NBA Rumor: New Orleans Pelicans Turmoil?

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“I don’t know anything about that,” Van Gundy said. “In my mind, I liked coaching Zion. I had a good relationship with him. I had no problem. I think we elevated his platform that we gave him. We put him in different situations, had him handling the ball a lot, playing a lot of point guard. I think we did some good things with him. “If they were unhappy, I didn’t hear about it. Zion was unhappy with us not winning more games, but Zion never expressed to me any of that. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t unhappy, it’s possible that they were unhappy with me and that’s what led to the change.”

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For its part, the franchise is committed to the rapid timeline. They allowed Griffin to pull the plug after handing out two lucrative contracts, paying more than $12 million combined to send Gentry and Van Gundy packing. And now, they’re giving Griffin the flexibility to hire yet another coach. One who wants to work with Williamson, and channel his frustration into passion toward turning the franchise into a winning direction. It shouldn’t be a hard sell. Sources indicate the issue is far more about losing games than anything intrinsically about New Orleans, including the small market footprint.

Almost from the beginning, however, nothing has gone according to plan. Zion Williamson missed much of his first season after a preseason knee injury. The relationship with coach Alvin Gentry, whose contract he had extended upon arrival, almost immediately became rocky. At a November 2019 game in Phoenix, I watched as Griffin left his seat during a timeout, went to the bench and whispered something to trainer Aaron Nelson, who then walked over to Gentry and said something, who then signaled for a substitution. Sources say this was not the only time this happened.

Year 2 didn’t get much better. The same struggles with defense, late-game situations and blown leads that riddled the team under Gentry were just as prominent under Van Gundy, Griffin’s chosen successor. Again, the relationship between coach and exec quickly soured as well. Sources say it was obvious by the end of the year that Gayle Benson had to remove one of them. Meanwhile, former guard J.J. Redick ripped the team on his podcast after feeling he wasn’t dealt with honestly regarding a midseason trade.

For months, sources from all NBA corners have pointed to the Pelicans as a heap of dysfunction. There was a growing unease between Van Gundy and his players, and Van Gundy and the New Orleans front office, which came to a head Wednesday with the veteran coach and organization agreeing to part ways with three years left on his contract. Most of the attention, however, from numerous sources across the league, has centered on Williamson’s family members’ thinly veiled unhappiness with the Pelicans, and whether those feelings seeped into the player’s own views.

During the training camp portion of the NBA’s season restart at Disney last season, Williamson was dealing with a minor leg injury, to the point where it had forced him out of portions of Pelicans practice. Shortly after that, he left the bubble for what both the team and player would only say was an “urgent family medical matter.” Neither the team nor family ever disclosed what the issue was. Two sources with knowledge of Zion’s absence said there was an issue, but questioned the urgency to leave the bubble, which kept him away from the team for about a week.

The Pels made changes to their support staff to fit Williamson’s wishes over the offseason, and he returned in much better physical condition. But for most of this season, certain Williamson family members voiced displeasure with the organization. Among the targets of their criticism was Van Gundy, who they felt was too rigid and demanding as head coach, but also with the organization, which they claim did not live up to what they felt should be the standard for a star like Williamson. Numerous opposing league executives had heard the complaints, and they were confirmed by Pelicans officials.

Zion was not happy with JJ Redick trade

When the Pels traded J.J. Redick to Dallas in March, it not only upset Redick but also is said to have irritated Williamson. Redick had asked to either be traded before the season or to stay in New Orleans all season for family reasons and proceeded to blast the organization and executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin on his podcast after the trade. Redick was a veteran with whom Williamson had grown comfortable in their two seasons together, and the dysfunction Redick accused the Pelicans of harboring is said to have stoked some of Williamson’s own feelings with regards to the direction of the franchise.

After injuring his left shoulder late in the first half, sources say Davis left with Paul in order to undergo an MRI at the nearby Ochsner Medical Center (the injury, as reported by The Athletic on Thursday night, was deemed a muscle contusion and it remains unclear if he’ll play in the All-Star game). According to a source close to Davis, this decision to leave the game early had been relayed in real-time to Demps – but not from Demps to Gentry, whose postgame media scrum was the latest evidence of the frustration this Davis situation has caused.

When asked about hearing boos from the crowd, he initially told reporters, “I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me.” However, he later admitted that getting that type of reception was a surprise for him, even after everything that transpired over the past two weeks. “I’ll always love the fans here. That was definitely awkward. I was like, ‘Boo? OK,’” Davis said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to go out there and play basketball. … It’s life, man. Some people aren’t going to like you.”
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