There may not be a team with more “untouchable” players than the New Orleans Pelicans. In fact, the front office hit four rookie home runs last summer and it is hard to see Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones, or Jose Alvarado being traded anytime soon. However, rookie coach Willie Green is without a doubt the most important newcomer to the city this season.
Green was emotional after his former team knocked the Pelicans out of the NBA Playoffs. The Phoenix Suns had to work to get past New Orleans. It went past what Green was drawing on the clipboard. He “coached from a place of love” all season, even though a 1-12 start, his team consistently and proudly battled back into contention.
Green said of looking back on the year, “I’ve grown a lot. I’ve learned a lot and made a ton of mistakes along the way. But I’m blessed and fortunate that we have people that allow room for mistakes. We just kept working at it together. Nobody passed judgment on each other. We just stayed at it, stayed working.”
Green proved he can navigate a season full of adversities and adjustments. He doled out minutes early on to find who he could lean on late in the season. He gave veterans leeway to lead as they saw fit while giving the younger players guidance. Jaxson Hayes even credited Green for helping make things make sense as his third coach in three seasons.
Green aced the man-management part of the job while developing his x’s and O’s schemes. Getting Hayes into the starting lineup might have saved the season. Green then kept Hayes engaged while giving him fewer minutes in the playoffs.
Those changes opened up the offense for Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. Not caring about contract or draft status allowed for Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado to emerge as key contributors and show a national audience this team’s true potential.
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Green showed that same rotational balance with Trey Murphy III and Garrett Temple. Murphy III spent time in with the Birmingham Squadron before helping push Temple into a player-coach role at the end of the year. Both embraced the situation because of the way Green approached them.
“He was very supportive,” Murphy said. “He’s the same person every single day.”
Now Green is back in the lab getting ready for next season. The Pelicans will finally go into training camp with some continuity throughout the coaching staff and roster. Willie Green inherited a near-broken roster and wound up winning two playoff games even though he still has yet to coach Zion Williamson in a game.
David Griffin revealed Green had some hard conversations with the front office before taking the position. Green wanted Griffin to understand his approach to the locker room as much as anything. There were and still are some non-negotiables but there is an in-house feeling the best is yet to come. After suffering through the abrasive yet short Stan Van Gundy era, most fans support a lifetime contract to spearhead a championship future.
Quite simply, Green goes into the offseason the way he came into the job: As one of the most respected men in basketball. He coaches as he played, and his “You Gotta Fight” speech inspired the whole city. His composure through it all should have earned him some Coach of the Year votes.
Green wasted no time changing the culture of the New Orleans Pelicans. As Chris Paul said after Game 6, “You tell me something bad about Willie Green, then you’re telling me about yourself.”
Alvarado went even further than just the culture of a basketball team. He said of Green, “He’s my coach of the year…He changed my life.”
A coach can receive no greater compliment from a player. That says everything about how much getting the coaching job right was for the New Orleans Pelicans going forward. Willie Green is worth all the cash money being paid to former coaches, plus his salary. Just look at the smiles of everyone in the building.