Transcript: Pelicans David Griffin media availability - June 30, 2020

David Griffin Media Availability – June 30, 2020

Opening Statement:
“Welcome, everybody. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to visit with you all. Sorry for the nature of the interaction. This is obviously not how we want to do it. Wearing a mask in here is not what I wanted to do, but it’s where we are. I’ll be glad to take any questions. The one thing I would say, unequivocally, is that we’re glad to have the opportunity to compete. We have a young group of kids that are excited to play in meaningful games. At the same time, I think that there are a lot of things that we’re dealing with that I think were unforeseen, and the whole league has dealt with those things. We’re going to be mindful of what this opportunity really is and try to protect our long-term future as well as possible.”

On if he, Alvin Gentry, and all of the players will be going to the bubble in Orlando or if that has been decided yet:
“From my perspective, I will be going. I’m almost 10 years out from my experience from a chemo standpoint. I am not at all in a high-risk area, and I’m not going to ask my players to do anything I wouldn’t do. If they have to go survive the quarantine and we’re going to battle like we are, I’m going to do the same thing. From the standpoint of Alvin and our players, that’s to be determined. When we turn our roster in, we may or may not have to make replacements even when that last roster is turned in on (July 1). We’re sort of at the mercy of the virus in that regard, but we have no reason to believe at this moment that anyone will not go. We’ll just work from there.”

On the biggest challenges of trying to put this NBA restart together:
I think the league was the group that was challenged more than we were. To a huge degree, we were reacting to everything that we were hearing from the media in terms of how this was going to happen. Alvin Gentry is on several committees, as am I. The league has been good about trying to get our input throughout this process. Ultimately, the amount of work that has been done on the league level to bring this to fruition is mind-numbing. I’m grateful that they’ve been able to do it. Adam Silver and his staff…just remarkable in terms of both were great in decision-making. We’re grateful that we’re a part of a league that’s run by that group of people and we trust in what they’re doing.

On if the players feel like this month is enough time to get back in playing shape and prepare for the continuation of the season:
Truthfully, probably not. I think a lot of it has to do with just the nature of the month itself. This first week in our building, we’re not allowed to do anything really other than one-on-none. You won’t see us being allowed to do two-on-two, three-on-three, and ramp up to five-on-five. We’re going to have to simulate as much movement and activity and exploding into your shot and doing as many things as we can from a tendon and ligament strengthening standpoint. Aaron Nelson and his team are going to be challenged by this from a sports science standpoint. League-wide, I think it’s going to be the biggest challenge. COVID is not what I’m concerned with, it’s really more about long-term injury possibilities. I think the whole league is dealing with the same thing. But to me, that’s really where the challenge lies is, ‘How do you – while battling COVID and not bringing guys together in our building – get ready to play full speed?’ That will be a delicate balance, but I’m grateful that we have Aaron Nelson here to lead us through that.”

On the irregular variables of the restart setup that might put even more of a premium on roster depth than would normally be the case:
“I think the fact that we have three scrimmages in week three that are going to be full games, essentially, that’s one of the big challenges because in order to be ready in week three to actually play games, you’re not really going to want to give too many people too many minutes. You’re going to spread that out amongst as much of your roster as you possibly can. I’m grateful the league let us bring both two-way (players) by way of example so that we could have more depth. I’m grateful that they’re allowing for COVID replacements in the format that they are that will enable you to have, quote, enough bodies. We’re blessed that I think we have all of the right ones as well. From that standpoint we’re in a good position, but depth is going to be a premium for everyone and unfortunately for us, our first two games are our hardest opponents in terms of winning percentage against. Now, I would argue that because of the quarantine and everybody else facing the same challenge, results are going to be more random than they would’ve been otherwise. I think it’s going to be sort of (that) you’re going to be at the mercy of when you meet your good opponents, so the fact that our first two opponents are very difficult games and we’re three and a half (games) out with eight to go instead of three and a half with 18 to go, we’ve got to hit the ground running. So that puts a great deal of stress on the depth of the team.”

