David Griffin

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Green, Pelicans-Lakers, Popovich

The Rockets’ 2023/24 season, their first under new head coach Ime Udoka, is now in the books. Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle breaks down how the team showed plenty of promise en route to a 41-41 finish, diminished slightly by the lack of a playoff or play-in berth. The Rockets finished as the No. 11 seed in the Western Conference.

“Happy wouldn’t be the word,” Udoka said. “We are disappointed we didn’t meet our goal. When you are a few games behind, you think of all the tough … games we’ve given away, we understand where we could have been. The goal always was to make the playoffs and the play-in and have that experience for our guys.”

Center Alperen Sengun and shooting guard Jalen Green, who both enjoyed breakout seasons this year, are both set to be extension-eligible when the new league year begins in July.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans head coach Willie Green‘s contract was reportedly extended last year, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Sources inform Clark that New Orleans also extended the contracts of New Orleans executive executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin and general manager Trajan Langdon. Green, a former journeyman NBA guard as a player, is in his third season with New Orleans and boasts a 127-119 record with the club so far. He has led the Pelicans to three consecutive postseason appearances, though the team was eliminated in the play-in tournament a year ago.
  • The Pelicans struggled to do much of anything against the Lakers in a critical season finale matchup on Sunday, as Rod Walker of NOLA.com details. In falling 124-108 to Los Angeles, New Orleans fell into the play-in tournament with a 49-33 record — the Pels are the West’s No. 7 seed and have a rematch on tap with the eighth-seeded Lakers on Tuesday.
  • Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich suggested that he expects return to coach probable Rookie of the Year Victor Wembanyama for his second season, writes Tom Orbsorn of The San Antonio Express-News. The 75-year-old Popovich inked a five-year deal worth upwards of $80MM to stick with San Antonio last summer. “He made it very clear day one he cares about his guys as people first,” Wembanyama said. “He is there to poke on us sometimes or to correct us. But the way my teammates and I have responded to all the advice it’s just been great and the dynamic is very good.”

Pelicans’ Griffin: Player Health Has Been Offseason Focus

The Pelicans were vying for the top seed in the Western Conference during the first half of the 2022/23 campaign before injuries to forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram derailed their season, which ended in a play-in tournament loss.

New Orleans didn’t make major changes to its roster this offseason, but head of basketball operations David Griffin said on Tuesday that the team didn’t want to just sit back and hope for better health luck going forward. Instead, the Pelicans proactively explored new strategies to try to keep their players off the injured list.

“What we tried to do this offseason was not sit there and say, ‘Wow, if we could just be healthy, we could be really good,'” Griffin said, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. “Because hope is not a plan. But Mrs. (Gayle) Benson (the Pelicans’ team owner) gave us the financial bandwidth to address this in different ways. We came at it from the medical side. We did some very different things there.”

As Clark has previously reported, New Orleans’ sports and performance team will no longer be led by Aaron Nelson, who was let go this summer. The Pelicans have yet to formally announce the changes made to that team. However, according to Clark, Griffin said on Tuesday that the club has hired a physical therapist and that several players have stayed in town during the offseason to focus on entering the season in the best possible condition.

“I can tell you Zion Williamson has been in our gym more than he has in his entire career in the offseason,” Griffin said. “He has been in New Orleans virtually all offseason, which is different.”

Williamson has spoken this summer about dedicating more time and effort to his conditioning and maintaining healthy eating habits. Griffin’s comments on Tuesday suggested that he noticed a change in the commitment level of the former No. 1 overall pick.

“For us, we have certainly learned over the years what we think works and doesn’t work. But a huge part of that is incumbent on him. A huge part of that is, ‘Is he willing to do what it takes to be successful?’” Griffin said. “I think oftentimes, the people you put around a player are judged for their lack of effectiveness when in reality not everyone is giving the same amount. He has reached a point where he recognizes that and is embracing doing his part.”

As Clark observes, Williamson and Ingram have played just 93 games together since they became teammates in 2019, including only 12 last season. Significantly increasing that number in 2023/24 may be the key to contention for the Pelicans.

