Layne Murdoch Jr.
Transcript: Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors introductory press conference
New Orleans Pelicans introductory press conference
David Griffin, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Opening Statement (David Griffin):
“Good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us. I’d like to thank Jeff Schwartz, the agent for Brandon (Ingram) and Lonzo (Ball) who is here today. The family of our players that came to join us. This is a really exciting day for us as a group. And it’s really the culmination of many other days and a lot of work that was put in by a front office staff with Trajan (Langdon) and Swin (Cash). You’ve heard me say their names quite often. There were some other people involved in this and had a great deal to do with what we call landing the plane on this big idea. I’d like to recognize them just briefly. J.J. Polk, our attorney, Shane Kupperman, Marc Chasanoff, who worked with us with the cap space, Bryson Graham, our assistant general manager. We really got contributions, Yarone Arbel, our international scouting director. We got contributions from the whole organization. The fact that as many people were involved in this as there were, it really speaks to, sort of, the family we’re trying to build, and the approach that we are taking. It’s an all-hands-on-deck sort of approach. Mrs. Benson was very intimately involved in the process throughout. Dennis Lauscha’s here, in the front row with coach as well, Coach (Alvin) Gentry. This was something that was, a really important effort for us, both in terms of the Anthony Davis trade, which we’re very proud to say yielded the three gentlemen that you see here that were with the Lakers. But also the trade that we were able to consummate with Utah, relative to landing Derrick Favors. Both Rob Pelinka and Dennis Lindsey, Justin Zanik, all of them dealt with us in such a fair and direct way. The conversations were very honest, I felt. I think everybody was very mindful of the sensitivity involved in both situations. So, I’d like to thank both the Laker and Utah organizations for representing the league in a very admirable way throughout this process. I’ll just touch on each one real briefly and then, and then open it up for questions for them.”
Griffin on Derrick Favors:
“Derrick (Favors) is somebody that, going back to the time I was in Cleveland, we’d always had a great deal of affinity for. Derrick was in a situation where he was probably best suited as a, center and he was playing behind one of maybe the five best centers in the league, makes it hard to play the natural position that you should play. So, he was asked to play what we considered out of position a lot at the four. In a league that's gotten progressively smaller, they were bigger than everyone else in the front court. I think what happened was a lot of Derrick's game was probably left untouched, particularly offensively. He's a special defensive player and I touched on this in the press release, he's an elite rim protector and somebody who can do a lot of different things on the defensive end to change a game. We feel like he can do the same thing offensively and I know Coach Gentry's really excited about what he'll look like playing center on a full-time basis for us. I think he and his agent Wallace Prather who are great to work with in this process, also kind of recognized immediately that we represent a new opportunity for him. I think they were excited to join the Pelicans family. They were probably not quite as excited as I was to get Derrick but close. Wallace was really a good partner in the process and we're grateful for him.”
