Transcript: Conference Call with Trajan Langdon
New Orleans Pelicans General Manager Trajan Langdon Introductory Conference Call
May 21, 2019
Thanks for joining us today. It’s really exciting for me to be able to have Trajan Langdon joining us as General Manager. Trajan and I have worked together in Cleveland prior to his stint in Brooklyn with Sean (Marks). We had a short run together, not quite a full year. But getting to know Trajan, Tatiana, Troy, Tayden, Anya and his family was really special for me and my wife, and we just couldn’t be happier that he’s joining us on a human level. I think this falls very much in line with what we said we were going to be about at the press conference. We’re going to attract and gather as much of the best and brightest as we can here. The commitment that Mrs. Benson has made through this process is total and she’s been as supportive as you can hope for an owner to be. I think that commitment kind of appealed to Trajan’s thought process as well. But without further ado I will turn it over to Mr. Langdon to answer any questions you all have.
You had interviewed with New Orleans before David Griffin was named Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. Did that familiarity with the process of interviewing with the Pelicans help influence your decision to join David Griffin’s staff in this role?
Yes, I think it definitely helps with the understanding of the situation. When Griff called me and asked if I had any interest in the position, knowing what he had gotten into, definitely had some bearing on me being interested. But I think among the most important things was the fact that he was hired and our previous relationship when we were in Cleveland, I really enjoyed and learned a ton from him in our short stint. Not only working with him, but him giving me the autonomy to work in lockstep with the front office and also David Blatt and Ty Lue during that period. He put a tremendous amount of trust in me during that time. So when he called and said he was interested in bringing me into this situation and informed me of his vision of the organization moving forward and the fact that Mrs. Benson and her vision were in lockstep with his, and her financial commitment was something that he would not even have to think about and something that he was excited about was enough for me to go ahead and listen and ultimately join him there in the Pelicans organization, and I’m extremely excited about it.
How difficult of a decision was it, given the fact that you started in Brooklyn with Sean (Marks) and obviously had built something that looked like it was going to have sustained success, personally was it a difficult decision or was it an easier decision than it may have seemed?
It was a very difficult decision for me and my family. My wife and my kids are very happy here and we have obviously considered this home for the last three years. We made a very difficult decision to move from Cleveland to here three years ago. Any move for a family is difficult, and obviously from a professional side, what we have been able to do here in the past three years of building a culture and becoming successful and building a team that made the playoffs has been immeasurable. But the opportunity to join up with Griff again and do something special in a place that nobody believes it can be done, aside from the people in this organization and this city, is something that was very intriguing. It’s just a new challenge and a new opportunity that I’m very excited to be a part of.
I wanted to get your thoughts on the G League affiliate. This organization hasn’t really had a G League affiliate before and they will going forward. How do you think the organization can best leverage the situation?
When I walked into Brooklyn three years ago, it was our first time, too. They had obviously had a team in Springfield, but having a team in Long Island was an expansion team so we were faced with a lot of obstacles that I think we overcame and our first year having a bad year, and then this past year of going to the G League Finals. I think a lot of the things that we’re going to do in Erie are going to mirror what we do in New Orleans, talking about bringing in the right people and working for sustainable excellence and developing the players and staff that we’re going to bring in, so I look forward to that. Obviously, the fact that it’s going to be in Erie will be a challenge because of the distance factor that we didn’t have in Cleveland with Canton, nor did we have in Brooklyn with Long Island. But I’m sure that will be another challenge and one that we will overcome and we’ll turn it into a great synergy between the two teams.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from your experience in Brooklyn during your time there?
I had a tremendous three years working with Sean (Marks) and the front office group that we brought in, as well as Kenny Atkinson and his coaching staff and the performance team that we had. I think we had some tremendous people that led to the success, especially growing from year one to year three. Talking to David Griffin while making my decision, a lot of the same things he talked about is bringing in high-class people that are about the right things, doing things the right way, and moving forward in the same direction, and those are exactly the same things that I take away from my time here in Brooklyn. We brought in some really, really good people that all have the same mindset, are all competitive and all wanted to win and do things the right way and believe that the organization is greater than themselves. So I think that’s one thing that led to our success. As long as you have the right people, and that’s something that Griff has been talking about over and over, bring in the right people, have the right vision, and you all head in the same direction with the same goals, you can do some special things.