On his conversations with the players about being away from their families for an extended period of time, especially those with young children:
“We’ve got a group that’s really really excited about playing. Jrue and Lauren (Holiday) view this as an opportunity for Jrue, and I think we have JJ Redick in the same situation with he and Chelsea. They view this as an opportunity. It’s a platform that I think our players are relishing in terms of making a statement about social injustice. I think Black Lives Matter is going to be a platform the league very much embraces, and our players embrace that as well. But let’s not kid ourselves, this quarantine situation is going to be very difficult. It’s going to be a war of attrition to a huge degree from a mental standpoint. We want to be the team that’s most well-suited to take advantage of that. What we’re asking our players to do is please don’t participate in this unless you can do it mind, body, and spirit with every fiber of who you are. Because once we get there, this isn’t going to be something that’s designed for the weak…this is going to be about mental toughness. We don’t want you there if you don’t want to be there. I think, fortunately, we’re blessed (that) everybody is excited about taking part.”

On the Pelicans schedule for the NBA restart and what went into the league’s decision-making:
“I think they very much took it into account on their own in terms of strength of schedule and trying to be equitable. At the same time, there’s only so much you can do. Giving us Utah and the Clippers back to back to start because they were the next games we would have played, I guess makes some sense logically. But what it effectively did was put us in a position where, instead of having two games out of 18 against Western Conference playoff teams that weren’t Memphis, we now have two in eight games. It doesn’t matter to me what our winning percentage of the teams we’re playing is because, again, we have no idea. By the time we play games, we’ll be off 15 weeks. That’s longer than the previous offseason. So to think we’re going to be the same teams we were heading into that is almost naïve. I think what we really are is, we’re playing two really important playoff teams to start, whereas we had an 18 game cushion before, we only have eight. The league had to be mindful of that for everyone, so in many different ways this is the sum of many imperfect solutions. We just have to be about big picture and league-oriented. It’s not about us, it’s about the group as a whole.”

On how excited he is to see the younger Pelicans have this opportunity to play meaningful games:
“You guys have heard me say this in the past, the mark of success for us was going to be to play meaningful games in March and April. This is now going to be meaningful games in July and August, but we’re going to get to do that. That was important to us because of our young core. It’s because of the experience those guys won’t get in the crucible of competition, that’s a positive for us. It’s a blessing. I don’t know that I would use the word ‘excited’ relative to that part of it because it’s so incredibly different versus what it would have been, but I’m really grateful that they’re going to have the opportunity to play in those minutes. It’s just going to look a little different than it may have looked if it came in the natural flow of the season. But I’m optimistic that we’ll be in a position to compete throughout those eight games. It really sets up in a difficult way if you’re not in position to continue that, and we’ll just have to deal with it as it comes.

On the importance of emphasizing mental health for players and staff during this time:
“I think it’s critical and it’s going to be really essential. Jenna Rosen has done a really good job throughout this period during the pandemic of Zooming with players, doing individual meetings, doing team meetings, etc. We’re going to make that a focus of what we do. It’s going to be a built-in part of our practice time. Literally every day that we practice in the bubble, we will have mental preparedness. We will work through mindfulness training with Jenna literally every day, because it’s paramount to our success there. Again when I said this is going to be about who wants to be there more, it’s going to be about who can keep themselves in the best frame of mind, quite frankly, to stay on task, not think about the enormity of what’s going on. We’re going to invest a great deal of our time and energy on that side of things.”

