Interview with David Griffin: New Pelicans General Manager Presents 2019 NBA Playoffs

For an overview of the NBA playoffs, we phoned David Griffin, a former Turner Sports analyst at the NBA, who is Friday executive vice president of basketball operations for the New Orleans pelicans. This interview was conducted one day before the news of this hiring.

"The vast majority of jobs that open up are not attractive because they do not match what I am," Griffin said. "So, if one of those who corresponded with me was available, I would be really happy to continue."

Obviously, pelicans offered this type of work.

Outside of Griffin's future, we have covered his thoughts on the upcoming NBA playoffs, on why he is getting hurt the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz are meeting so early, on how the Golden State Warriors have overcome mental fatigue by exploring the spirit of Kyrie Irving. it's like working with LeBron James and more. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

SB Nation: From your point of view, working for more than two decades in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers, how would you describe life on the front lines right now?

David Griffin: What happens during an NBA season is a break before the playoffs when you know you're a playoff team. If the success mark of your franchise is "we are competing for the championships", the march to the playoffs is totally different, much heavier. People who start the series emotionally eliminate a real emotion because they just want us to hurry to come here.

For teams that win a championship is not a goal to achieve, teams that have done well in their qualifying playoffs, it's exciting in the future. You pay attention to what others are doing, which is very fun.

And that just becomes the NBA equivalent of March Madness for teams trying to be in the playoffs because every game counts a lot. It's funny. And it's especially fun when you have a young team and you see it growing in the cauldron that matches your expectations. It's so much fun to see the guys react to the pressure, and it's a big step you have to see. You must watch this and know that your young children can do it. So from the front office point of view, it's exciting because you learn a lot about what really concerns you.

Once you're in the playoffs, oh my god, you hang on to everything. Every call is bad and goes against you. Any decision made by a person beyond your control is incredibly difficult to accept. The league suspends someone. The league imposes a fine on someone. Everything becomes so amplified in terms of meaning to you. It's a very revealing process in itself.

And I think that people tend – when I talk about people, I mean fans and casual basketball fans – to focus so much on the results and the results that they do not focus on that that you learn about your team and the orientation of your team in the process of competition.

SB: How interested are you in working in the NBA?

Editor's Note: This question was asked before Griffin was named Executive Vice President of Pelicans Basketball Operations.

DG: In the good environment, with the good owner, I am very interested.

I really feel that these jobs, for someone like me, basically consist of finding your landlord. And most situations are recruited themselves. When you build a team and build it well, it recruits itself. I have the impression that, in my situation, my career is somehow recruited. I am really thankful that for every job that begins, someone write me that I am a candidate.

But the vast majority of jobs that open up are not attractive because they do not match what I am. So, if an available person suits me, I would be very happy to continue.

SB: What does it mean to be the GM of a team that employs James Lebron?

DG: The presence of a LeBron James is fantastic because it raises issues for everyone. For someone who does what I do, if you are engrossed in victories and championships, you are much closer to one's on your alignment. From this point of view, the level of excitement increases because you know that you are really playing for something.

It also means that the pressure is increasing because the failure is my fault. It's not his. LeBron is someone who wants to hear what he needs to hear because he is consumed by victory. And it's a great situation, when your best player will be your best worker, it's a very important problem.

SB: How important is it when a truly talented team – and you've worked in a few – is not as flexible as possible throughout the regular season.

DG: So, the teams that are struggling to make their way in the regular season compared to expectations?

SB: Right. Throughout your career with the Cavs, everyone was waiting for you to go in the final, and there would be slippages in the regular season. How much does something like that matter?

DG: It is extremely important that you consider competing for a championship, because to win, you have to create good habits.

When you do not do it, you simply try to get to the finish line, as has been Golden State this year, as an example. They competed in four consecutive finals, winning three out of four, meaning that by definition they had the quickest turnaround of any team in the league as they made three saves. This is the team that will wear the most over the seasons and therefore, most of the time, it does not improve. They do not improve in the areas that really matter.

