Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Transcript: Conference Call with Swin Cash
Introductory Conference Call
Swin Cash, New Orleans Pelicans Vice President of Basketball Operations/Team Development
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
David Griffin: “Hey everybody. Thanks for joining us today. I could not be happier to introduce Swin to all of you. I had the opportunity to work with Swin at Turner once upon a time and spending time in the green room there even before I had the opportunity to go to a team or even the thought of going back to a team. I talked to Swin about her goals and thoughts of potentially working with a team in a team environment, and as soon as we had the opportunity to reach back out to her to try to bring that to fruition, we did so. This is very much a concerted effort on our part to continue to collect as many of the best and brightest. I think if you were at the press conference or you’ve seen the comments from the press conference, Mrs. Benson’s commitment to this is absolute and a big part of our goal here is to collect all of the best-in-class as we can in every area. So, Aaron Nelson representing best-in-class on the medical side, Trajan Langdon representing best-in-class on the front office side, Swin Cash contributing to the same. I think you’re starting to see us start to build something that can be very special here, and every hire we make is really about our continued and sustained excellence and the commitment that Mrs. Benson has made to this. Without further ado, I will turn this over to Swin to answer any of your questions, and I can answer questions as well.”
How long have you and David Griffin potentially been talking about this? Was it a process that took some time for you to make a decision to come here to New Orleans? Was this something that popped up recently? He alluded to your history together on NBA TV and obviously the position that you have, making you one of the highest-ranking females in the NBA, if you could also speak about that a little bit.
Swin Cash: “Yeah, sure. This has been something that Griff and I have been talking kind of back-and-forth like he said in Atlanta at Turner for months we were both down there working. So this was even talked about as a possibility before he was even I guess interviewing or out there for jobs. So for me, my focus was on media. The last offseason I was covering the NBA, and also men’s college basketball for CBS Sports, so that was kind of my focus. Once he got the job and had the opportunity to see what he was building, we talked again. I had an opportunity to visit, to get to know the staff, to speak with Coach Gentry who was amazing, and really started buying into what Mrs. Benson’s vision was for this team and how we were going to move forward. I had an opportunity to speak with my husband, with my family, and it just felt that this timing was right. And to come to New Orleans and be part of a culture and to be able to help contribute in all aspects of what Griff is trying to build and do here was something that was very appealing to me.”
During that hiatus right after you ended your WNBA career – obviously you went into the front office and had a number of jobs – then you did a hiatus where you went into broadcasting. During that time, how were you keeping abreast of what was going on in the League and preparing yourself for getting back into this side of basketball operations?
Cash: “Yeah, so there was actually never really a hiatus. What happened is the last two years, not only have I been covering television in the offseason, but during the WNBA season I was working with the New York Liberty in their front office and it was a hybrid role between the basketball and business side. Recently, I believe in February, the team was bought by the minority owner Joe Tsai of the Nets; and when that transition happened, I had an opportunity to see if I wanted to continue with the team or just take some time to take a step back and figure out if I just wanted to do television or if I wanted to pursue other things. So, when I took that breath and exhaled, Griff was right there. So that’s kind of how that happened. I never had a hiatus from the business side of basketball. It literally was probably about a month or two before we went into the next thing.”
Griffin: “During that time where she was broadcasting, because she was covering NBA and college games, one of the things that sort of started the relationship that she and I had was around players and around talent evaluations. When she was doing those games, she was always watching them from a standpoint of talent evaluation and player development. So her thoughts on players and what players could potentially be and how you get them there had a great deal to do with my thought process about what she would potentially be able to offer a franchise.”
Obviously the opportunity to have this position doesn’t come along very often and obviously your relationship, as you alluded to, with David is very strong. What was the deciding factor? Was it the amazing opportunity, or David Griffin, or a combination of both in some capacity?