On how often the team is being tested for COVID-19 and if the team has had any players test positive:
“The league has mandated that you do testing every other day in market. We are using a testing protocol that the league arranged for. The day everyone came back in market around the league, everyone knew there were going to be several positive tests and it’s why the league put in as much time as they did between the report date and mandatory workouts because they wanted to catch those as early as possible. Unfortunately as a play-in team we’re sort of disproportionately penalized if we have a COVID case because by the time you get players back, you may already be done and your competitive advantage may already be gone. In our situation, COVID is going to play a much bigger role than it will for an established playoff team. To this point, we have had positive tests. From a HIPAA standpoint, I’m not going to talk about any of those individuals. The league has a system in place that was designed to catch these cases. That system worked, and we’re just going to deal with it the best we can moving forward. From a basketball standpoint, I think you’re going to see COVID have an enormous impact on teams, even some of the teams that went into the bubble as a playoff seed. You’ve seen that Brooklyn has been really damaged by the COVID situation, so again this is something where we’re all at the mercy of the same enemy.”

On Pelicans players testing positive for COVID-19:
“We had multiple players test positive the very first day. We’ve had none since, and we are dealing with those as we go along.”

On how many Pelicans players tested positive for COVID-19:

On the protocol for players who have tested positive:
“They’re not in ‘quarantine’. They’re in self-isolation and they test daily. When they can have two negative tests – or rather tests that are good results for us – they can return to activity with the team. The league is relying both on the CDC and their own medical experts and the Players Union medical experts on this. We’re going to continue to follow those guidelines. As I said with the program they had in place, they knew they were going to have positive tests and we’re dealing with them in exactly the manner that they anticipated.”

On Zion Williamson’s physical shape:
“It’s a good question, and I appreciate it. I would say that I can give you the same answer on Zion as I can virtually everyone. I have no idea. They’re not able to do anything here that smacks of basketball, and all of the workouts right now are voluntary. I can tell you he is handling the ball awfully well, and his shooting looks great. In terms of his preparedness and fitness for basketball, I can’t give you any indication of that at all. I really have no idea.”

On his takeaways from how the Pelicans players have dealt with all of the different situations at hand:
“Well I mean again because we had everyone show up on the date that they were supposed to because everyone has indicated the desire to play, I’m going to assume that they’ve been keeping themselves ready to do that. We had a group, again, that was very, very overwhelmingly excited about the opportunity to play, so I think many of them have kept themselves in really good shape, but again it’s just almost impossible to know until we can get up and down (the court). Once the mandatory workouts begin, they’re still limited to having eight at a time in the gym. One per basket, two in the weight room, two in the training room. This isn’t going to look like basketball for quite a while, so we’re going to do as much as we possibly can to get the group ready to go, but at the same time we feel like we’re protecting perhaps as bright of a future there is in the league and we’re going to be mindful of that as well.”

On how difficult it is to decide on the final traveling party to Orlando and if the Pelicans have made their final decision on who that will be:
“Our traveling party is impacted by so many things that it’s been really difficult to settle on. Once you have positive cases, that impacts what your party could look like. Obviously, the situation that’s ongoing from a coaching perspective can have some barring on that, so no, we’ve not nailed very much down yet. I think we have a core group that are a given to go. Myself and Trajan (Langdon) will be attending, and beyond that, I would say everything else has been pretty fluid for us. I can’t say that it’s a difficult situation, it’s just one that everyone from the league is dealing with. It’s the same for everyone, so I don’t want to make it seem like our situation is any worse, but certainly the situation we’re in relative to the coaching uncertainty, that hurts us.”

On his view of what ‘real change’ on racial injustice could look like at this moment:
“It’s a good question, Christian. I think what real change is going to look like is that we start to tangibly change our justice system, tangibly change the way in which we approach voting rights. I think even right now, there are states that are doing the complete opposite of what you would hope they would be doing in terms of making voting an equitable situation across all socioeconomic lines and all racial lines. I see this country not doing that in a large number around the country, and that concerns me. It concerns our players as well. The ‘bubble’ provides a platform to make sure the conversations keep happening, but the goal of the conversations is to actually take action. Our belief is that until we are doing that on a consistent basis the talk is just talk, and I’m really grateful that JJ (Redick) and Lonzo (Ball), our player’s alliance is working hand-in-hand with the Saints organization in working to figure out exactly where we are going to put our energy and our efforts and not where we’re going to put our sort of linguistic skills. After a while, you don’t need to talk about how dangerous this has been and how vile racism is, you need to start to effectively change it on a grassroots level, so I hope that’s what comes out of this.”