Griffin on Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram:
“Lonzo is somebody that most everybody knows, I think in terms of the strengths of his game from a passing perspective. The elite floor vision that he has. The thing that excited us the most, and Coach Gentry and I spent a lot of time talking about this, this group here, on the dais, with the exception myself, are very elite defensively and we have a chance to be special good on that side of the ball. Somak (Sarkar) in our analytics area likes to say that our games are going to be the first team to 95 and we'd like that to be the case. Alvin plays a style of ball that everybody looks at on the offensive side and says, we shoot a bunch of threes and we play fast. Well, what that means is we have to have the ability to defend at that same rate. And Lonzo is a truly special defensive guard. He's also a special rebounding guard and that's going to enable us to start our break. It's going to enable us to play to a lot of his strengths in a way that perhaps he wasn't able to play to before. We feel very similarly about Brandon and Brandon's ability to do some things that he wasn't getting the opportunity to do. Both Lonzo and Brandon have had issues along the way with injuries that I think somewhat derailed the momentum they would gain early on in their career. They're so young and they're so talented, so much was expected and everybody wants it to happen really quickly. We don't want it to happen quickly. We want it to happen at the right time and the universe doesn't make mistakes. We feel like it brought everybody here together for a reason and we know that we're going to play to the strengths of the group as a whole. I think Brandon recognize that. I know Lonzo did when we spoke for the first time with Coach after the trade. Everybody was very aware of the fact that this was a special opportunity for all of us in terms of fit. So, I think that really is a big theme for us and everything we tried to do throughout the free agency process as well with the other acquisitions we were able to make. “
Griffin on Josh Hart and Derrick Favors:
“Josh (Hart) is somebody who very similar to Brandon, some really untouched upside. I think Brandon's ability as an elite play-maker and a long athletic defender is going to enable him to play multiple positions. We feel like Josh can do the same thing and he's a shot maker from multiple positions on the court, which is really important for us. It's going to give Alvin a great deal of lineup versatility. I have not really had the opportunity to talk to very many players during a trade deadline or during a draft process where anybody was more direct with me than Josh was. So, I'd like to share this story. Josh called me before the draft, after we made the trade to acquire these gentlemen and before the draft and said, I know you can get a lot for me, and we literally had received offers for everybody here from the Lakers at that time. He said, whatever you do, don't trade me. I really want to be in New Orleans. And it meant a lot to us because when you look at the situation the organization was in is we're trying to sort of build this completely different culture led by Mrs. Benson and her complete commitment to this team. Having players that were equally committed to us was really meaningful. Derrick Favors, could have chosen to go almost anywhere and Utah was going to accommodate that deal. Utah, out of respect for everything Derrick has represented for their organization, was going to send him to the team Derrick wanted to go to and he chose us. These gentlemen here from the Lakers. They were going to be in demand a lot of different places and they recognize the fit with us. They recognize the fit with Jrue Holiday and I think that's a very special and meaningful thing as we start to build from here. So, I'd like to thank all of you for choosing us. We're going to continue to choose you and embrace you and we just couldn't be happier that these four gentlemen are a member of our Pelicans family. So without further ado, let's open it up for you all to have some questions answered.”
Lonzo, offensively you talked to Coach Gentry in that time after your trade, what about the Pelicans offense intrigued you the most, obviously you excel in the open court is that something that excites you and that you have seen from other point guards in this offense?
Ball: “Definitely, I'm getting back to playing pretty much the style been playing my whole life. So, I'm very comfortable in the high, up-temple offense as Coach Gentry has. So, I’m going to run it to the best of my abilities.”
Derrick, just to hear David Griffin gush about you and your untapped potential in your conversation before you got here and just continue the conversations. What does that, that vision means to you and how much does that excite you?
Favors: “Yeah, that means a lot to me. In the past years like he said, I was playing behind, probably one of the best defensive players in the league for a long time. I wasn't able to do a lot of things that I can do on a daily basis. When we spoke and he said that we think you have untapped offensive skill set or whatever, I was excited about that. So, they was one of the reasons I chose to come here because I knew on the position I'll be in, I knew the guys who I'd be playing with, like these three guys up here and all the organization and the team and I just thought this was a great fit for me.”
Derrick, you guys sped it up a little bit from last year in Utah, but for the most part you guys played with a slow pace. How much do you think that is going to be a change for you, playing in an up-tempo offense?
Favors: “I can adapt to it. It was by design out there and because the way we were playing. But you know, coming down here and knowing that we're going to play a fast pace, I can adapt to it.”
Josh, you and David talked about how much you wanted to be here, why? What was so special about being in New Orleans?
Hart: “I think it's an amazing place, where people generally love going to work every day. The talent that we have now is amazing and it's something that's upcoming. That’s the reason why J.J. (Redick) wanted to go here and why Derrick wanted to go here. You see the potential in this organization and this city behind them. That's something that you want to be a part of and you want to grow with. When I had that opportunity I thought, it's amazing and you know, I didn't want to let the opportunity slip.”