“We know we have a group that is talented enough,” Griffin said. “We have a group that has the ability. That has the bones of being a good team. What we also know is we haven’t found a way to put it all together. I think what we need to do is continue to work towards that. And if we get to a point where we’re not going to be able to move forward with the group we have, I feel like we are really blessed from an ownership standpoint. There won’t be an impediment to making us better.”

Pelicans’ Valanciunas Talks Trade Rumors, Zion, More

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas had his name pop up in trade rumors multiple times this offseason. According to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, New Orleans explored the possibility of acquiring a more switchable center, inquiring on players like Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen and Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart. But with training camps just a few weeks away, Valanciunas remains on the roster.

Speaking to Fischer, Valanciunas expressed interest in staying in New Orleans beyond his current deal. And head of basketball operations David Griffin and head coach Willie Green were in Manila on Tuesday to watch the veteran big man play for Lithuania against Montenegro, tweets Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews.com (Griffin and Green will also visit with Team USA’s Brandon Ingram during their trip, Fischer notes).

But with lucrative new contracts for young frontcourt players like Zion Williamson and Herbert Jones on the team’s books beginning this season, extending Valanciunas at a rate anywhere near his current $15.4MM salary might be a long shot, Fischer writes.

If the 31-year-old doesn’t sign an extension with the Pelicans, he’ll likely remain a trade candidate throughout the 2023/24 season, since he’s on an expiring contract. However, he tells Fischer he’s not bothered by the fact that his future is uncertain.

“You can’t be safe all the time and sitting and know where you’re going to be the next day,” Valanciunas said. “You have to expect everything. There’s no hard feelings. Trades happen. It’s not like an unusual thing.”

Here are a few more highlights from Valanciunas’ conversation with Fischer:

On his attempts to develop a three-point shot:

“I don’t want to be stretching out. I want to be a down-low player. My main game is going to be in the paint, always. Set screens, roll hard. Do damage inside on the low post. But when they’re plugging the paint, when they’re rotating, when they’re leaving you alone, being able to knock down a three-point shot, this is what I’m still working on.”

On how good Williamson can be when he’s healthy:

“He has the skill set and the first step, which I feel bad for people who’s guarding him. It’s unbelievable things. When you’re just watching him play, you feel like, ‘Wow, what the f–k is going on?’ His power, his highlights, talk for himself.”

On his post-retirement plans:

“I want to have a feel of basketball, no matter what. Playing, doing some other jobs. Coaching, front office. No matter what, I want to be connected to basketball. So that’s what my next step is gonna be.”

Southwest Notes: Wembanyama, Kareem, Bane, Pelicans

The Spurs’ prized 2023 draft pick, power forward Victor Wembanyama, may not be a superstar immediately when his rookie year begins, but San Antonio will need to give him a long leash, notes Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.

The 7’4″ big man submitted a middling first Summer League game against the Hornets, scoring nine points on 2-of-13 shooting from the floor and pulling down eight boards. Fischer notes that Wembanyama will be playing against veteran pros who could weigh as much as 60 pounds more than him. Adding muscle and improving his jump shooting could be the keys to his long-term growth.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Wembanyama recently received some advice from one of the other most highly-touted NBA prospects ever, Hall of Fame Bucks and Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at the first ever NBA Con in Las Vegas, writes Jeff Maillet of The Athletic. “We were overcoached,” Abdul-Jabbar opined about his own era of players. “I wanted to bring the ball up (like Wembanyama did in his summer-league opener) but wasn’t allowed to. If I did, I would’ve had splinters in my ass (from sitting on the bench).” The first-year Spurs big man will certainly have the option of running more plays himself than Abdul-Jabbar did in his era.
  • Signing Grizzlies shooting guard Desmond Bane to a five-year, $200MM+ contract extension was a fairly straightforward choice for the Memphis front office brain trust, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “He is what we’re about and what we’re pushing for together,” team president Zach Kleiman said. “We want people who are wired like Des driving us to get there, so [not] the most complicated decision on our end.”
  • The Pelicans are kicking off a crucial 2023/24 run without huge personnel adjustments, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Clark notes that, though the Pelicans potentially had the assets to trade up for the draft rights to now-Trail Blazers point guard Scoot Henderson, the team reportedly never made an offer. Clark observes that, under team president David Griffin‘s guidance for the past four years, the team has never had better than the ninth-best record in the West. The team did make the playoffs in 2022 thanks to a strong play-in contest showing, but the health issues of stars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram seem to have impeded the club’s growth.
  • Within that same story, Clark reports that the Pelicans extended Griffin’s contract in the spring.