On what it’s like seeing JJ Redick and Derrick Favors voice their opinions:
“Well it’s been really good for me because as a white male, I feel very similar to how JJ feels, and he’s expressed some of it incredibly well. His appearance on Scott Van Pelt last night was tremendous. It’s incumbent upon us really, to be the ones that are going to change this. Nothing’s going to change until white males decide that this has to change and it’s been unjust and incorrect for 400 years and until we actually start to recognize the ways in which we’ve had privilege and start to accept ourselves, that that’s not acceptable and we’re not going to live our lives like that, it’s not going to change. For me, getting to see JJ make that statement openly, and for Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball and Jrue (Holiday) to be as mindful as they are of raising these issues, it just helps me. I need to listen to that, and I need to have empathy for that. I would tell you I always did, but I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t spring into action previously, and I don’t think any of us did. This has been a blessing for us because everyone now is dealing with this with a much more sense of urgency.”

On how difficult it has been to judge the NBA salary cap change during the next offseason:
“Yeah, again, it’s been challenging, but it’s similarly challenging for the whole league. Not knowing what the salary cap is going to be, by way of example. Those things are challenging. Not knowing when the following season starts or ends is going to be a challenge for everyone, so I think as you’re building your team, you’re going to have a very short turnaround. You’re not going to have a lot of time with the data in terms of what the cap numbers really are, so you’re going to have to make decisions very quickly. What that’s done for Shane Kupperman and our salary cap team here has been to run every single scenario. Shane and Mike Blackstone and our team there, Marc Chasanoff. They’ve been literally preparing a scenario for virtually every outcome with what the cap might look like and what that means we would then be anticipating paying our free agents and guys that we want to extend. It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for everybody.”

On if the salary cap going down can shrink what teams can do in the offseason:
“It does to some degree. I mean intellectually you’d believe that that’s true, that if there’s less financial bandwidth and flexibility that, that precludes teams from outside your organization making a run at people, but at the same time it only takes one, and you never know how people are going to allocate their resources. I think we’re looking at this from the standpoint of we believe very strongly both Lonzo and Brandon want to be a part of the future here and we anticipate that happens, and we’re going to continue to work from that vantage point because they’ve been very, very clear in their desires to continue their careers here.”

On the Pelicans’ strategy going into Orlando:
“Yeah. I think mostly it’s been about the strategy of, ‘How do we get everybody as ready to play in as good condition as possible for those first three games?” Those are going to dictate our outcome, so once you get past that the whole strategy changes. But for those first three games everything’s been about, ‘How do we put ourselves in the best position to compete and to be healthy, and to be healthy long term coming out of it?’ Nobody really in our operation is concerned with COVID-19 as much as we are just the long term health and viability of our franchise, and that’s really what we’ve been looking at. Those three games are the three games we need to be ready to play right from the jump and how do you achieve that and that’s been as much as with Alvin (Gentry) and the coaching staff as it’s been Aaron Nelson and the medical team.”

On if anything that could happen in Orlando could change your personnel decisions or free agency process:
“I think we have a good feel for what our roster needs moving forward regardless. To some degree, I hope that the ‘bubble’ doesn’t become fool’s gold: that you don’t buy into something that maybe isn’t realistic. Again, you have to go into the ‘bubble’ understanding that by in large, it’s going to create some randomness and the variability of whose playing at any given time on the opposing team and who’s playing who minutes and those types of things will have a huge barring on outcome. For that reason, I think, it’s almost like when you scout and you look at the NCAA tournament, and you try to take it with a grain of salt when a guy gets crazy hot in the tournament. You have to do the same thing in this ‘bubble’ situation: rely on the data that you had. We were fortunate because we ran all the on-court presentations. I got to watch our team in a totally non-emotional time and watching film in addition to that throughout this period of time. In a non-emotional way, when you look at our roster you make determinations about what we are, what we need to be. It’s a much better way to make decisions than to go into the ‘bubble’ deal with everything we’re going to deal about in the ‘bubble’ and then try to make decisions off of that. I would tell you I don’t think we’re going to put a lot of stock in that in terms of dictating our long-term future.”

