dating back to NBA pre-draft interviews in 2013, before Adams was picked No. 12 overall by Oklahoma City.

“Steven is as selfless a teammate – and as ferocious a competitor – as there is in the league,” Griffin said.

Earlier Monday, New Orleans officially announced the additions of two frontcourt reserves with NBA experience, four-year veteran Willy Hernangomez (a free agent from Charlotte) and one-year pro Wenyen Gabriel (Portland). Griffin emphasized that those acquisitions also fit the objective of New Orleans prioritizing intensity and competitiveness.

“I’m going to be a little bit of a broken record,” Griffin said, alluding to using similar terminology to explain the desire to obtain Bledsoe and Adams, “but those kids (Hernangomez and Gabriel) are absolutely ferocious competitors. They play the game the right way, they play the game to win. They both have incredible upside as players and are very young (26 and 23), but they’ve been about the right things. Wenyen, by way of example, similar to (Brandon Ingram) has a body type that is very late-blooming. We feel like he’s just figuring out exactly what he’s going to be capable of. But he does it with a zeal and passion for the game that was significant.

“We weren’t going to bring in anybody that didn’t embrace the game the way he and Willy do. We’re really excited about both players. Both in terms of what they bring from a toughness and grit standpoint, but also their coachability and selflessness as well.”

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