Cash: “I think it was a combination of a few things. I think it was a combination of Mrs. Benson’s commitment and investment in the team and the bandwidth that she’s pretty much given Griff to build something very special here. I think it was Griff’s approach to really bringing in not only the best people, but people that want to work together and are striving for the same goal. I think the third thing was the fact that it was a good fit for me at the right time. I’ve had other conversations and opportunities to look at other things in the past, but the reality is that I do believe that the people you work with, the investment to the team, it contributes to me being able to have success and being able to help and reach all of our goals. So all of those factors came into play whenever I was making the decision.”
As the first African-American in the position, how do you see yourself immediately impacting the Pelican community and also impacting other females aspiring to get to such an impactful role?
Cash: “Well I think for me first off, the thing that I guess really kind of sold me on New Orleans was – and I have to give a lot of credit to Griff here – is that I was being evaluated and interviewed and talked to for this position because of my basketball background, because of my skillset and the ability to come help the team. So for me, that was much appreciated. I would be remiss or a little bit naïve if I didn’t understand what the importance was of me being a woman and a woman of color and what that reflects outwardly to the community and to other women wanting to be in this position. I think that just having the opportunity – a lot of times we talk about obviously people seeing women, you can achieve it. Whether I’m playing on the basketball court and a little girl sees me playing and is inspired…now I’m in the front office and somebody – whether it’s a little girl or little boy – sees that and is inspired, I take a lot of responsibility with that. But I’m happy to be here obviously on the merit of what I can do and what I can bring to the table. When you look across the NBA, right now there are other women. You look at Kelly Krauskopf, an assistant GM with the Indiana Pacers. You look at Becky Bonner who’s also down in Orlando. I had an opportunity to speak with Becky Bonner and Becky Hammond, and obviously with the Finals going on right now you look at Teresa (Resch) who is up there in Toronto as a VP herself. I think there are a lot of women that have been in roles and that are thriving, and I’m just happy to be here in New Orleans and to be that next one that is up on deck.”
Can you touch on what some of your roles and responsibilities will be with the New Orleans Pelicans?
Cash: “I am definitely here to help in any way that I can, so the one thing I think Griff and I really talked about is I’ll have the ability to wear many hats; I’ll have the ability to be in scouting, I’ll have the ability to work alongside both Griff and Trajan, and we’ll talk about scouting and we’ll talk about evaluation of our players on the court. I’ll be able to work with our players in player development on the court and off the court. Really, building the culture is important here, and I’m really excited about that piece because everyone I think Griff has brought in so far, the staff that’s already here, and Coach Gentry, we know that coming together as a team and as a family, that’s what it’s truly about.”
What was your perception of the franchise before speaking to David Griffin, and where does your perception stand now?
Cash: “So I’ve been covering the NBA for a while now. Even during my playing days in the offseason, that’s what I would do. There was definitely a perception with this team, I don’t think that’s a secret, that we looked at this team as maybe not having as much of an investment as the Saints, not being equal to on some levels. Obviously, I have a lot of relationships with guys throughout the League, so there wasn’t the best view or opinion of the Pelicans. But, I will say this, the reason that I’m here right now is because of the investment that Mrs. Benson is making to this team, of Griff’s commitment, because I respect his ability to not only put the best team and people together, but to put the investment into the team and in the community. Those things matter to me and it was just the right opportunity for me. If that wasn’t what happened, trust me, I would not be here because this was a pivot for me, obviously, to come into this role, and it’s something that I’m excited about – thoroughly excited about – because I see everything that’s happening around here, it’s something special.”
There seems to be a focus on having this “Swiss army knife” approach when it comes to the people you bring in. How do you think that makes the front office successful when you’re able to add people that come from successful college programs, played professionally, have international experience, all of those things – has it been an intentional effort to make sure you had people with a lot of different experiences in this front office.
