Willie Green gives instruction to Devonte' Graham during a home game

Positivity from Willie Green, Pelicans players one factor in team’s turnaround

by Jim Eichenhofer

Even when the situation was at its bleakest, as a nine-game losing streak dropped the New Orleans Pelicans’ record to 1-12, players noticed that their head coach’s outlook never changed. Willie Green remained positive, even when the on-court results gave him every reason not to be.

“We didn’t have a great start to the season, but we just continued to talk to (Pelicans players) that we still have to enjoy coming to work,” Green said Wednesday, during a Zoom talk with TV broadcaster Joel Meyers for Pelicans season ticket holders. “We still have to enjoy being around each other. Once we started to get guys healthy and play the right way and gained some trust, (the team improved its performance). The joy was always there. Now we’re seeing the results.”

Green’s unwavering positivity is one reason New Orleans has managed to turn things around over the past month-plus, going 10-6 since Thanksgiving Eve. While Green’s encouraging approach helped the Pelicans remain upbeat as they lost 16 of their first 19 games, the first-year head coach also gives credit to his players for maintaining the right mindset. Players like Jonas Valanciunas, who took the team’s entire training staff to a Oklahoma City steakhouse for dinner Dec. 14. Since Devonte’ Graham’s 61-foot bank shot the next night, New Orleans has gone 5-1, highlighted by wins over Milwaukee and Cleveland.

“Awesome teammate,” Green said of Valanciunas. “He’s just one of those guys that enjoys life. He loves to hoop. He’s fun to be around. I can say a ton of good things about Jonas, but we’re grateful to have a guy like him.”

Green praised several other Pelicans for what they’ve brought to the locker room from an intangibles standpoint, including Valanciunas’ backup, Willy Hernangomez.

“Willy can be on any team that I’m coaching,” Green said, smiling. “His positivity is just infectious. I thought I was positive, (but) I don’t know if the guy has a bad day, no matter what. All of his teammates and everyone in the organization loves him. He’s great to have because of the positivity he brings, but he can play. So we’re getting the best of both worlds with him.”

Of course, winning has a way of making everyone a lot happier – and the Pelicans have not lost more than two games in a row since their aforementioned nine-game streak that ended Nov. 13 by beating Memphis. But Green noted Wednesday that an emphasis on coming to the gym with the right perspective was already in place before New Orleans started cracking the win column with greater frequency.

“It starts with joy,” said Green, a 12-year NBA guard who reminds players of how blessed they are to have the opportunity to play basketball for a living. “I talk to the guys a ton about the fact that life will deal its fair share of blows, but we have to have a level of joy… Let’s come with that mentality, because it makes working with people fun. We should have fun in what we do.”

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