Have you gotten an idea of the breakdown of the delegations and responsibilities of what your role is?
Good question. I think that’s something that I’ll sift through with Griff once I get in house. I haven’t had this position for more than 48 hours yet. My last day in Brooklyn was yesterday. I was on a conference call driving home from the facility and was on for about two hours and we were talking about the renovation of the Pelicans practice facility. I’m all in. I’m ready to go. In terms of what my actual responsibilities will be, I will lean on Griff from day-to-day. I think the biggest thing for me will be to help him out with whatever he needs me to do. I’ll be with the team. I’ll be scouting. I’ll be managing different people in our front office. I’ll be helping the coaching staff. I’ll be with performance on the road during the season trying to help them manage that. Whatever Griff needs me to do at any time will be my main responsibility and I look forward to figuring out what exactly that is.
And Scott, to echo that, a big part of what we’re trying to do here from a staffing standpoint is to build a culture in which the people that are on the bus to kind of figure out the roles as we go along. The key was attracting the right candidates for the right opportunities, and because Trajon has such incredible history and experience with running the G League team, that will certainly be something that’s focal for him, but I think in terms of the great deal of day-to-day, that will be determined as we go along. I think it’s very much a situation where I think we’re going to do pretty much everything we do together. You know, this is an opportunity to push each other and challenge each other and grow together. As I said with Alvin Gentry, the most important thing about having history together and having an existing trust with individuals is you can challenge each other in ways that strangers may not be able to, so I think that will be a big, big part of this situation as well.
I just wanted to follow-up on your comments about the opportunity to win somewhere that people are doubting right now. Obviously they are attracting great people, from Griff, to you, and the others that they have added this off-season. What is the impression of the Pelicans from the outside, maybe what it was before, and what they’re doing now that made you believe in this?
I don’t want to put too many words out there of what I’ve heard, but I think the narrative is just that it hasn’t been good enough. Not that it’s been bad, but it just hasn’t been good enough, and I think when I went through my interview process that was kind of something that we talked about, and I think it was something that ownership felt as well, and that they wanted to get better, and they wanted to do better, and they wanted to create a culture of sustainable excellence here going forward, and I think with the hire of David Griffin, and the different things that I’ve been reading about what he’s been saying and the narrative that he wants to change both internally and externally of this franchise is something that’s intriguing about being a part of, and knowing Griff, I have a pretty good feeling of knowing what that’s about. Being in Cleveland and seeing how that organization was run in my time there, I know what he’s about – bringing in the right people, creating a culture, driving the culture and having that culture of sustainable excellence, so I’m definitely excited to be a part of that. I think it’s something that we’ve done here in Brooklyn, and it’s something that we can do here in New Orleans as well.
Have you had an opportunity to speak with Anthony Davis at all, or whether you have any sort of pre-existing relationship with him?
I do not have a pre-existing relationship with Anthony. I have not spoken with him. I’m really not privy to any of that stuff right now and it’s something that Griff and I will talk about going forward, obviously. It’s something that’s of incredible importance to us, but something that Griff has taken point on at this point in time.
I just want to follow-up on the G League question. Is there a timetable for naming a coach for the team? And then, I know this is your first couple days, the transition from Erie to Birmingham over the next year, planning that move, is that a process that has to begin now?
I think so, and that’s not something Griff and I have spoken about yet, but I think we will very soon, but I think doing our due diligence on people that are available…and we’ve always said the importance is bringing in the right people, not just for New Orleans, but it’s going to be for Erie as well. It has to be the right from the top of your organization in New Orleans all the way to the developmental coaches and the people that run the day-to-day operations in Erie. It’s got to be about the right people that are about the right things and we’re all moving in the right direction. It’s going to take time to find those people, and we’re going to do our due diligence and not rush into putting people in those positions, but again, they need to be the right people, so we will take our time in finding those people and putting them in the right positions.
From a scouting standpoint, can you talk about how important it was for the Pelicans to get that first overall pick for the upcoming draft? How much of a game-changer can that be for a franchise?