So staying in the playoffs as a very demanding team is not a comfortable thing for the front office because you want to see some improvement in some areas. Even if you lose games, it does not matter. Sometimes you can participate in a match – and I've seen some of the best coaches in our league do that – [and say]Listen, we're going to work on what the Milwaukee defense might look like. So today we are going to collapse in front of a non-shooter and we are going to do X, Y, Z. "

And if you try this for a week of games and you lose them all, you can still get better out of this.

SB: It looks like what the Houston Rockets did last year. They were not losers, but their defensive principles were set to defeat a team.

DG: Yes, correct And I think that if you are invested in these kinds of things, you have the potential to improve even if you do not win games.

Unfortunately, with teams like Golden State and as we were in Cleveland, it's so obvious that you'll go as far as you want for your last game. Many people are on the health side and I was part of those franchises. We were very wrong about health, because if we could bring our top three players to the finish line in good health and energy, we would have a chance to win because we were so talented . Fully locked and loaded, we were really, really good.

I consider Golden State as one of these teams now. To a lesser extent, I think Boston had a hard time with that, really hard. They have so much talent that I think they have two problems: lack of acceptance of roles and motivation. "Look, we're in the playoffs, let's go, be healthy and prove how good we are." And then, Marcus Smart is hurt.

So, there are things that are out of your control, but I think their overall approach has been negatively affected by the fact that they are quite young from the leadership point of view. And they just want to get to the party that mattered.

SB: You spent years with the Phoenix Suns at a time when people were saying that their style of play could not succeed in the playoffs. Do you see a parallel with that, where people are skeptical about a system or a team that has had a lot of success in the regular season, but they think they can not do it in the playoffs? I think of someone like Utah.

DG: Utah, Denver and even Houston, to a lesser extent. It's no coincidence that Mike D'Antoni is the head coach in Houston and he was also in Phoenix. He is really brilliant. He is very experimental. And he has an intellectual curiosity. So he and [general manager Daryl Morey] are a perfect combination with the perfect player in James Harden.

They literally reversed the basketball game to "beat possession by possession". And if James has the ball for 22 seconds at the shot clock, the shot he has will be more effective than the shot you've got. "

And they are right. They will take a step back three with very few passes involved, or go to the free throw line with very few passes involved. They will put you in the bonus and they will just beat you by the maths. And people look at it and say, "It's okay, but in series, the longer the season, the more difficult it is for James to bear the burden." It's a system that is blamed for everything he is asked.

But the two that distinguish me the most are Utah and Denver, and that's because they zap, while everyone zigs. They play two big traditional players a very large number of minutes of rotation, which is really important.

People say it can not work for Denver because their best playmaker is their center. In Utah, people think that it can not work because they only have a dominant game designer and they do not have a lot of floor space to shoot around. So, they try to fight you with the defense. So it's a shame they have to play the team they have to play in the first round. [laughs].

SB: Draymond Green said this thing about 16 players versus 82 players. Would you say Utah is a team of 82 games?

DG: Utah are a better team for the playoffs because it does not defend flawlessly over the 82-match period as well as it can in the playoffs. It's a more physical basketball brand that the officials let you play. So I think they're potentially in a better position as a team for the playoffs.

That's why I'm so disappointed as a fan that they have to play against whom they have to play in the first round. If they had a more favorable draw, they could have won two rounds.

SB: What other differences do you notice between the regular season and the playoffs?

DG: Pace. Physical. The best players take you away. That's why, when you have a real MVP candidate, it really comes out in the playoffs, and that's why the award should not be voted on before the playoffs. You can be a player of 82 games and put up huge numbers and not win when it matters most. You do not dictate the result. The best players in this league dictate the results of the playoffs, and you really notice it when you're stuck in a series.

