The New Orleans Pelicans are on the verge of one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. It may seem like hyperbole, but after two disappointing seasons to begin Zion Williamson’s career, the pressure is on to finally place a winning team around one of the most dominant young talents in the league.
Considering New Orleans’ history with disgruntled superstars, the last thing this franchise needs is another year of Williamson’s team failing to live up to expectations.
The Pelicans plan on beginning this process by hiring Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green as their next head coach in the near future, per league sources. After firing head coaches in each of the last two offseasons, VP of basketball operations David Griffin hopes Green can be the right voice to guide a young team going into next season with playoff expectations.
Even if Green ends up having a tremendous influence on this team, there won’t be a major improvement on last year’s 31-41 record without some serious upgrades to the roster in a few important places.
With that in mind, The Athletic’s Pelicans beat writer, Will Guillory, teamed up with draft expert Sam Vecenie to outline what New Orleans’ summer may end up looking like. Guillory is responsible for the first two sections, on the Pelicans’ immediate goals and the roster profile around Williamson. Vecenie broke down New Orleans’ salary-cap situation, free-agent options and profiled seven potential selections with the No. 10 pick in the NBA Draft.
What goals are the Pelicans trying to achieve this offseason?
They’ve (almost) locked down who will be the head coach next season, a crucial step in this process. The Green deal may not be done yet, but the expectation is he’ll be able to step in and be a much more influential presence in the locker room, as a former player with championship experience during his brief tenure as an assistant coach.
Green is known for developing strong relationships with players, and he’s played a crucial part in the Suns’ transformation into one of the most consistent defensive units around the league this season. With all the instability New Orleans has dealt with in the coaching ranks recently, finding someone who can hold that seat down and execute their vision over the long term would go a long way in making stars like Zion and Brandon Ingram feel a bit more comfortable with their situation.
As far as on-court improvements, the Pelicans need a few more 3-point shooting threats surrounding the stars on the team, and at least one more defensive-minded presence on the perimeter to put more pressure on opposing guards. The Pels were a bottom-five 3-point-shooting team last year despite having the most dominant paint scorer in the entire league. That has to improve immediately.
There were some defensive improvements shown during the second half of the season, but there has to be much more buy-in on that end from Williamson and Ingram. If this team is going to play defense at a high enough level to compete in the playoffs, it has to start with the best players on the team bringing consistent effort and mental focus on a nightly basis.