The New Orleans Pelicans are on an offseason hot streak and Nancy Lieberman dropped in to throw some 100-mph heaters of her own:
As of today, Julius Randle is better than Zion Williamson.
Personally, I think LeBron needs to stay focused on his team and stay out of the life of the Pelicans.
Lieberman began by diagnosing what has been an electric offseason for Gayle Benson. The Pelicans owner opened her pocketbook to the likes of elite-level first personnel in the form of Aaron Nelson, Trajan Langdon, Swin Cash and executive vice president to the Pelicans, David Griffin.
“That was a pristine hire by everybody involved,” Lieberman beamed. “He’s built a championship team, he’s dealt with superstars. He’s so vital in understanding relationships around the league and he’s just a really nice person.”
The Pelicans’ front office took great care in securing the right man for the job as they sat with multiple candidates and assessed each of their identities as leaders and businessman. Griffin, in Lieberman’s eyes, seemed a step ahead of his competitors.
“He’s very progressive, but he’s very solid in his fundamentals of how to build a business,” she continued. “He understands players and player development and build around that. You want to have the best of the best and that is what David is used to.”
Development will be critical to the future of the Pelicans organization, one that will take its next step forward behind the big-bodied frame of Zion Williamson as well as Kenrich Williams, Christian Wood, Frank Jackson, Cheick Diallo, Jahlil Okafor and more.
Having a coach in position to continue that roster development is critical to the future and the front office was happy to reinstate their skipper, Alvin Gentry.
“They have a great relationship from his time in Phoenix. The fact that Gentry has such a long relationship with Griffin is huge right there. I’m sure they will collaborate in a very positive way and you have to have total trust. Take that off the list of potential issues you could possibly have.”
But the series of hires including general manager Trajan Langdon, strength coach Aaron Nelson, and vice president of basketball operations and team development, Swin Cash, would always be overshadowed by how Griffin understood and proceeded with the deal for franchise superstar Anthony Davis.
“I thought he handled the AD thing quite well. You have to sit down with Anthony. You had to sit down and say ‘We’d love to have you back.’ If there is an opportunity - any way we can achieve our goals together. If we’re not going to have Anthony, how are we going to make this pay off appropriately for this franchise?”
Having an executive you can trust with this negotiating process would absolutely be critical to Benson, Loomis and Lauscha at the outset of this decision making process, and according to Lieberman, the Pelicans seem perfectly positioned with a seasoned leader like Griffin:
“And he’s really good at that! As a fan, you don’t know how difficult putting these things (trades) together are and you have to have friends in this league. And he he has friends and he is well respected.”
But how can Griffin and the Pelicans brass decipher what is most valuable in a return for their exiting star?
“First, you have to decide who you’re going to build your franchise around. Zion? Jrue? Julius? Once you determine that, where do you see everybody fitting as you put your dashboard of personnel together? Two-way players are very special in this league, they have such a will to win and to sacrifice for the good of the team. When you have someone like that in Jrue Holiday, it resets your culture as to what’s expected. Once you’ve identified that with Alvin then you start looking at what teams have what assets. I don’t believe that AD is just going to be handed over to the Lakers for five guys. I think it’s going to be a third team situation. You’re looking at cap space, you’re looking at existing contracts, expiring contracts, there’s so much that goes into the mathematics of making something like this work. You can get some future draft picks, some future players, you’d like to move a big salary off of your books. I find the whole thing intriguing. It’s fun to think about how you can work the business of basketball.”
But before we delve deeper into the look of the franchise going forward, we took a step back to discuss how the offseason theatrics of an NBA season have begun to overshadow the the games in and of themselves. Is the constant leap frogging from team to team ultimately a good thing for the association and should we want superstars exacting trades in the middle of the seasons?
“First, let me say the United States is leaning towards empowerment of the people and that their voices do matter. Freedom of thought and of speech are very important right now. The NBA is following the culture shift in our culture. The athletes right now know that they do have power, especially the superstar players, and they’re just exercising their constitutional right.”
An athlete has every right to dictate their fate and if things fall in line, choose their destination. But in AD’s case, wouldn’t it have been best to just wait until the end of the season?
