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Transcript: Post-draft press conference with David Griffin

New Orleans Pelicans Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin
2019 NBA Draft Press Conference
Thursday, June 20, 2019

Opening statement:
“Hi everybody. Thanks for waiting so long. Sorry we weren’t able to come speak about the No. 1 pick sooner. As you all saw, we had a rather eventful evening. So, we have several conversations going on with other teams that I can’t get into any specifics about, unfortunately. We’re just going to have to leave it there. So I know everybody’s going to want to ask questions about things other than the first pick and I just cannot say anything about any of it, unfortunately.

Obviously, Zion (Williamson) was somebody from the very beginning that I think the city related to immediately. They reacted to it in a very powerful fashion. Winning that lottery was obviously a watershed moment for us as a franchise. We went through a pretty thorough process there, I think in terms of knowing that the human part of all of that was right. Alvin Gentry and I were able to meet with Zion the night of the lottery and we were so taken by him as a kid, as a human being, 20 minutes into it, I asked if he would mind if his parents came downstairs and sat with us. And we sat with them for about an hour and a half. This is a really, really impressive family. You’ll hear me say much of this again tomorrow as well. The human element of this family is as impressive as the on-court element of Zion. It was very much a love affair for both of us, right from the beginning. I think the family very much related to Coach (Alvin) Gentry. I’m going to say this again at the press conference tomorrow, Alvin Gentry is the only human being in the NBA that could have been in that room at that moment and delivered the message with the parents that he did and the way in which he did. He connected with them on every level. His roots in the Carolinas and the family’s roots in the area. All of the players that Zion grew up being told by his stepfather, coach Anderson, were good – Zion knows those players as being magical players. And Coach Gentry knew every one of them and could go into great detail about every one of them. And it was really a cool moment.

So again, I want to keep reiterating the human part of this is at least as big as the on-court part. And all of you obviously have very high on-court expectations. Look, this is not somebody who’s supposed to be the savior of this franchise. That’s not what this is. This is a 19-year-old kid who’s going to spend this year learning how to play winning NBA basketball. And everything that we’re doing from now until the end of our time here as a franchise is going to be about long-term sustainable success. This is Jrue Holiday’s team. And when we made the trade that we made, or are working to complete rather, with a certain player who used to be here with Jrue. We were very cognizant of the fact that this is Jrue Holiday’s team. And from the moment I got here on the ground, the very first conversation I had with him, I challenged him, and he has responded to it every step along the way. Zion is going to be part of learning how to win at a really high level. And at some point, if there’s a time that the baton gets passed in terms of who’s expected to carry us to win games, it will. That’s not now. This is a 19-year-old kid. So we’re going to take time with this and it’s not going to be something where I want people to just expect this is instantaneous.

It’s amazing when you see him. He’s got this just magnetic personality and he makes everybody sees such star quality, that you immediately say he’s the one, he’s the one. He’s the one because all he wants to do is win basketball games. Zion Williamson does not give a damn how many stats he puts up. He doesn’t care about any individual awards. All he wants to do is win basketball games. That’s all Jrue Holiday wants to do. That’s all anybody that we’re going to invest in deeply here wants to do. And so, let Zion be that kid. Don’t write this like he’s here to save this franchise. He’s not. He’s here to join this family and we’re here to raise each other. So, I’ll take any questions you have.”

Did you happen to see the images of Fulton Square, or anything that was happening downtown? Is that meaningful for you, considering what I think a lot of people or what you kind of expected, six months ago for this fan base?
“Oh, sure. So, obviously when we won the lottery, there was a pretty big outpouring of excitement and everybody saw that famous tweet of the video of our ticket office. That didn’t happen because they wanted us to draft somebody different than this kid, right? So there’s been this groundswell of excitement I think. I think because of Mrs. Benson’s commitment to the franchise, what she’s enabled us to do in terms of staffing, the bandwidth she’s given us to go out and get the best and the brightest everywhere. I think we’ve continued to grow that momentum. So we’re crescendoing maybe now, and I think what you saw on Fulton Street tonight is a big part of that. And I think it’s only going to continue to grow.

Again, everything that we’re working on now I think is designed to continue to land the plane on other similar successes and we just want to stack them one on top of another. It’s never going to be about one player or one move. It’s going to be the aggregate of that. And I think the market is reacting to that because they’re feeling it. It’s like, oh no, this is when we lose it. No. OK. Now this is when – no. So, we want to keep that happening and because this is not – we don’t win anything in the offseason. And we were upstairs in the draft room and we’re all high-fiving each other and everybody’s really emotional. OK, well now we have to win basketball games. It’s really cool. But now what? So I think we’re all of that mind-set and I hope the city just continues to take the journey with us and believe in us.”