Josh, other than the beignets, what appeals to you about New Orleans?
Hart: “I'm actually probably going to go get some beignets tonight (laughter). But like I said, how the city really rallies behind the sports franchises here, the Saints and obviously the Pelicans. We loved that. When I come down here with two guys I've been with the last two years that's amazing. But, I think I just really besides the beignets, fell in love with the potential. Like I said, this team, this the city and the franchise. When you see greatness happening, you want to be a part of it.”
Brandon, the last report that I saw about your progress recovering from surgery was, that you hadn't started shooting yet. Have you started shooting, or what would you say your percentage is of your recovery at this point?
Ingram: “I think I'm pretty close. I haven't been shooting, but I've been doing some form shooting, some lower body stuff, some ball-handling, some passing and stuff. So, I'm pretty close to resuming to normal workouts right now. I’m just doing some regular cardio stuff and just trying to get back.”
Lonzo, when will you be ready to go?
Ball: “So, I’m almost ready to go probably another week or two ... So just waiting on that.”
Lonzo, I think this week there was media, I don’t remember what it was but it spoke about having a chance at a fresh start with a new organization. Coming here, the market that's obviously not as media crazy as L.A. What do you think this opportunity kind of like a clean slate to play for New Orleans?
Ball: “It means a lot. Like I said, it's a fresh start, it's a restart. I’ve been good at the game of basketball my whole life, so I'm hoping I can get back to that. Just do what I can for the organization. I know the media is not like it was in L.A., but I know the fans are great and going to come out and support and you were going to put on a show for them.”
How do you guys feel about coming to a team that has Jrue Holiday already on it and then they just drafted Zion Williamson?
Hart: “I think it's an amazing experience. Obviously, Jrue (Holiday) I think would probably be one of the most underrated guards or underrated players really in the league and someone who's amazing on both ends of the floor. So being able to learn for someone like him and then, obviously, having an amazing talent like Zion (Williamson) coming in to help him grow, help him learn and mature in this league. I think that's going to be amazing to learn from both of them. They're both high character guys.”
One thing that I noticed whenever you left Utah was your teammates like Rudy Gobert and you could go down the list, were obviously really upset that you were departing because of how great a teammate you were. That was one thing that they continued to point out. What do you think from a leadership standpoint, you bring to the locker room and the energy that you’re able pull from your teammates?
Favors: “I think out there, we were just a tight knit group. Everybody respected everybody and everybody worked hard. Guys looked up to everybody and hopefully I can bring the same mind-set here. Just come in and work hard every day, just have respect for each other. Know sometimes you might have to sacrifice minutes or scoring opportunities just for the betterment of the team. And I think once everybody buys into that, I think that's how you get tighter as a group and start winning more games. The games start to become a little bit more fun after that. Hopefully I can bring that same mind-set down here.”
David, you’ve talked a lot about these guys’ character along with all of your acquisitions this summer. Can you talk about why that’s such an important thing for you?
Griffin: “I think again, all four of these guys represent the same thing. These are guys that have won throughout their career at a pretty high level and understand what that means. Derrick (Favors) just spoke of the sacrifice and the willingness to do what it takes to win. I think everybody here has that. I also think relative to the guys that are here from the Laker trade, I think those guys all had won a great deal at one point before they were in that situation. And I think they recognize that a big part of what lies ahead of us is playing to the strengths of all of them, which is encouraging. But in terms of the character these guys have as winners that spoke to us a great deal. Josh (Hart) obviously having won a national championship in school came into play as well. We talked about this with Swin (Cash) and with Trajan (Langdon), we want to surround ourselves with people that have won championships on any level because it's a frequency that you learn how to tune to. And I think the thing that we're most excited about all of these guys is that they either have tuned to it on a regular basis or have an enormous desire to get back to it.”
Derrick, did you have an opportunity to speak to Jrue Holiday since the trade went through and did you have a prior relationship with him?