Griffin: “Yeah, first of all, the important thing that we’re trying to do – you hit on it with the Swiss army knife – versatility, you never know exactly what’s going to be called for at any given time, so to have people that are as capable and high quality that we have been able to add to this staff is really important, because every single point of contact in this franchise has to be part of driving us towards what we really care about, and that’s winning, and it’s about winning the right way. It’s about winning in a way that reflects the ethos of our community, and culturally that’s powerful, so I think one of the things that stands out to me about everyone we’ve hired – and Swin is a great example of this – winning is a frequency, and you don’t learn how to tune to it unless you’ve had to do it, and Swin knows how to find that frequency. She’s won championships at every level of basketball, and because of that, I know unequivocally she knows that championship frequency, she knows that thought process, and she understands how to raise people to be that and to feel that. Trajan has been incredibly successful at every step of his career, I was fortunate enough to be around that, and I really believe you don’t model that, you don’t channel that unless you know how to tune to it, so it will continue to be a big driving factor for us and what we do. We want people that have succeeded at the highest level, and yet are totally over themselves in the process.”
With the draft so close, for you Swin, how quickly do you have to get immersed, you know, to be ready for next week?
Cash: “Well, I’m here now in New Orleans. I think for me right now is anything that Griff needs – any questions that are there, I think the preparations I’ve had covering men’s basketball this last season and being at March Madness, having to look at the different talent that will be there – but I think a lot of what’s going to happen this week is preparation that Trajan (Langdon) and Bryson (Graham) and Griff, I think this whole team will be all-hands-on-deck. Whatever I can do to assist, that’s what I’m here for.”
I’m just curious…Just the idea of you all becoming a brain magnet for the league and gaining that reputation, is that actually something you are putting a priority on? Is it something that’s just happening organically by hiring certain people or is it all kind of part of a plan?
Griffin: “I think it’s a pretty concerted effort to have as many different voices as we can. I made it clear to Mrs. Benson and the ownership group that if I’m the smartest person in the room, we’re sunk. So we’re going to surround ourselves with as many smart people as we possibly can. It’s a very concerted effort on our part to put all of the right experiences around us and have as many different voices as we can. Culturally, this is not something where we want to check boxes. We want it to impact lives and change the way business is done, so we’re going to hire people that enable us to do that. We’ve got a very special situation here relative to Mrs. Benson and the way she’s allowing us to do this, and the only way I feel confident to do this is to build a room with all the best voices we possibly can. If your process is sound you tend to make good decisions, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
How much more work or how much more do you have to do to get the right people on the bus and get moving in the right direction? Are there more hires coming? Do you feel like you’re where you need to be to communicate and have enough opinions? Where will this process continue to go?
Griffin: “It never really stops. We’ll try to continue to hone it – and I made the comment about Swiss army knife – we’re going to continue to sharpen it as much as we can over time, and it’s an ever-evolving landscape. If we build the best and deepest front office, that means in a very short period of time we’ll be losing those people to bigger jobs, and Swin is boundless. If she decides she wants to run a franchise she will absolutely do that, there is no doubt whatsoever. So a big part of what we’re doing is growing a group at every level that’s ready to have upward mobility and assume the next role, so yeah, it’s an ongoing process. I can’t tell you if there’s a particular hole we need to fill right now. I think, Fletcher, you were here for the press conference and obviously part of Trajan Langdon’s conference call…there were a lot of really good people already here, so this is not a statement in any way towards the people that were here. There were a lot of good people on the boat already, and all we’re trying to figure out is the best roles for people to play, and those things just evolve over time. If everything is of the right spirit, and wants to be of the right mindset, we’ll arrive at the right place.”
Swin, going back to your rookie season, you came in with these high expectations for yourself. What advice would you give whoever the Pelicans draft going into their rookie season in terms of expectations?
Cash: “It’s very interesting because I came in my rookie year after going 39-0 in college and winning a national championship, and I went 0-13 to start with my professional team. And I looked around after our 13th loss, and we were at New York, and I about had an attack in the locker room because people were talking about what their plans were going to be after the season, and culturally I didn’t understand that – I wasn’t built like that. I came from UConn and my mindset was ‘you do whatever it takes to win’ and culturally it wasn’t there for me. I remember, we got back to Detroit, I sat down with Bill Lambier – he had come on board – we sat down and he asked me ‘you’re going to be the franchise, what do you want?’ and I told him ‘I want people that want to be here to win. I’ll do whatever it takes to win, I’ll sacrifice whatever it takes to win’ and that following year we went from being a team that was 0-13, we went from worst to first and we won the (WNBA) world championship the next year in 2003 in Detroit. So, what I would tell a rookie coming into a team is you have to be willing to be the person that fits the culture and it has to be about winning. And if you don’t understand what winning is like, you get people around you that understand that and can to help you understand that. I think that’s what Griff is doing here and being intentional about it. The culture has to be set, the mindset has to be set to put the work in, and want to be around like-minded people that have the same goal. So, any rookie that comes in, I would say, work hard and make sure your culture is about winning.”