Well, I think you can look at history and see how many number-one picks have changed the direction of franchises. There’s obviously some good players in the top of the draft and we’re going to do our due diligence in terms of finding the right one that fits the direction of our franchise, but it’s obviously a game-changer and one that we’re excited about, one that I was excited about and one that Griff was excited about. I was excited for David before he even approached me, but once he approached me about wanting to come in and join the franchise, already having that number-one pick, made it very, very exciting, and I think it’s something that the city and the organization can be very excited about going forward.
It seemed like Brooklyn had a distinct international flair, I know with (Kenny) Atkinson’s background, coaching in Europe, and an assistant coach from Italy (Pablo Prigioni), and last year drafting two international players (Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs). New Orleans has not seemingly had a tremendous reach in the international market. Given your history over there, is that something that could be seen as an area of expertise where you will be able to lend a lot to this organization?
I think so. I think I have some pretty good connections over there – obviously having played for nine years for some very good organizations and at a very high level, and I’ve had the ability to go in there and infiltrate some organizations and talk to some people and get some information about players that maybe other organizations don’t have. I think that was a competitive advantage for us in Brooklyn, (Nets Director of Global Scouting) Gianluca Pascucci, myself, and the scouts that we had over in Europe as well, but more than anything it’s just about hard work, getting over there, seeing people in person, making the calls, watching tape, discerning who are the right players and right people to bring into your organization whether they be draft picks or whether they are free agents that you’re pulling from the European teams and putting on your roster. It’s just doing the due diligence of who’s right and the timing of that, but you’ve got to have boots on the ground, and you’ve got to be making those calls, and watching those games and talking to people all the time to make those decisions and that’s what we did and I think that’s what we’ll do here in New Orleans.
I just am wondering how much pride did you take in winning G League Executive of the Year, and what did it take to build that kind of program you had in Brooklyn with your G League team?
I was tremendously honored with the award, but for me it was an organizational award. I don’t think those awards are about one person. It wasn’t a job that I did myself, I had a lot of people helping there, and a lot of the stuff that we did there (in Long Island) mirrored what we did in Brooklyn, so it wasn’t just about me. I think it was the fact that what we had done in Long Island was being represented by an award to myself, so I looked at it more as a Long Island award more than a Trajon Langdon award. What we built there was all about the people. I think there were some things we did the first year with player selection and roster building that we felt was not applicable to what we wanted to do moving forward, and I learned a lot from that, and after that it was ‘okay, what can we do to bring in the right players to be around these young guys that we’re going to bring to Long Island and we’re going to be developing,’ so it wasn’t only about the players that we drafted, or picked just two-way players, but it was also about the [players signed to exhibit-10 contracts] that we had; what were the character of those players? Were they willing to buy into something bigger than themselves? It’s incredibly difficult to keep a team together after January when those [10-day player contracts] start, and guys are super excited about being called up, and if they don’t get called up, that is a difficult time to keep the roster together and focused in the right direction. I think that was one thing we were able to do over the past two years, and I think a lot has to be said over the character of players that we had, not only that, but the staff we had; their ability to connect with those players, keep them moving in the right direction during difficult times, keep them developing. All the players that we had in March were better than they were in November, and the team was better in March than it was in November, and I think that’s all you can ask – for every player to get better.
Just to follow up on what you had asked on the international side. Trajan’s connecitons will certainly help us a great deal. I think it’s a little bit unfair, conceptually, to say that New Orleans was not particularly well-connected internationally. The organization has had, for a very long time, Yarone Arbel who is pretty widely recognized as being among the best international directors of scouting in the NBA. I think what a big part of it will be – and Trajan is certainly part of this – but that’s an area we want to really put a lot of focus in and on. Because the international players – and Trajan having played internationally would have a good feel for this as well – but international players I think tend to appreciate a city like New Orleans that’s diverse and has the culture and history that it has. So we want to make sure we’re in a situation where we’re becoming a destination for players from everywhere and of all types. Obviously the international angle is one we’re going to play to tremendously and Trajan’s presence helps us there quite a bit.
Trajan brought up the idea that not a lot of people believe in what the Pelicans are doing. Obviously with the hires that you’ve made with Trajan and Aaron Nelson and yourself coming here, that’s obviously not a belief that’s stopping you from attracting a lot of people. What do you think everybody is buying into right now?