Favors: “I’ve known Jrue (Holiday) since high school, actually. We played against each other a lot during AAU. After the trade was announced, he sent me a text and we exchanged a couple of text messages and that was it. But I’ve known Jrue for a while now.”
Lonzo, you guys are both UCLA guys. Did you guys have any prior relationship?
Ball: “I don't know him too well. Like I said, he texted me just like Derek after the trade went down. I'm real close with his brother. I played with Aaron (Holiday) at UCLA so I'm close with that family. We respect them and they respect us and I can't wait to play with him, honestly.”
How deep do you think this team is now over an 82-game season when so much happens during that time? How critical is it to have a large number that you can refer to any time?
Griffin: “Yes, and I think getting back to Will's question also, one of the things that I'm excited about is not just that we're really deep. We're deep with selfless winners. We're deep with selfless high character guys who want to play any role they need to. And that's important. I think the fit of our pieces is potentially really good. Coach Gentry and his staff are going to have a little bit of a challenge just finding the right mix I think in minutes for everybody. We don't have a JJ Redick here today as part of this conversation, but when you look at what he offers us in terms of a fit with these four gentlemen here, when you think about the opportunity we have with Nicolo Melli as a floor spacing big, we feel like we can be a little bit of a Swiss army knife and the depth of our pieces are all guys that are selfless in nature and the way they play. We've got a lot of ancillary ball-handling. Zion Williamson is really best as a play-maker. He's not somebody who's focused on scoring. He just wants to do whatever it takes to win. And obviously Jrue is really going to be the guy who's going to carry the mail to a huge degree. And I think he recognizes that and he'll represent that energy on both sides of the court, which is special for us.”
Brandon, are you eager to get a fresh start after the way the season ended with the Lakers? What does this mean to move on to a new challenge?
Ingram: “I think I'm just eager to pick up a basketball period. I think the last time I picked up a basketball and I actually played the game of basketball was in March. So, every chance that I get, I'm just going to continue to work to get better in the gym and continue to train my mind.”
Did you fear at any point that you weren’t going to be able to play again?
Ingram: “No. People were giving me good advice about the recovery of my surgery. I just stayed on my rehab and just kept it going.”
Before you were stricken with that condition, did you feel like you were coming into your own, basically showing the NBA what you can do with your talents?
Ingram: “I thought I was. I thought I finally felt comfortable and just going out and playing basketball. I wasn't thinking as much. I was just letting the game come to me and I was just doing everything that I practiced in the gym before games. So it just came easy.”
Lonzo, when you think about the defensive capability of this team and you look at yourself and Jrue (Holiday) at the top, Brandon (Ingram) on the wing, Zion (Williamson) on the wing, Derek (Favors) in a post, how formidable do you think that this team can be at shutting people down?
Ball: “There could be a lot of potential. All those guys you just named are great defenders. I don’t like to do a lot of talking. I like to let my game do the talking, but I think it could be one of the best defensive teams in the league.”
Josh, is it exciting to be a part of a team that’s all brand new? Jrue Holiday is here, but for the most part there’s a lot of new pieces.
Hart: “It's encouraging. Like you said, everyone here is new. Everyone here is of high character and selfless. We're able to buy into what this organization and what this city is about. And when you have that and you have selfless people that breeds winning. And that's what we want to be as an organization. I think that the front office did a great job of forming this team.”
Josh and Brandon, you guys have played with Lonzo for a few years. What are the parts of his game that are hard to appreciate just from looking at the box score?
Ingram: “I think from my point of view, just where he is on the defensive end, I think the anticipation, the passes, just being in the right place at the right time and that doesn't always show up on the stat sheet. He's just there for deflections, always helping a teammate out. He’s just always there.”
Hart: “I'd probably say the same. There was a clip last year. We played Orlando in Orlando and Lonzo (Ball) literally guarded every single player on one possession. He closed out, someone drove, kicked it, he closed out to that person, defended that person, another breakdown happened and he guarded that person. You don't see that on the box score. You see the points, the assists, rebounds, etcetera, but you don't see how hard he plays on the defensive end and just how hard he plays in general. That’s something that you have to watch and really appreciate the game to appreciate that.”