When you were looking at the roster – and there's so much ahead and change for the roster coming up – but when you look at the players who are already in place like Jrue Holiday, addressing him in particular, what do you think of him as a building block and everyone in his position amongst the elite players in the NBA?
Cash: “I won't dive into detail about all the players. But I will tell you this, I've always admired Jrue. He is tough, his leadership, he plays both sides of the ball. Undeniably, you’ve seen people talk about it, and I’ve said it in media – I'm pretty sure you can find a clip somewhere – just about him not being looked at as one of the best players in this league. And sometimes, I think people don't value what he brings to a team. I'm excited to work with him because when you have somebody that, I like to say to have that dog in him a little bit, you love to work with people like that because they want to be in a gym. They want to make people better because they're going to make themselves better. And I see that in Jrue, and I'm excited to just get started. And if you have that type of player on your team, the sky is really the limit.”
Subtlety has never been my strong suit but I’ll try to be subtle when I ask this question. Swin is obviously a huge hire today. Next week. you obviously have the draft and a huge draft pick coming. Between now and then, do you anticipate another huge transaction coming?
Griffin: “I love how you prefaced that, Fletcher. Alvin Gentry just walked in the room and he was very appreciative of that, as well. I don't anticipate anything of major significance other than the meeting with Zion and his family. I never anticipate things. I'm open-minded. I think we all are. There's a point at which we act. If things evolve in such a way that it's time for us to make a decision relative to Anthony Davis or any other part of the organization, we will. But we're not in a hurry to do anything and we don't feel there is a time sensitivity to anything that we're talking about. And that includes AD’s desire to stay or not. It's not something there's a shot clock on.”
I'll be a little less subtle and just ask you to reconcile one quick thing – which is your conviction that something special is going on here with what maybe the average NBA fan around the country sees – and that is that one of the best players in the world asked for a change of scenery and by a lot of reports still wants the change of scenery.
Cash: “Yeah, I think it's easy because I'm talking about the now, right now in this moment and I like to stay in the present. I will always look to the future because I just feel the positive and having a positive mindset and positive energy is always good. So what I feel and what I see, the reason why, and this is what I was speaking towards, why I made the commitment to come here is because I see some really positive things happening. What I know is basketball-wise culture, what I know is people and that's what attracted me here to New Orleans. I can't speak about things in the past, but what I can speak about is what’s being built right now. That's why I'm excited to be a part of it, especially on the ground level and building upwards. I think anybody else's that’s here and going to be around is excited about that opportunity as well.”
I'm just curious, you kind of touched on it a time or two, but in regards to David Griffin and your desire to work with him, what specifically about him and his personality allowed him to be able to gravitate so many great, smart people since he arrived at this organization about two months ago?
Cash: “I would say that your reputation precedes you and I had an opportunity obviously to work with Griff and get to know him, but I also do my homework. When I made phone calls and I asked around the League and talked to the kinds of current players that I know, people at the NBA office, there wasn't one person who had anything bad to say about him. That is the kind of person that I felt and knew that he was. Then other people even confirmed it, who worked with him or have been in his presence. That says a lot about him, as leader, and if I'm going to go anywhere and uproot my family and go all-in on the ground floor, you want to have somebody that is not only inspiring you, but also that tells you that you have an opportunity to continue to grow in this business. For me, that was one of the reasons why I'm here. So he is probably turning red because I'm talking about this right now. Griff is great and I'm excited to come here and to work with him and Coach Gentry and the staff and Trajan – it's going to be fun.”