In the cascading deluge of breaking news roiling the NBA on Wednesday, don't miss a significant reality suddenly under the spotlight in New Orleans: The person general manager David Griffin hires as the next head coach to replace Stan Van Gundy will impact multiple futures -- that of Zion Williamson and therefore the league itself, that of the Pelicans long-term hopes and, perhaps most of all, that of Griffin himself.
Griffin, the former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager, is a well-liked and well-respected executive with an often-promising track record to pad his resume, and an NBA championship that surely helped him land the same role in New Orleans. He also was instrumental, before LeBron James returned from Miami and revitalized the Cavaliers, in convincing Kyrie Irving to stick around despite his doubts almost a decade ago about Cleveland as an organization.
But the disaster that is the mutual parting announced Wednesday between the Pelicans and Van Gundy -- after just a single season at the helm of one of the league's most promising and disappointing teams -- isn't just about Van Gundy's shortcomings as a coach. It also sets a stark question surrounding Griffin's own skill, and the fact New Orleans has entrusted him with this rare Zion-infused window of hope and opportunity.
Entering the season, the Pelicans were a team worthy of real optimism. Williamson was entering his second professional season, and this one came with the promise of the rising superstar being consistently healthy. Brandon Ingram had already made large strides toward a lower-key level of greatness. Other young players added nice depth with high-ceiling hopes. Veteran JJ Redick, before his ugly falling out with Griffin, seemed like a nice addition.
With Van Gundy at the helm, perhaps New Orleans could bridge the gulf between Zion's hype and promise and some kind of actual playoff return on all that hope. Or so the thinking must have gone in New Orleans, despite a hefty sample size in Detroit from 2014-2018 that maybe Stan wasn't the guy.
Which, it turned out, he was not.
Redick became so disillusioned he publicly feuded with Griffin, demanded his trade, and called the organization and his GM dishonest. The defense regressed, despite Van Gundy's nominal status as a defensive expert. And Zion, on a trip to New York City, marveled openly about what it would be like to play for the Knicks.
Meanwhile, out in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks posed a compelling look at an alternative universe, one where Griffin had hired the proper coach and reaped the benefits.