David, whether it's winning the No. 1 overall pick or just last week saying Jrue has the ability to win MVP, you seem to have a very Zen-like approach about energy and cultivating belief. I wonder just what the genesis of that is and have you always had that as a part of your personality or was that something that was developed over time to be able to try to create that positive energy in people because it seems to be contagious?
Griffin: “I became a general manager after starting in the league as a game night intern in media relations. Did not play at a very high level at all. The only reason I'm sitting here is because I believe you can speak it into existence. And you can dedicate yourself to what you believe in. Absolutely, I've always had a little bit of that to me. I was joking with Derrick (Favors) that leading up to that trade, we were trying to generate the energy that was going to make that happen. And I would just talk about him constantly, just trying to speak it into existence of what he would look like on our roster. Alvin (Gentry) heard me say the day I had the press conference that we were going to win the draft lottery and a lot of that came from Jeff Cohen, one of the owners in Cleveland who was one of Dan (Gilbert’s) partners. He's now no longer part of that group. Jeff (Cohen) liked to say that if you see it, you can believe it. And I've always seen it and I think in terms of fit of pieces, Alvin (Gentry) was with us in Phoenix and he saw the fit of the pieces we were able to put around Steve (Nash.) I remember when we signed Steve Nash, everybody said we had grossly overpaid him at $11 million a year. And then all he did was win two MVP awards back-to-back. I'm not saying Jrue (Holiday) has to do that for this to be a successful season, but there's no reason in the world any of us should limit what we dream of. Look at what the NBA has become and the way teams are built. You can't dream big enough in this league. So I think I want everybody's approach to this to be, why not us? There's no reason we can't achieve anything we want to achieve. When I sat with Jrue (Holiday) for the first time, he jumped out of his skin at the challenge of no longer being recognized as the most underrated player in the league or the most underrated guard. He wants to accept the challenge of taking the next step and every one of these guys was exactly the same way. So there's no reason to limit the scope of what you're trying to do in your life. It doesn't make any sense.”
How much are you looking forward to seeing these guys on the court?
Griffin: “There was a moment Trajan and I were sitting next to each other at summer league and there was a moment where Jaxson Hayes was out running the floor in a practice with Zion on the other side and they were sort of just messing around to be honest with you and speed that those guys have just in a trot was sort of mind numbing. Alvin and I looked at it and we thought, ‘man with those guys on the wing and with Lonzo at the point what we'll be able to do speed-wise is crazy’ and then we started sort of integrating all of the rest of the pieces into what we're doing and to think about a lineup with Brandon out there with Zion and Derrick or Jaxson with Lonzo, the pieces we can put out there with length and athleticism and a defensive mindset and a selfless nature as players, I don't know that we're going to be a team that necessarily takes a whole bunch of threes. We're going to have wide open shots all over the court. I think just in terms of the fit of our pieces for Coach Gentry’s system, that's the thing that excites us the most. I think.”
Are you comfortable with where you’re at (in terms of the roster)?
Griffin: “So obviously once we get Darius signed, we'll be at 15 for the time being. I don't anticipate very many changes. We're actually really excited about a lot of the pieces that we haven't even talked about because they were already here. Jahlil Okafor has had an amazing offseason. His body looks fantastic. I know he's excited about the opportunity to come in and compete and participate. We just feel really good about where we're at in terms of the human component of the roster. So, unless something that I don't foresee happening were to present itself, I think we're probably in a place where we're done other than the fact that Trajan is going to continue to make hay on the two-way contracts and shoring up our G-league team.”
This was a locker room that was Kentucky for a few years. Now it's very much Duke. How good of a feeling is it?