Pelicans Notes: Valanciunas, McCollum, Murphy

If the Pelicans decide to shake things up this summer, Jonas Valanciunas could be on the move, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes. Valanciunas will have an expiring $15.435MM contract next season and the Pelicans’ coaching staff showed a lack of trust in the veteran center during high-leverage moments, Clark observes. He averaged 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • The fact that CJ McCollum played 37 games with a torn ligament in the thumb of his shooting hand shouldn’t be overlooked, Rod Walker of the Times-Picayune opines. By doing so, McCollum displayed the importance of leading by example, a role he embraces both on and off the court. Despite the injury, McCollum averaged 20.9 points and 5.7 assists in 75 games this season.
  • The growth of Trey Murphy in his second season was one of the few bright spots for the franchise in 2022/23, Clark writes in a separate story. Murphy raised his scoring average from 5.4 points per game as a rookie to 14.5 PPG this season. He has developed into a prolific shooter, averaging 48.4% from the field overall, 40.6% on 3-point attempts and 90.5% from the free throw line.
  • In case you missed it, top executive David Griffin said he didn’t anticipate making “huge moves” this offseason.

Western Notes: Griffin, Williamson, Morant, Grizzlies, Wolves

Pelicans star Zion Williamson is eligible to sign a contract extension with the team this summer, but executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin admitted that negotiations could be challenging, as relayed by Christian Clark of NOLA.com.

“Obviously, that conversation is going to be one that will be a challenge,” Griffin said. “When it’s time to have that, we’ll have it. And right now what we’re focused on is him being healthy, and (being in) kind of elite condition to play basketball, and we’ll start there.”

Clark explores what Griffin could’ve meant by using the word “challenge,” noting that Williamson has dealt with multiple injuries since being drafted. The former No. 1 overall pick expressed optimism last month about staying in New Orleans long-term, but he’s only appeared in 85 games across three seasons with the team.

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference:

  • Speaking of contract extensions, Grizzlies star Ja Morant is eager to sign one with the team this offseason, as shared by Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal (video link). Morant is coming off a career-best season, averaging 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. “I’m definitely happy to be here. Memphis is my home,” Morant said, later offering a “hell yeah” to whether he wants to stay long-term.
  • Morant is also hoping to avoid offseason surgery on his knee, as relayed by the Memphis Commerical Appeal. The 22-year-old suffered a bone bruise in Game 3 of the Grizzlies‘ second-round series against Golden State. He didn’t play for the rest of the series.
  • The Timberwolves have declined to pick up their option on assistant general manager Gianluca Pascucci‘s contract for next season, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, who explores what the team’s recent front office changes say about Sachin Gupta‘s future with the organization. Minnesota agreed this week to hire Steve Senior as an assistant GM.

Southwest Notes: Hardaway, Brunson, Zion, Grizzlies

Mavericks swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to recover from the surgically repaired fractured left foot that caused him to miss nearly half of the 2021/22 regular season and all of Dallas’ first-round 4-2 defeat of the Jazz. It certainly doesn’t sound like Hardaway will return in time for these playoffs — he has yet to be cleared to run, per Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link).

“He’s shooting the ball, but from my eye, he hasn’t done any running or anything yet,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said in discussing Hardaway’s progress. “So that’s more of a medical question, but right now he’s out.” 

Dallas has officially announced (Twitter link) that Hardaway will miss the first game of the Mavericks’ second-round matchup against the Suns. Across 42 healthy contests for the Dallas, the 6’5″ shooting guard out of Michigan averaged 14.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 2.2 APG this season, on .394/.336/.757 shooting splits.