On what he is telling players about personal health conduct prior to arriving in Orlando in order to maximize health:
“We had this discussion yesterday, in fact, and we talked about it throughout the quarantine period, but we had the conversation yesterday that we need to be living our lives, basically from yesterday on, as though we are already in the ‘bubble’. We need to go from the gym to the house, make sure that we are eating well, doing the right things away from the game, and carry ourselves as though we are already there. Again, I think we have players that are committed enough to the outcome that they’re going to do that. When I’m talking about the randomness, I’m not talking about COVID-19 as much as I am everything else that comes with this. Mental toughness, whether or not you play a team that has any reason to play their starters at the right time. If you look at the teams that have got schedules that might look more difficult, if they’re playing the best teams they play at the end of their schedule, well, there’s a good chance that those teams don’t have any reason to play their best players. Catching them at a good time. We’re playing our best teams at the beginning, so that’s not necessarily a good time and you don’t know whether or not those teams are going to play the initial games as though they’re trying to win or are they going to play as though they’re just ramping up over a period of time. You have no idea what that looks like, but it’s certainly not going to be traditional regular-season basketball and that same rhythm and flow. When I’m talking about randomness, I’m really talking about the overall nature of the experience of everyone being totally alien to what a season normally looks like.”

On his reaction to Lauren Holiday’s article in The Player’s Tribune:
“Well I was aware of that story before it ran. I thought Lauren did a remarkable job in the way she presented it, in the way that she shared that. I was grateful that she did it. I had heard that previously. It’s something that we talk about often as a team, frankly, and since everything has come about, we’ve certainly talked more, but that’s something that we’ve listened to players throughout. During my time in my NBA career, it’s not the first time it has happened that I’ve heard that story, and unfortunately, it’s not going to be the last. I think we need to continue to act in such a way that it becomes the last. Our players are no different than society as a whole, and if you can’t feel safe as an African American in this country when you get pulled over by the police. Until that changes, we can’t feel like we’ve achieved anything. I was grateful that Lauren shared that story because Jrue, who is somebody who is very recognizable, and where ever he was I’m sure they recognized him as a professional athlete, but it’s not one of those things for me where I think it’s significant that it happened. Unfortunately, it’s very common that it happens, but significant in that more people share those stories so that we can hear them and react to them and start to deal with it.”

On the playoff seeds being based off win percentage:
“Yeah. I mean again, sure for us we got pretty heavily penalized because we beat Portland four times and if we have the same winning percentage, or if they have a higher winning percentage they’re going to get the nod if we’re in a tie-breaker situation. That’s disappointing, but again we’re not the only team that got adversely affected by that. I would tell you that part of it is certainly more germane to us than some of the other things, because it’s complicated to beat somebody four times and be told you’re not getting a playoff spot, so in that way again that’s more of the randomness I’m talking about. That obviously that wouldn’t happen in a traditional NBA season. It wasn’t intentional on the league’s part. They’re dealing with the best they can with imperfect solutions.”

On permanently pushing back the start of the NBA season:
“Yeah. We would very much support that. Obviously, being a part of the organization with the Saints and having these discussions with Mickey (Loomis) and Sean (Payton) and everybody on the business side, Dennis (Lauscha), Mrs. Benson. It would certainly be a positive for us to start later because this is a football town first. If we are really going to get a foothold in the market, starting later gives us an opportunity to start in a setting where all eyes are on us, so we would certainly support that as a franchise. I know several teams throughout the league have pushed for that agenda throughout this. If it ended up being something that was permanently the case, we would absolutely feel grateful for that.”

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