New Orleans Pelicans: David Griffin could lose Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans have a tumultuous off-season in the eyes of many NBA fans and executives alike. Failing to re-sign Lonzo Ball was the tip of the iceberg, followed by a lackluster free agency period and more rumors being hurled around than at a high school lunch table.

The growing tensions of the team can be attributed to two individuals: Zion Williamson and David Griffin. The moment the ping pong balls bounced in favor of the Pelicans in 2019, many have speculated Zion would not be committed long-term to the franchise. New Orleans is a small market with a checkered front-office history that showed multiple times in the previous decade that they struggled to build around a generational star.

It doesn’t help that Zion was the most captivating basketball prospect since LeBron James in 2003 and was a household name before he stepped onto an NBA court. In many eyes, not even a superstar like Zion could reinvigorate basketball culture in New Orleans. For those reasons, the relationship was on thin ice before it even began.

The relationship between the team and Zion has been under the microscope since the Pels season ended in May. The Athletic soon after released reports claiming that his family even wanted him to leave the Big Easy because they were unhappy with the organization. They went on to even further the pre-draft speculation and said they felt the Pelicans weren’t worthy of Zion’s star-power.

When it boils down to it, that’s what the family thinks. As important as family is, Zion is his own man and can form his own opinions. So although those allegations are notable, they are what jumped off the page at me.

There was an excerpt in the article where it claimed Zion himself was growing frustrated with the team. He reportedly didn’t like how the team handled the departure of J.J Reddick, as they previously promised the father of two they would pick a situation best for his family. Even with a caveat saying that Zion wanted to focus on helping the Pelicans win this upcoming season, outlets ran with the story. Rumors continued to spark

all off-seasons long, making fans tired of the ongoing soap opera surrounding the franchise.

Many fans will look at the situation from a team-first perspective, but there’s more than meets the eye here. Zion is so frustrated, but the natural question was why? Why had it reached the level it has. It starts with one man: David Griffin.

David Griffin is, all be it, interesting. His previous job was VP of basketball operations for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he won an NBA title in 2016. His championship pedigree was seen as valuable to the floundering Pelicans and could help instill confidence in the fanbase. Besides, he built around LeBron James; why can’t he build around Zion?

It starts with the fact no matter how weird – or incompetent a front-office culture might seem, if LeBron James is on the team, the chances of winning go through the roof. Griffin made multiple massive blunders while at the helm in Cleveland, but with the LeBron effect able to mask his incompetence, that will get lost in NBA lour.

Zion is a generational player but does not have the ability on or off-the-court yet to mask incompetence in the way LeBron can. I respect David Griffin for attempting to build a team he thinks works around Zion and establish a relationship with him, but the job has been less than stellar.

Why is the New Orleans Pelicans situation so bad?

The friction between the two started Williamson’s rookie year in the NBA when the team made him go through a tumultuous rehab to get back from a minor knee injury suffered in the pre-season. Then when he did return, he would play in short “bursts”, which didn’t allow him to play consistent minutes in a row. Even when dominating games, if the scheduled “burst” time expired, Zion would be sent back to the bench. As an 18-year-old superhuman, you can see why he would detest this.

Off to a rough start, and unfortunately for Pels fans, it only got stranger. According to an investigative report by writer Christian Clark, David Griffin tried his best to form a relationship with his young star. One account was that Griffin met with Zion and played the piano to help build a relationship. Besides the obvious creepy undertones that the scenario presents, I don’t know how many teenagers want to bond with an older man by listening to them play the piano.

Griffin’s not-so-subtle arrogance has also rubbed many in New Orleans the wrong way. According to the aforementioned report, Griffin has shifted blame away from himself to shift it on those around him. A key example was an exchange where he reportedly said: “he still fails, even when I give him all the answers”, in regards to Alvin Gentry leading the team to a poor start to the season a few years ago. It’s gotten so bad some began to call Griffin “Griff Krause” after the infamous Bull’s GM on the 90’s that ego disbanded Chicago’s dynasty in 1998.

Zion is a franchise trajectory-changing player. He knows this, as do the people in his camp. He is coming off one of the most offensive dominant seasons in recent memory and is only 21. The sky is the limit for him, and the best days are in the future. Someone of his caliber shouldn’t waste their prime making a city happy if they aren’t themselves. The Pelicans front office resembles the circus than basketball operations and has for over a decade.

Chris Paul and Anthony Davis are amongst the league’s best and once played in New Orleans. Whether fans want to hear it or not, they lost both to franchises being run into the dirt and creating situations that weren’t salvageable. Zion was supposed to be different. The team was supposed to learn from their prior blunders and have the third time be the charm.

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At this point, I would be shocked if the team’s ways don’t make Zion force a trade. From the stories coming out, it would be hard to blame him. The Pelicans have the Sadim touch, everything they touch they seem to ruin. How many times can this happen before something changes?