There’s more out of the Southwest:

  • A left calf strain to Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic allowed his starting backcourt mate Jalen Brunson to step up his own offensive game, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. Brunson has earned rave reviews from his former Villanova teammate Mikal Bridges, whose Suns will face off against Brunson’s Mavericks in their upcoming second-round matchup starting Monday. “He’s been hooping all year,” Bridges enthused. “When Luka went out and he had to step up, he was ready for it. “I’m watching games and I could . . . just tell. I know what shots he’s going to make. I just know. I know how talented he is and how hard he works and how much of a dog he is.” While with Villanova, Bridges and Brunson won two NCAA titles.
  • Pelicans team president David Griffin acknowledged that forthcoming contract extension discussions with 2021 All-Star forward Zion Williamson may not be easy, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. The Pelicans will have the ability to offer Williamson a maximum extension worth up to 25% of the salary cap, with 8% yearly raises. “Obviously, that conversation is going to be one that will be a challenge,” Griffin said. “When it’s time to have that, we’ll have it. And right now what we’re focused on is him being healthy, and (being in) kind of elite condition to play basketball and we’ll start there.” Williamson recently indicated he hoped to remain with the Pelicans and get a deal done. Injuries have limited Williamson to just 85 healthy games across his three seasons of NBA action. The No. 1 overall pick out of Duke in 2019 has been quite productive when available, with career averages of 25.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 3.2 APG and 0.9 APG.
  • The Grizzlies, currently in the midst of their first playoff game against the Warriors in a 2-3 second-round matchup, might have a “death lineup” of their own, writes Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian. All-Star point guard Ja Morant, breakout second-year shooting guard Desmond Bane, swingman Dillon Brooks, forward Brandon Clarke, and big man Jaren Jackson Jr. could give the Warriors’ ultra-small, shooting-heavy lineups plenty of trouble in their first-round matchup.

Pelicans Notes: Lineup, Griffin, Ingram, Alvarado

The Pelicans‘ “jumbo” lineups weren’t working in Game 1 of their first-round series vs. the Suns, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. The team found success in the second half of the regular season by starting Jaxson Hayes at power forward alongside center Jonas Valanciunas, but the two big men had matching plus-minus ratings of -11 on Sunday, the worst marks of any player on either team.

Hayes ended up playing just 11 minutes, with Trey Murphy coming off the bench to play 26 minutes. New Orleans was a plus-six when Murphy was on the court and the team’s offense was functioning better, says Guillory. However, head coach Willie Green told reporters on Monday that he’s not planning to change his starting lineup, per Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link).

“Not at the moment,” Green said. “I think as a group, we didn’t have a great first half. That wasn’t one individual, that was us as a team. We have to be better. We have to do the things we do better, harder and with more force and see where we are after that.”

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Pelicans VP of basketball operations David Griffin has made some mistakes since being hired to head up the team’s front office in 2019, but he deserves credit for putting together a team that made the playoffs even without Zion Williamson available all season, Rod Walker of NOLA.com opines. Walker believes the Pelicans look like a potential top-three squad in the West with a fully healthy Williamson.
  • Griffin’s faith in Brandon Ingram as a franchise leader on and off the court has been rewarded, according to Scott Kushner of NOLA.com, who points to Ingram’s performances in play-in wins over the Spurs (27 points) and Clippers (30 points) as indicators of the forward’s ability to handle the spotlight and step up in big games.
  • Pelicans rookie guard Jose Alvarado is joining Puerto Rico’s national team, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). As Charania observes, Alvarado will get a chance to face Team USA this summer in qualifiers for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
  • Jason Quick of The Athletic takes a look at the long-standing bond between Willie Green and his first-round coaching rival Monty Williams. After the two men were teammates in Philadelphia, Green played for Williams in New Orleans and then was an assistant on his Suns staff. “Monty and I are not just friends,” Green told Quick. “We are like … that’s like my older brother. I look up to Monty.”

Pelicans Notes: McCollum, Zion, Griffin, Nance, Hart

Amid persistent speculation about whether Zion Williamson is happy in New Orleans, veteran Pelicans guard CJ McCollum came to his teammate’s defense on Thursday, essentially telling reporters to back off while the former No. 1 overall pick recovers from a foot injury.