Well I think certainly they’re buying into the momentum at this point. The next one in is jumping on the bandwagon. I think what it really comes down to is Mrs. Benson and her ownership team have really changed the approach here. It’s become something that’s very clearly her baby. The Pelicans matter immeasurably to her and literally in all of these hirings, she’s putting her money where her mouth is and she’s empowering us to go attract the best and brightest. I think when you win the lottery in the midst of all those other things, it starts to really lend itself to changing a narrative and I think you’ve seen that now. And Trajan can speak to this too, just externally I think from where the organization was the day I met with them for the first time or Trajan would have or the other candidates that were finalists for the job…where the franchise was then to where it is now is a really profound turnaround or sorts in terms of narrative. I think our plan and our goal is to continue to stack one victory after another small victory that will eventually add to something really significant. In the staffing hires and changes that are going to be made and have been made that are not of noteworthy significance from a media perspective, we’re still trying to achieve the same thing: every day we want to get a little bit better, either internally or in terms of what we’re able to attract externally.
When you accepted this job, was there any discussion about timeline and potentially having leeway to build a team over the course of several years and maybe not make the playoffs for the first two years if you feel like you’ve got the guys that can develop into a more sustainable future going forward?
Yes I think so. I think we had some of those talks, honestly when I interviewed for the job when I was in front of ownership. It was, ‘Sure we want to win, but we want to build this organization the right way with the right people and have sustainable excellence.’ That’s something that Griff has echoed not only upon receiving the job, but also when we talked before he offered me the position. That’s something that I think is important. I don’t think you can be in a win-now mode when you have to develop a culture, and there’s a lot of things that need to be done in terms of bringing in the right people and making sure we’re all on the bus headed in the right direction. I think you can’t skip steps. I think a lot of organizations in the past, when you look back – when you try to skip steps, it puts the organization behind. I think that’s one thing in talking to Griff that he’s talked about already is (that) we’re looking for small wins day-to-day, which is bringing in the right people, making the right decisions, and being all headed in the right direction. So that’s what we’re looking to do and I think that’s one important thing that we did that led to success here in Brooklyn as well. It wasn’t, ‘Go out and get big name players.’ It was, ‘We’re going to build from within. We’re going to develop. We’re going to form those diamonds in the rough that we think our coaching staff can develop and turn from a G League player into a potential sixth man of the year candidate and a three-point champion.’ I think those are things that we did in Brooklyn and those are the exact same things we’ll look to do in New Orleans as well.
Was the responsibility that you’ll get in New Orleans something that the Nets couldn’t match or could they have done something to retain you?
My time here in Brooklyn has been fantastic. The challenges that were here upon me coming in three years ago were daunting, and I think what we were able to do in the three years was tremendous. My intrigue about this job was, again working with David Griffin especially once he told me how much Mrs. Benson was really set upon this being her baby and this team being successful and ultimately being invested to the point that where she’s going to bring in the most high-character people and give David the bandwidth to bring in those people and bring us together to do what needs to be done to create sustainable excellence. I think it’s another challenge, and one that’s greater being in a smaller market. I think Brooklyn has put themselves in a place now where they can attract those big name people, and that’s what we want to do there as well, but in a different market. And like Griff has said in the past, doing that in a small market like we did in Cleveland is just a lot more rewarding when you find that success at some point. And whether that will be in one, two, four years…who knows? But when the success does come, it’s going to be incredibly rewarding to bring that to a place where everybody’s invested in a smaller market like we did in Cleveland. So I’m looking forward to that challenge and am incredibly excited about it.
Seeing the Pelicans up close a few times last year and scouting them, when you look at the roster from top to bottom starting with Jrue Holiday and all the way down, what is your impression of the talent that you already have?
I think the one thing is that they played fast…really really fast. I think Jrue is exceptional. Anthony (Davis) is a top-five player in this league. Julius Randle had an incredible year. Elfrid Payton had a great year. But obviously there’s a lot of fluidity with the roster and what we decide to do obviously with the number one pick and free agency looming as well, there’s a lot of decisions that need to be made. So the team that was on the floor last year could look similar or it could look different, and a lot of it are decisions that we need to make and a lot of it are decisions that other players make as well. We’re going to do our best to keep those players that we want and the main thing that I think we can do is continue to bring in the right people and create the culture that can attract those players that want to be here. And as Griff has said in the past, we want guys that are all-in in New Orleans and look forward to having those kind of people and those kind of players.
