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New Orleans Pelicans vibe unmistakably different on media day as talented new group ready to prove worth

David Griffin: “We’re here to beat people’s ass.”

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans-Media Day Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Please don’t tell these New Orleans Pelicans that their youthful exuberance is going to be some negative in the predicted wide open but tough Western Conference.

“Oh, we’re going to pursue wins from the get-go,” said David Griffin on media day. “We’re not here to facilitate spectating, right? I mean we’re here to beat people’s ass. That’s what we want to do.”

With his very next breath, the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations admitted inexperience could inhibit winning on a consistent basis so the immediate focus is on getting a little better each and every day. However, while everyone understands that facets like on-the-court chemistry and individual development are going to be a part of the process, the front office, the coaching staff and the players believe they all feel a remarkable energy emanating from every pore of this reconstructed organization.

“The vibe around this team — everyone can feel the positive energy around the players, coaches, our staff,” said Griffin in front of the entire coaching staff and numerous front office personnel looking on from the back of the media room. “It’s an energy that’s wholly unique in my basketball career.”

“I just think the energy and everything that we have right now in the building and with the players,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “You look at the players, I think there’s a lot of guys who feel like they have something to prove this year. I think there’s a lot of guys trying to find their way. And there’s a lot of guys that we’ve had here who feel like this is a great opportunity. You’re going to see collectively from everybody, from the basketball ops department to the medical staff to the players to the coaches, feel like we’re really on the same page and all out to accomplish a common goal. When you do that, your organization seems to be headed in the right direction.”

Jrue Holiday, the leader of this squad, has also noticed the transformation: “I would say that it’s been different from, I mean, my time being here. Just the energy here, being able to walk into the gym. The changes that they’ve made in just the facility itself has been amazing — in the short time that they did it. The energy is definitely different. It’s picked up. People love to come into the gym and work. I’m really excited.”

Happy, positive vibes are a given for nearly any team at the start of a season, but after having been a participant at the last four Pelican media day events too, I sensed something wonderfully different in the air this time round. There’s incredibly talented youth up and down the roster, allowing the minds of fans to be fascinated about what’s to come. So too are proven and widely respected veterans that any other team would be immensely grateful to have on their roster. Interestingly, all of these Pelicans spoke with a common voice despite vast differences in age and life experience.

David Griffin’s line of beating people’s ass was damn good stuff, as was Brandon Ingram later saying “I know I look like I need it” when commenting about New Orleans food, but JJ Redick and Zion Williamson stole the show by telling us about one of their first bonding experiences.

Even though the players, Griffin and Gentry each took the podium separately over a three and a half hour long span, the commonality shared was undeniable. They all pointed to an enjoyable journey ahead. This wasn’t Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins telling us about how the team was going to go places and the rest of the group sort of meekly nodding in agreement. Today felt more akin to a fledgling democracy, where everyone shares in the same vision, is ready to take equal responsibility and all those accounted for are ready to sacrifice for the greater good.

“I don’t have a hidden agenda...can we go out and play a game like right now???” was evident on all faces!

How this positive state of being translates onto the court is anyone’s guess, but some concrete expectations do exist. The New Orleans Pelicans believe they’re going to be a good defensive team, they’re going to push the pace at breakneck speed, and most importantly, everyone expects to be ready physically for the grind.

“I told the guys I’d be really disappointed if we weren’t a top 10 defensive team,” said Alvin Gentry. “Or a top 5 defensive team. I think we’ve got the depth. I think we’ve got guys that understand. Jeff {Bzdelik} and I spent a lot of time talking. I think we’re very much on the same page of being aggressive defensively — not reacting but making the offense react to us. I’m really excited about that because I do think that we have enough depth and we have enough guys. For the first time we have length that we can play guys at multiple positions.”

Another important factor? Health. To be able to run an opponent into submission, depth is vital to the equation. The roster is loaded 15-deep, and all the players are raring to go. Jrue Holiday explained that the last two seasons have been the best of his career because his body was sound. Griffin commented that Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are healthy and they’ve been full go for awhile. Josh Hart was excited about not feeling pain in his knee. Nicolo Melli proclaimed himself 100% healthy after a minor knee procedure. Even Jahlil Okafor mentioned that incorporating improved sleeping habits have made a noticeable difference on top of his usual arduous offseason training sessions.

All good news, but then again, media days are typically filled with excitement, dreams and a blank new canvas. And yet, I’ve never been more excited to attend the first day of training camp.