New Orleans Pelicans head coach Willie Green has to pass the ‘out due to injury’ tests this roster is already serving up before the 2023-24 NBA Season begins.
New Orleans Pelicans head coach Willie Green is going into his third season as the leading voice in the locker room. He came over from the Phoenix Suns having just missed out on an NBA Finals championship ring and has done fine by all accounts. The problem is the rebuilding franchise has had some bad luck.
Well, bad luck and lemons are just part of the job now. Dealing with the injury bug is life in Louisiana hoops until further notice. Green has had to adjust on the fly long enough that it should be second nature, and this squad is deep enough to stay relevant in the playoff conversation regardless. They’ve already done so in two drastically different fashions.
First, Green’s 2021-22 rookie team started historically slow (1-12) but still wound up finishing 9th (36-46) and, eventually, in a Game 6 against Chris Paul’s (remember that guy?) Suns. Last season, the Pelicans were in first place (23-12) but tanked to 9th place again (42-40), this time bombing out at home in the elimination game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, Green has to steady the ship and finish above the NBA Play-In Tournament line, especially if Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram both play more than 55-60 games. The team is already planning for Trey Murphy III to be out until at least Thanksgiving, if not Christmas. Even if the fans get disappointed with what has seemingly been the status quo, Green cannot allow another first to 9th type of regression to happen on his watch. It wouldn’t cost him the job necessarily, but it would cost him when it comes time for a contract extension.
The coaching market is set, and so are the parameters for how Green can get a new deal. Of course, there are extremes. For example, SportScriber reports Willie Green makes just $1.2 million on the current deal. Some of his peers make ten times as much, though they do have Hall of Fame resumes. So what can Green and the front office expect in future negotiations?
Willie Green’s Contract Options
There are only four ways this can go, and only two seem viable. There are only so many candidates that could feasibly replace Green, and the market has been reset financially.
Fired: Everyone is healthy, but the Pelicans are not in the top 10 of the standings, and something looks horribly wrong. The Western Conference might be tough, but this team, as constructed and healthy, has to at least be qualifying for an NBA Play-In spot. They were battling for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs just nine months ago. Odds: less than 1%
Wait-and-See Approach: The team can always push the decision off until next season. They hope for the best over the next 82 games plus playoffs, and then see how the locker room deals with that success even if the Pelicans do fall short of their championship goals. Odds: 4-5%
Multi-Year Extension: If New Orleans is in a top-4 spot after the All-Star break, an extension to amplify the confidence in a young coach would be a great move. Green has gone through a lot and held this team together. Ingram’s value and confidence could have crumbled over the past three years, but instead, he was brought in as the elder statesman voice for Team USA, which cannot blame Ingram for its failures! Odds: 35%
Hedged Extension: Tacking on another year or two of security at the going rate is always an option, especially if the team is hovering around .500 all season. If they are in the 4-8 mix, it’s a good look, but with the recent narratives, everyone will want to see more. Stir the pot a little at the deadline, convey approval of the process, and let this team marinate together a little longer. Odds: 60%
Every chef likes a little bump in pay and a few more ingredients to play with. The front office has a good line on a championship rebuild up and running. They just need to let Willie Green cook more with this current Pelicans group.