You mentioned about how much this a peak of everything that has been accumulating over the last couple of weeks, you talked about high fiving and that sort of thing, but can you take us into the war room a little bit? What was that moment like, with this finally happening, this thing you have been planning on for weeks?
“Yeah, so I mean everybody saw Zion speaking about his mother. Saw him being overwhelmed with emotion, which talking about it’s going to overwhelm me with emotion. You know what you’re getting as a player when you’re building up to this. You think you know what you’re getting as a player. You think you know what you’re getting as a person. And when you see that kid on that stage, who lives for that stage, be incapable of formulating thoughts other than how grateful he is, that impacts you in a really powerful way. So we all went from, oh! To oh God, that’s really, really sweet. It’s overwhelming, the human element of him. So, I think we went from, wow, this is really going to be special to see that’s why we love him.”

You could have taken anybody, you didn’t take a choir boy but you took a basketball player right? What is it that made him the No. 1 pick, why did you take him basketball-wise?
“Well, I mean obviously, physically he is touched by the hand of God to play this game. He’s a population of one. Nobody’s really ever been quite exactly like him. People use a lot of big names. People use a lot of Hall of Fame names. Nobody’s ever had his exact combination of size, explosiveness, lateral quickness, ability to defend multiple positions and willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Usually, when you have this makeup, you’re used to being focal all the time and it’s about you. This is a kid with focal makeup, focal gifts, but his makeup is “we” oriented. It’s a highly unusual thing to be able to get where you want to go on the handle like he can at his size, and then propel 275-280 pounds, 42 inches off the ground with touch. I mean he’s really unique and he’s also got deficiencies that he’s aware of and he works on him like crazy. This is a workaholic of a basketball player. So, I think everything that he cannot do, he will learn, and we will never teach anybody to be what he is as a competitor. That’s God-given and all he wants to do is win.”

You have been in the business awhile, is this one of the easiest decisions that you have had to make, as far as picking a player?
“I would say this at the press conference tomorrow too, but one of the very first things I said to our staff in our first meeting was I said, ‘OK, somebody made the case to me for Zion Williamson’ And they thought I was kidding. Like, what do you mean make the case he’s Zion? What do you mean? Let’s take Zion. And I said, ‘No, no, no. Break it down for me as a basketball player.’ And everybody kept looking at me like I was crazy. I said, ‘No, seriously, talk me into Zion Williamson. Why do we want the guy?’ And it took a while for people to really start to formulate words because when you look at him, it’s like, well why do you think we want him? I mean, you look at him, it’s hard for people to express it. So, I think when you start to go through the process and you really understand what makes this kid tick, you talked to Coach K (Krzyzewski) and every member of the staff there, Coach K called me again before tonight and just told me how lucky I was. And he’s gone well out of his way to touch base many times along the way. He’s really excited for what we’re doing over all, I think, which is cool. But, he’s just excited for us as people because I think he recognizes the synergies that exist with all of us. So, from that standpoint, it’s pretty exciting.”

You’ve talked about how important culture is and of course, you have been emphasizing the human element discussing Zion. That’s been the common angle in your hires as far as the other parts of the front office. Now going forward as your still having conversations with other teams, as we start moving towards free agency and all those things, is that going to change at all when you start filling in pieces. Or are you still looking for that type, either short term or long term, those personality fits into this culture?
 “Yeah. So, absolutely it won’t change. You know, It’s kind of funny, when you’re going through the draft process and the talent that was on the board in the 30s and 40s is on the board, some of that talent’s there because there may have been things that weren’t great character fits with us. And we would have, on talent, had them much higher. And we make a very conscious decision that we’re going to start there. We’re going to surround the group with the right people. Obviously, with Zion being on board, you feel like you’ve got a high level of elite talent, so you want to surround the group with as many high-character people as you can. I think relative to free agency, it’s going to be about game fit, but the human element is still going to drive a huge part of it. You look at how young we are, we’re going to need culture-driver veterans. And I think that’s what we’re going to continue to focus on. Not just guys who are good people, but who really genuinely, vocally, and actively drive culture who also fit with what we need. So that’ll be our emphasis.”

You mentioned that this is Jrue Holiday’s team. Have you heard from him tonight? Is he eager to work with a team that is – I mean this is a young roster that you have here and he’s in his prime. How do you sort of balance those two things?
“I think it would be a gross understatement to say that Jrue (Holiday) is giddy right now. He’s really excited about what’s going on here. I think he gets it. And again, a big part of this is, this isn’t done. This isn’t a finality. You know, a big part of what we’ve done is try to build as much optionality into the system as we can. If we are able to complete the deals that we are currently working on, we would have a good deal of cap space available, which gives us optionality relative to both free agents but also deal flow. You’re able to receive assets sometimes for taking contracts. You can give some of the incredible war chest of assets we have to get the right piece. So I think Jrue was super excited about where we are in terms of talent level. I think he’s also very cognizant of the fact that this is very, very far away from being a complete image of what we can be.”