“Leave the young fella alone, man,” McCollum said, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. “He’s trying to rehab in peace. Trying to get himself ready to come back. We spoke, and I’ll speak to him later this week or next and just catch up with him. He’s a very talented player. He’s going through a lot. You guys are putting him on the spot on the daily. I think he’s just trying to recover on his own time and focus on his rehab.”

McCollum pointed out on Thursday that he has dealt with multiple foot injuries in his own career, including a hairline fracture that sidelined him for a good chunk of the 2020/21 season. He said he knows what Williamson is going through during his long rehab process.

“You feel disconnected. You feel away,” McCollum said. “It’s tough mentally and physically. I know it’s frustrating.”

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • In a separate story for NOLA.com, Clark takes a closer look at the apparent tension between Williamson and the Pelicans, revisiting some points he made in a September report and sharing some new details. According to Clark, Williamson and his camp seem to have a “lack of trust” in Pelicans head of basketball operations David Griffin. Clark also says that Zion’s stepfather Lee Anderson has “maintained a great deal of control” over the young forward’s career since he was drafted and that some people who knew Williamson and his family before he reached the NBA have discussed whether Anderson has Zion’s best interests at heart.
  • Rod Walker of NOLA.com believes that a lack of communication, both publicly and privately, has exacerbated the divide between Williamson and the Pelicans, arguing that even a brief social media post from Zion reiterating that he wants to be in New Orleans would go a long way toward silencing the noise.
  • Larry Nance Jr. and Josh Hart are good friends and would’ve loved the chance to play on the same team rather than being traded for one another, tweets Andrew Lopez of ESPN. They made the most of the situation by agreeing to temporarily swap houses when Nance was dealt to New Orleans and Hart was sent to Portland.
  • Nance referred to his recent knee surgery as a minor procedure and said he hopes to be back on the floor soon, according to Lopez. It has been two weeks since Nance went under the knife — reports at the time suggested it would take the forward about six weeks to recover, so he could return in a month or so.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, Ingram, Alexander-Walker, Young

The Pelicans currently have a 1-11 record, worst in the NBA. They’ve lost eight games in a row. David Griffin, the team’s executive VP of basketball operations, is reportedly on the hot seat.  All-Star Zion Williamson has yet to play a game following foot surgery. Fellow former All-Star Brandon Ingram is out for the seventh consecutive game with a hip contusion, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com (Twitter link).

Coach Willie Green said Ingram could return soon following a full practice yesterday, per Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link). Obviously, that won’t happen tonight.

Needless to say, things are not going well in New Orleans.

According to Scott Kushner of NOLA.com, Griffin has done a poor job building the roster around Zion and Ingram. Kushner says the team’s first-round draft picks under Griffin (aside from Zion) haven’t proven to be reliable rotation players, let alone pieces to build around. He didn’t list them by name, but he was referring to Jaxson Hayes (8th), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17th), Kira Lewis (13th), and rookie Trey Murphy (17th).

Kusher notes that despite modest expectation from fans, the team is failing to deliver an interesting, competitive product that has a clear direction, and that falls squarely on Griffin.

Here’s more from the Southwest:

  • Alexander-Walker has been heavily scrutinized for a slow start to the season, but he was one of the silver linings of the Pelicans‘ loss to the Thunder on Wednesday, scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter. Will Guillory of The Athletic opines that keeping Alexander-Walker in attack-mode is one of the keys for the Pelicans to turn their losing streak around. Guillory also believes the team needs to shorten the rotation and keep believing in each other.
  • Despite being in-and-out of the lineup, Thaddeus Young‘s professionalism and workman-like mentality have rubbed off on the young Spurs. He’s also been highly productive in his limited minutes. Young is a free agent at the end of the season and is viewed as a valuable trade chip. He knows he may not last the entire season with the team, but that hasn’t impacted his mindset, writes Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News. “I am not sure what is going to happen with me, whether I will be here next year or if I will be here past the trade deadline,” Young said. “But, at the end of the day, at this point in time, this moment, I am here, I am a San Antonio Spur and I am planning on giving 120 percent each night.”
  • Check out our Pelicans and Spurs team pages for the most recent notes and rumors on the two teams.