Have you and David Griffin joked or smiled about the fact that Sean Marks took you from Griffin to Brooklyn and now Griffin has taken you back from Sean Marks to New Orleans? These men clearly hold you in high demand.
I’ll let Griff respond to that. We haven’t joked about it at all. From my side, it was an incredibly difficult decision when Sean called Griff three years ago or a little over that. And it was an incredible difficult decision now because in those situations, I’ve been fortunate to work with some really good people in some really good places. So the decisions were difficult, but I’m very excited at this challenge and this opportunity to work with Griff again and in an incredible city like New Orleans and am excited to get down there and meet the people and the city.
You’ve mentioned David and his management style and how attractive that was to you. Can you elaborate on what it is that draws people to him and what make it such an attractive environment?
I think he’s all-inclusive. I think he brings in the people that he trusts and that he relies upon and he empowers those people. He doesn’t micro-manage people; he gives people a lot of autonomy in their roles. He wants them to be stars in their roles, but he also wants people to grow while they’re in their roles. I think it’s not like, ‘You’re just a scout.’ It’s, ‘OK. You’re leading pro scouting, but I want you in on this meeting when we’re talking about leading up to the trade deadline.’ I think that’s one thing that I really enjoyed in working with him in Cleveland was that all-inclusiveness and the autonomy and belief that he had, and that’s something that really drew me once he approached me for this job. I know I can learn a lot from him and I’m all about a challenge and continuing to learn, and I think this opportunity gives me that.
What is the next step for you in trying to convince Anthony Davis to get on the bandwagon as well? Do you have any meetings planned at this point?
Yeah we’ll visit together. We’ll probably sit together in Los Angeles at some point around the draft workouts that take place there. I don’t want to get into specific dates or times or any of those things, but we’ll definitely visit and I think that’s the next step really is to look each other in the eye and talk about what’s important to us. We’re very optimistic from previous conversations with Rich Paul his agent and with all of the people here that know Anthony and know what he’s about, we’re very confident that we have a compelling situation for him here and if winning is what he is indeed all about – which we have every reason to believe – we feel confident that we can create the right and are creating the right environment for Anthony and, frankly for high-caliber players of all types to want to be part of. This is something that we hope creates an energy that helps recruit itself, and Anthony would just be one step in that process.
Do you think you need to do any convincing along those lines to the potential number one draft choice, or do you think that’s sort of a false narrative?
Yeah I’m certain that’s a false narrative relative to the player that could potentially be the number one pick. We’ve sat with multiple players that we’re looking at for that first pick. In fact, in the case of Zion Williamson sat with he and his family. Alvin Gentry and I sat with he and his parents the night of the lottery. The NBA had set it up to where if you won the lottery you met with Zion at a particular time, and we were able to do that. Alvin and I did that together and Alvin and I were also together in interviewing Ja Morant in Chicago as well. I think because we’ve sat with those kids who are both incredible human beings and all about all of the right things, we know unequivocally that either one of them would be thrilled to join us in New Orleans and they’re both very much excited about the concept.”
Does landing the number-one pick put additional pressure to accelerate the process or timelines, and how do you anticipate handling those?
Yeah, I think certainly a timeline changes somewhat in terms of what you’re able to do and the players you’re able to attract, maybe the timeline changes slightly in terms of expectations from external sources. I don’t think anything changes for us in terms of expectations internally. I think tomorrow is a day where we need to get better, and the day we won the lottery was certainly a day that made us better, and that’s just one of many opportunities for us to do so, and you know, the number-one pick doesn’t mean anything if you don’t get it right, and you don’t continue to build in a positive direction, so it’s just as I said earlier, it’s another piece of positive inertia and momentum for us, but in and of itself it’s really not an answer. Nobody you’re going to draft that’s currently 18 or 19 years old is going to be called upon in this franchise to be a savior or to win right now. We’re going to try to do the right things to develop those players and indoctrinate them into what we want to do, and frankly we’ve got a lot of work to do internally to that end, so as Trajan has spoken about in terms about what they were able to achieve in Brooklyn, you know, that takes time, and we’re very mindful of that, so while we understand it’s ramped up expectations internally, it certainly hasn’t changed our vision of what our job is every day.