When David Griffin, New Orleans Pelicans General Manager, spoke with the media during his end-of-season availability two days after his team’s season ended in the NBA play-in tournament, he wasn’t wrong when he said his team isn’t good enough.
The Pelicans, who were once the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed for a split second in December, fell to the No. 10 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth game of the NBA play-in tournament, effectively ending what was a promising year just three and a half months ago.
“I’m really, really grateful we didn’t trick this up, find a way to win 50 games, win one round of the playoffs and convince ourselves we’re better than we are,” Griffin said. “We are not good enough right now, and we know it.”
As a fan himself, Griffin sympathized with the fanbase when he stated his disappointment with the team’ performance this season.
“If I’m a fan, and David Griffin comes back up here next year and says, ‘Yeah, you know, we just got to get better,’ I’m gonna be pissed off,” Griffin said.
He continued, “27 teams in this league would trade their roster for ours and our draft picks for theirs.”
Did New Orleans disappoint this season? Yes. Is the fanbase frustrated? Yes. Is this Pelicans roster really any good? Yes. Is this team underperforming and has room for major improvement? Yes, and the man running the operation is well aware of it all.
Unquestionably the biggest elephant in the room is the availability of All-Star Zion Williamson, who has now missed 199 of a possible 313 games in his four NBA seasons thus far.
Williamson was spotted on the court doing warm-up drills and windmill dunks before the Pelicans’ loss to the Thunder, which drew speculation and criticism that he could’ve played and helped his team win.
“‘Physically, I’m fine’ means [Zion is] not currently injured,” Griffin said. “[Zion] wasn’t physically cleared to play basketball. He was playing one-on-none.”
Trading the former No. 1 overall pick is most likely the last thing on Griffin’s mind, as it should be. Many well-run organizations, however, know to keep all options on the table at all times. It’s a discussion that should be had in some capacity.
Recent trade packages provide plenty of reason. The Utah Jazz received four impact players, five first round draft picks, and a future pick swap for former Defensive Player of the Year center Rudy Gobert last July. The Brooklyn Nets received two starters, a depth piece, five future first round picks, and two future second round picks for 10-time All-NBA forward Kevin Durant in February.
Even the Pelicans were able to acquire three first round picks and three impactful contributors, including All-Star forward Brandon Ingram, from the Los Angeles Lakers for eight-time All-Star forward Anthony Davis in June of 2019.
Williamson being dealt within the next year seems highly unlikely, which is probably the right decision considering New Orleans only has one unrestricted free agent this offseason. Griffin’s end-of-year availability could serve as an indicator that additions are coming.
New Orleans finished 23rd in three-pointers made per game this season. Adding someone like D’Angelo Russell, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Louis King or play-in tournament standout Max Strus can boost perimeter scoring and/or veteran leadership.
The Pelicans were also 24th in blocked shots per game and 30-year-old center Jonas Valanciunas’ contract expires after next season. Bismack Biyombo, Nick Richards, Drew Eubanks, Naz Reid or even Andre Drummond could be a role-playing solution within New Orleans’ budget.
The 2023-24 NBA season is shaping up to be a pivotal one for Griffin and New Orleans. If this team can’t unlock its full potential sooner than later, the front office may be pressed to head in a different direction.