Did you have to sell Jrue on that process and kind of taking all this young talent? Or was he completely OK with it?
“No. It’s funny actually, we didn’t try to sell him on the young talent. We sold him on the vision. This is what we’re going to do. And to be honest, to a huge degree, he sold me on him too, Right? So, I don’t want to make it sound like it took a sales job. It wasn’t that, it was just, ‘Look, here’s our vision. Everything that I’ve ever been about in my career from an executive standpoint, is to find people like you. We’re going to build this thing around you and this is what it’s going look like. Just trust us.’ And he’s given us that trust.So, you know, it’s our job to keep that going. And the only way that happens is you win a bunch of basketball games. So we’ve got to get to that point.”

What would be your message to fans tonight who are looking at this and feeling like it’s complete in some way? How do you tell them to both be excited for the future but also be patient while we continue through this?
“This was a lot of fun tonight. There’s a reason for everybody to be excited. I think the thing I would say more than anything else is, trust us. Stick with us through this. You’re not going to know in advance how the dots connect, but we’re going to connect them, so stick with us. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. And if you’re willing to invest in the long haul, let’s dance.”

Where did that come from, “let’s dance”?
“That was Zion’s own thing. I don’t know, but it spoke to every one of us. I can tell you that (laughter).”

Of all the players that you could potentially be bringing in, is it your style that you have to remain open to re-dealing any of those players before they even play here?
“No. No player that we would have acquired or are in the process of acquiring at this point was acquired to be moved elsewhere. Now, having said that, I’ve always said from the very beginning, there are no such things as untouchables. But there are, ‘Boy, I can’t imagine what that would look like.’ And we’ve got a lot of, I can’t imagine what that would look like on this roster right now.”

Did anybody call you and make an offer for the number one pick?
“Yeah, people did. Yeah, which I thought was kind of fun. When you gauge that pick’s worth by the offers that are made, it’s pretty staggering. So yeah, I mean there were offers made. None of them were even remotely interesting because you’re talking about a player of this magnitude. But yeah, there were people who showed interest.”

When we met you at your press conference, you said something like this is a job you wanted, this is a good fit and things like that. Aside from adding Zion today, are there things that you learned in the last few weeks that maybe this is better than you thought?
“Yeah. So I mean, winning the lottery was one of those moments where you go, okay, maybe a big part of our future is taken care of now. And so you have a comfort level that comes from that. So you just go on about your business. And I would say that literally every day that we were going through the process of working on all of our deal flow and getting ready for the draft, I was more and more grateful to have made the decision to come here. My wife has been more and more grateful to have made the decision to come here. Everything about Mrs. Benson and the commitment she made to us sitting in that room that day, she’s delivered upon, and then some. I don’t think either one of us knew how deep this could really go, in terms of our ability to impact the entire organization. And I think she’s been even more open-minded than I ever could have hoped to really investing in a championship caliber nucleus. And now we have to start to build that kind of winning habit eventually.”

Just a quick question about Alvin (Gentry), you’ve extended him. How important was that, to get that done now?
“Yeah, very. And frankly, we would have done it earlier. I didn’t want it to be something that was lost in some of the other things that were going on. And I think if we hadn’t done it when we did, it would have just sort of been caught up in the din of Zion. So we wanted to do it at a time when people recognized it was a unique situation. But that heading into this moment, there’s never going to be any question of what we are. Stylistically, what happened tonight, is all about Alvin Gentry and his system. And the fact that we know what it looks like to win at the highest level with Alvin. And we went to the conference playing a system that nobody else played at the time. We know how to build to that system. So the synergies that exist there I think are really powerful. Not picking up the option was never in the cards. It was just a matter of when.”

The G League franchise started this year. How has that synergized – is that part of the plan? Would it have been different if there was not a G League franchise starting this year?
“Probably not. If we’re able to complete all of the transactions and we end up with the people we think we’re going to end up with, we would have done that with or without I think. What the G League situation gives us is incredible bandwidth to develop players there in the same manner culturally that we will here. All of the coaching staff there will be with us throughout all of the preseason leading up and everything. They’ll be part of our coaching staff. We’ll be sending workout coaches and skills development coaches that were going to call “two-way” coaches. Anytime we send a player the two-way coach will go down with the player. And when the player comes back, the two-way coach will come back. So again, Mrs. Benson’s investing this in every way. We didn’t need to have a G League team to want to do what we did tonight. The G League team makes us feel more confident that we’ll be successful raising however many young players we bring through the system.”

Did you order chicken fingers at Commander’s (Palace)?
“(Laughter). It was an untrue statement. I believe he ordered shrimp. But yeah, for me personally, Commanders was something that was a big deal as you know. So doing the lunch there was a pretty powerful thing for me. I was really grateful we got to do it. His younger brother did chicken tenders basically, which I believe are on the kid’s meal. And to be honest, Noah was on to something, because the vast majority of everybody at the table went, ‘That looks pretty good.’ So apparently they do that well over there.”