This Offseason will Show Us Exactly Who David Griffin is

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Published: September 1, 2020

In the next few months, we will finally get to see who David Griffin is as the lead decision maker of an NBA franchise. While he has been a General Manager for 4 years in Cleveland and an Executive VP of Basketball Ops in New Orleans this past year, he has never really had his hands completely free to do whatever he pleased.

In Cleveland, just as he hired the coach he wanted to help groom a young team, the King and his squires (who would soon be known as Klutch) came in to expedite the process. The slow, sustainable build he was going for had to be cast aside for a win now model. The teaching of principles and a nuanced offense was sacrificed for an iso heavy, player run offense that required everyone else to simply fall in line. And though they achieved the ultimate prize, Griffin never got the credit, because James was seen as the true architect.

Then, Griffin used his first season in New Orleans as an evaluation period. Not just of the players, but of coaches and even front office personnel left over from the past regime. It was clear to anybody who sat in the room with Gayle Benson that Alvin Gentry was going to be the Head Coach for the 2019-20 season. And while Griffin was open minded for the future, it didn’t take long for him to realize that it was going to be someone else leading this franchise from the sidelines moving forward.

And so we enter the first offseason where Griffin is running the show. He will get to hire his coach and dictate the timeline he wants for this franchise. There are no superstars threatening him that they will bolt if he does not execute the moves that make them happy. No owners forcing mandates or staff/personnel onto him. And after the teams despicable performance in the bubble, there is no unrealistically high expectations to be met next year (and perhaps no tickets to be sold, either).

There are no external forces pushing or pulling at Griffin to do anything other than what he wants to do. And although the official offseason might be a little shorter than usual, David Griffin has had more time to prepare for it than he normally would. He has had since March to prepare for an NBA Draft that might not be held until November. In that same time, he has had opportunities to weigh the pros and cons of upcoming free agents – both on his roster and around the league, while also putting together a list of perspective Head Coaches to interview. Rarely, if ever, has a General Manager had this much time without worrying about day to day operations, to focus on how they will execute perhaps the most important offseason of their career.

In Cleveland, he simply tinkered with adding and subtracting role players after Lebron came aboard. His one coaching search came when he thought he was going to have a completely different roster and timeline than he found himself having just a month later. Make no mistake, this will be the offseason that could determine how David Griffin is viewed a decade from now. It might be his only chance to hire a Head Coach for the New Orleans Pelicans, and the moves he makes here could determine whether Zion is a lifelong Pelican legend who helped bring the city its first NBA title or he becomes the third transcendent player to exit the city unceremoniously.

Griffin has said that he wants to build something sustainable, while also claiming that this team needs to have an identity that lets opponents know they are in for a battle every time they step on the court with the Pelicans. That should tell everyone paying attention that the Pelicans will not be tanking this upcoming year, even though some could argue it wouldn’t be the worst idea in an ultra competitive West.

He could, however, look to embrace the youth movement while adding veterans in lesser roles. Most young teams with stars as young as the Pelicans don’t also have a former All-Star guard in his prime taking nearly 17 shots per game or a soon to be 36 year old sharpshooter with a 20+ usage percentage. Usually, when a team has young stars, they surround them with veteran role players who play off the young guys, allowing them to make the mistakes that are a natural part of the maturing process.

In Dallas, Luka’s usage nearly doubles any rotation player not named Porzingis. Tim Hardaway gets about 12 shots a game, but no other regular rotation player cracks double digits. In Memphis, the Grizzlies got savvy vets to help stabilize the locker room, but Jae Crowder and Jonas Valanciunas were a distant 4th and 5th in FGA’s, while Solomon Hill did all the dirty work and only shot when absolutely necessary.

Looking further back, the 2016-18 Milwaukee Bucks had a young up and coming phoenom, a #2 overall pick who showed flashes, and a guy who was becoming a fringe All Star (sound familiar?). While they only went 80-84 over those two seasons, the lessons that young core learned, helped propel them to the number one seed just a few years later.

Or Griffin could go the other way. If he believes his young guys are advanced beyond their age, he could push his chips into the middle the same way the Celtics did when they went after Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in prior seasons, or even Kemba Walker this past season. The Spurs also built a dynasty choosing that path, as many forget that they had opportunities to trade David Robinson after drafting Tim Duncan. They could have acquired some young pieces and went for a slower build with Duncan, but instead kept The Admiral (who like Jrue, was in his early 30’s) and even went after veterans like Mario Elie in free agency and traded a first round pick to get Steve Kerr prior to Duncan’s second season – moves that helped them win a title.

There is an argument to be made for both paths. Slowing down the timeline can help the Pelicans gain more assets for a future trade while also giving their young stars the experience of having more offensive weight on their shoulders. Adding more veteran talent and speeding up the initial timeline could also benefit the young stars by putting them in more games with consequence while building a culture in which winning is the expectation.

Last year, Griffin toed the line and tried to have both – and you can argue the team achieved neither. But, with Gentry essentially forced upon him and a young roster and front office that were in desperate need of being evaluated, it is easy to see why Griffin could not have a clear vision that was possible for him to execute. But there are no such excuses this offseason. He has had time to evaluate, he has flexibility and a roster that could entice almost any coach he could possibly want. And most importantly, he has no external factors pushing him in one direction or another. This is once and for all David Griffin’s time to showcase who he is and what he believes in.

And how it plays out will become his legacy.

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