“I’ll say this, our window of opportunity is very small. If you can play 15 years you’ve gotten the Willy Wonka golden ticket. You’ve hit the jackpot.”
When assessing a deal involving a franchise icon like Anthony Davis or even Chris Paul, it can be important to take a step back and reflect on the history of the game. In just the past few seasons we’ve seen franchises trade All-Star players at nauseum including Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, DeMar Derozan and James Harden.
“And listen, they traded Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, they have traded some of the best of the best. You think these guys are going to be here forever and it hurts. You just have to appreciate people for what they gave you. Anthony Davis is a really good human being and he gave the best of who he was to the franchise.”
What would your assessment be of LeBron James and Rich Paul’s involvements in the chase for Anthony Davis?
“I don’t want to be the judge of if he was right or wrong to demand a trade or of LeBron’s involvement. Personally, I think LeBron needs to stay focused on his team and stay out of the life of the Pelicans. Anthony made some life choices and I know Pelicans fans will thank him for his time in New Orleans. And who knows, sometimes you get better by subtraction and the whole franchise is in such a positive trajectory on so many levels that sometimes you should just let people go.
The Pelicans have and continue to overhaul their front office, but one of their most important positions was retained in the form of head coach Alvin Gentry. The Pelicans never wavered in their support of him, though anyone would have justified their actions if they had. But Gentry has been more than a coach. He’s been both an ambassador of the Pelicans and the organization. What was your reaction when you saw the joy emanate from him on draft night?
“Alvin couldn’t control himself. I’ve known Alvin for 37 years, he was awesome. He is just so authentic and I just dig Gentry. You could see the happiness. He went through so much crap last year. I applaud Mickey, I applaud Gayle Benson, everybody who just took a breath, didn’t knee-jerk react and just let a coaching staff go. Alvin is going to be amazing for Zion. He’s great with people. Guys around the league, they just love Alvin Gentry. He’s got more stories and he’s seen more stuff on the court. Oh and by the way, he has a championship ring. That matters when you’re looking somebody in the eye.”
Zion is inevitably going to become the future of the franchise and will dictate much of its success over the next five to ten years. But the Pelicans have a steady All-Star caliber veteran on the team currently in the form of Jrue Holiday. How will Jrue steward a young and developing front court partner like Zion?
“Jrue is a quiet leader. He’s a follow me by example type of guy. You saw how hard he played at the end of the season when people were taking time off. You know Jrue Holiday is going to be a very important part of what they’re doing. And what about all the young people who overcame all the chaos they endured last season. They stayed true, they stay focused, they stayed positive and look what they did with Kenrich, Frank Jackson, Christian Wood. That’s big stuff!”
But Nancy was far from finished. After spending much of the interview praising the Pelicans front office, coaching staff and much of the roster, she saved her most glowing remarks for Julius Randle.
“Let me say something, and I don’t want this to be overlooked. Julius Randle had a career year. And Julius was focused and disciplined and crushed it. He did everything that the coaching staff wanted. I don’t think people - just because Zion is here - as of today, Julius Randle is better than Zion Williamson. They’re the same type of body structure, but he’s a better shooter, he has NBA experience. I”m not downplaying Zion, but Zion is going to need somebody to learn from and that person is going to be Julius Randle. He’s going to be in my opinion very important. He’s rock solid, a great person, a great dad, loves the city and delivered on a high level last year.”
What can the Pelicans expect from newly hired vice president of basketball operations and team development Swin Cash?
“I’m really happy and proud that the Pels hired my dear friend, Swin Cash. She’s going to be a tremendous asset to the organization.”
“Swin’s a winner. She was in college, she was as a professional in the WNBA. Just a beautiful, kind smart woman who knows this game inside and out. Kudos to David Griffin. Griff is a difference maker in people’s lives. By giving somebody like Swin an opportunity, it just shows people that he’s about diversity, inclusion and opportunity — and we need that. And our owner is a woman and she owns a football team and a basketball team. To bring Swin in and bring a female in, someone as qualified as Cash, there’s a lot of young ladies and a lot of little kids who are going to fall in love with Swin Cash.”
For more on this conversation, join Oleh Kosel and myself as we get to the bottom of the Pelicans’ future from the legend herself!
Let’s geaux, Pels!