Ingram: “This is a good family feel. With Duke, you have guys that come back all the time just to play pickup basketball and just to hang out, give each other advice. So it's just good to be back with some of the guys I've seen over the time that I was at Duke and having a chance to play basketball with those guys.”
You started a new podcast. Do you plan on having any new guests?
Hart: “Definitely. It’s something that I wanted to do because it gave me an avenue to control the narrative of myself and the guests that I had on my podcast. A lot of times things you say can be taken out of context and right now everything's about clickbait. So, I wanted to be able to control that. It was just a platform for other people who wanted to be, not just athletes, just other people, you know, at the top of the field to go on my podcast and control the narrative about myself. So, I’ll definitely get some of those guys on. Get some of these guys on. It’s just a fun, lighthearted podcast.”
It seems like especially this past off season with a lot of players out there, specifically Khawi Leonard, even when you win a title it's not about being in a great city and whatnot. How much more difficult do you feel like your job as executive vice president and working as the general manager has become (in trying to keep a competitive and successful front office)?
David Griffin: “I think the game has changed an awful lot from the time I got into it. There was a time where if you were a very forward-thinking front office, you had competitive advantage and now I think the front offices are so much deeper and so much better across the league that finding advantage is more difficult. You've seen that in terms of how many well-run franchises there are that are building cultures that sustain themselves and build in a positive direction. Oklahoma City being one of those, obviously Toronto winning a championship through a group that was raised together in large parts from the drafts. They've done those things and it still wasn't enough to keep very high-profile players. But I think a part of that is just because the energy you put out in the universe is going to attract like energy, right? So, our job is to make these guys feel as much as part of the family as they can, such that they can't imagine doing this anywhere else. And I think what happens is you end up in this situation where you're always sort of at the mercy of, Josh used the word narrative, but you're at the mercy of the media discourse around your team. And if you let people listen to any of that noise, it can really direct a lot of what happens. So, I think what you have to do as a franchise is make guys feel differently than they feel anywhere else. And then none of that noise matters. And it's a big challenge. I mean, it's very clearly now not just about winning. And it's very clearly now, not about geography. There's something else that's at work there. I think the Clippers doing what they did shows that you can plan to be in a position to strike when the iron is hot. And they did. They gave up an awful lot of draft picks to do it, but they were able to create that template. And our job as we build is to always have a template that we can attract the right energy too. So, we always need to be able to be flexible enough to do that. But ultimately, it's going to be about how you make people feel. It's not going to be about any of those other things necessarily. It's do they believe in what we're doing and do they want to be part of it? And hopefully we can continue that momentum because this group obviously does.”
We got to see it from this team's perspective last year. What was it like as young guys trying to improve in this league having to deal with rumors and trade talks?
Ball: “I think it was tough being a young guy, especially in L.A. All the people looking at you and we had a big responsibility over there. I think just growing up, being the league two years, you find ways to block it out. I know I was doing it myself before I got hurt. Last five games I played. I know (Brandon Ingram) was, I know (Josh) Hart was so, it comes down to playing basketball and you know, that's your job. Everything else is just extra.”
It’s unusual to grow up playing basketball in the same area (high school, college and NBA). How are you approaching being uprooted and moving to a place that’s considerably different from what you’ve known?
Ball: “Well, like I tell everybody, I'm excited and it's a new opportunity for me. A new time of my life, a fresh start. I get to go here with two guys that I'm already accustomed to. I’m just happy to be here and get back to playing basketball.”
Derrick, you’re another one of those guys like Jrue (Holliday) who has been underrated. Your numbers have been excellent the past four to five years. How important do you think it is to show a former top three pick how to develop in this league and how to mature as a post player?
Favors: “You just got to know how to put in the work. Know how to be patient, know how to take advantage of every opportunity that you get. Some games you going to play great. Some games you're not. So, it’s all about moving on to the next game, next possession. Just come in there every day working, figuring out what you got to work on and see what you did wrong in either in the last game or the last season or whatever. Work on it and just keep improving and just have a positive attitude about it.”