The Pelicans have made it official: Willie Green will be standing on the sidelines as the eighth head coach in New Orleans franchise history when the 2021-22 season begins.
“After an extensive and collaborative search, Willie stood out among an impressive group of candidates as the best person to lead our team moving forward,” said Pelicans Governor Gayle Benson. “We are very happy to welcome Willie as our new head coach and we look forward to working with him to guide our team on the court as we work towards bringing a championship to New Orleans.”
“Willie has established himself as one of the most respected assistant coaches in the NBA. In large part, this is due to a tireless work ethic and authenticity of character,” said David Griffin. “He brings a vast amount of basketball knowledge and experience to our team as both a coach and former player, along with exceptional leadership qualities and an innate ability to connect with players, staff and fans alike. We could not be more excited to welcome Willie and his family to New Orleans.”
The 39-year-old emerged the favorite for the helm soon after Jacque Vaughn withdrew his name from consideration, largely making it a two-man race between he and Bucks assistant Charles Lee.
Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd, Ime Udoka, Mike D’Antoni, Sam Mitchell, Fred Vinson and Teresa Weatherspoon were all linked to the Pelicans’ opening at one time or another during the process.
Although the Pelicans were one of the last teams to fill their head coaching vacancy, Green feels like the right candidate for the job, possessing a long playing career as a 12-year NBA veteran and five prized years of experience as an assistant coach.
Steve Kerr back in 2016 on Willie Green. “He’s a future head coach in this league” pic.twitter.com/rxXloD0VCL— Charles LaRocca. (@LaRocca504) July 13, 2021
After Green’s professional hooping days came to an end, he spent three seasons with the Warriors, serving as a developmental coach for the first two before being elevated to an assistant on the bench for his final year. He earned a vast amount of praise from Steve Kerr and others within Golden State’s organization during this time frame, but reading what he learned on the job is most important for our purposes.
It’s amazing seeing a group of guys that were there, the way they work, the commitment they had to each other, the joy they came in every day and played with. To be a part of that is such a blessing. (I hope) you can take that experience and start to build it with some of the young guys here, some of our staff. It’s gonna take time, but you want to (instill) it slowly, slowly, slowly, so you can build something special.
Watching the Warriors’ culture, that was built by a conglomerate of stars who reached their potential, and how it all led to two NBA championships is invaluable experience alone, but Green really did one better. He took that knowledge and helped morph Phoenix’s talent into a winner seemingly overnight — just as he had hoped to do.
Having spent the last two years as Monty Williams’ lead assistant with the Suns, Green played an instrumental part in quickly elevating Phoenix within the difficult Western Conference. Their current coaching staff took a 19-win team to 34 wins in the 2019-20 campaign — including a breakout 8-0 bubble performance — to 51 wins and a second seed in the postseason. And these Suns came within two games of winning the 2021 NBA championship!
It’s seriously hard to name a better success story within the basketball world than this group of Suns. They pushed all the correct buttons. Despite not reaching the pinnacle, the city of Phoenix could still soon celebrate its first NBA championship in their 53 years of existence because the future is bright with their young core.
The vast accolades and experience are admittedly all great, but it still boils down to one simple question in New Orleans: Will this Pelicans roster dutifully respect Green and his staff by heeding their coaching advice, eventually helping turn the franchise into a winner?
Stan Van Gundy arrived in New Orleans with a lengthy list of accomplishments and has always been well respected by his peers, but he failed to make a solid connection with the locker room and front office in his lone season.
There is probably nothing more important than for a coach to be able to relate to his players today, which paves the way for necessary team improvement. Green seems to possess the tools necessary based on his experiences in Golden State and Phoenix.
But Bridges has credited Green for pushing him to use his fundamentals and keen ability to read plays on defense rather than rely solely on his length and athleticism. Early in his career, Bridges was too risky on defense at times and got caught out of position often. Now, he’s grown much more comfortable with where he’s supposed to be and how to keep opposing offenses off-balance.
Furthermore, Green shows not only an understanding of the need to be connected with everyone in an organization but to do so through amicable and genuine means.
Willie Green: "The best coaches aren't necessarily the ones that talk about Xs and Os. It’s doing everything from a place of love. People feel that." pic.twitter.com/Upqwqad4zI— Christian Clark (@cclark3000) July 12, 2021
From all indications, Green knows his Xs and Os, how to develop players, build meaningful relationships and produce results. He’s coming from two fantastic cultures, this after acquiring a unique perspective of the league from a long playing career.
Honestly, having closely monitored Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, and more recently Chris Paul and Devin Booker, succeed together without anyone needing to sacrifice a part of their immense ability, gives hope Green could maximize the potential of the Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram duo on the court.
One of my biggest complaints about Van Gundy’s time in New Orleans was that he failed to elevate the play of the Pelicans by combining the talents of B.I. and Zion into a sum greater than their individual parts.
Only time will tell whether he’s looked upon as a really good hire, but Willie Green is definitively the right person to be named the next head coach of the Pelicans.
Welcome back to New Orleans, Coach, and as Z likes to say, let’s dance!
**Note: An introductory press conference will be held at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center on Tuesday, July 27 at 11:00am CT.
For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.