When we played in Indiana when Paul George was there, his last year, every time he touched the ball, I thought he was going to score. It is so well. It was numbing for me. And at that time, I said, "Wow, he's perhaps the most underrated superstar in the league." Because he dictates the outcome when it matters most.

When everyone is at it all, when all game planning is designed to stop them, you really see the translation of greatness. You see the gap between the very good players who were called big before the playoffs, and the big players who are transcendent in the playoffs.

SB: What do you expect from Kyrie Irving in these playoffs, especially now that Marcus Smart should miss a few laps? What are you focusing on every time you watch him play, both now and when you were both in Cleveland?

DG: When he was with us, I looked at whether he was avoiding defensive screens or not. I was really locked into his game maker aspect for others, when he could. Kyrie is an excellent player who has made a transcendent shot in a series and I now hope that in his environment, he will rise to the challenge of being a big winner.

I like the kid. I am a very big fan of Kyrie. And I think he's a very good player, who will be transcendentally good in those playoffs. I think people have not seen him being Kyrie, and what he's capable of, for a long time, because the pressure and heaviness of being the main and central voice of a team is the one that he's not really good at doing, and that took away his energy for what he likes to do. "

When the playoffs start, you'll see Kyrie do what he likes to do, whereas winning is the only thing that matters. I think it will be a killer.

SB: I want to go back to the question I asked earlier about styles about the Suns, but that I would like to pass on to the Milwaukee Bucks. What do you think of this system, especially the defense, and can it run in four playoffs?

DG: The defensive side will result for sure. I think they're on display during the four rounds of scouting and game planning, so you might be able to neutralize them offensively, because their best ball-centric game creator is not a shooter. It's potentially a weak point, because the more good league coaches you watch to play and start planning for the removal of something you do, the more vulnerable you are.

So, in my opinion, Milwaukee is a team that has to put his opponent on the first lap to clear quickly and leave less on the tape.

I felt exactly the opposite when Cleveland participated in the playoffs last year. I said before the playoffs that Cleveland's biggest threat would come in the first round. Because they had added so many bodies to the trading deadline that they did not know what it would look like. And they almost lost in the first round. They had to play seven games to win. But as they had to play seven games to be galvanized, each subsequent series, until they reached the final, was easier for them to be cohesive.

They needed so many games to find each other. Milwaukee is the opposite. Milwaukee must quickly put people away and leave less evidence on how to keep them.

SB: Is there a series on which you have an eye, whether for a thwarted potential or a match-related plot?

DG: I can tell you that Houston-Utah really attracts me. Not in terms of potential annoyance, but in terms of contrast in styles. These are two of the most stylistically unique teams in our league, and playing with each other is fascinating.

Many people will tell you that it's possible to beat San Antonio in Denver because of his veteran status, Popovich. What a veteran of this Spurs team. As Denver is young. It's a project that I think is really convincing because it's young or old. This is the newest against the graying veterinarian. So that excites me.

The one I'm looking at and that I'm going to "eh, it could be really interesting" is Toronto-Orlando.

SB: I've heard that from a few people now.

DG: Orlando is young, but Clifford is not an inexperienced and terribly young coach. [Nikola] Vucevic is really very talented and competent. Their young children are long and athletic and can defend themselves. They will not be physically overwhelmed. I do not think they beat Toronto, but I think they gave Toronto more than they expected [laughs].

SB: As a person who faced the Warriors in three consecutive games NBA FinalsHow do you feel about this team today, now that you no longer have to compete?

DG: So even when I confronted them, I thought that they were a motor of joy. When they are at their best, Steph [Curry] made a 34 feet three, he makes the shimmy of the shoulder, has the big smile, everyone smiles. Everyone looks at each other on the bench like. "Damn shit, did you see what he just did?" They work in joy.

This group worked on the drama. They were galvanized by the negatives. It's a unique edition of Warriors, and it's because the personal agenda has supplanted the joy. They have so much talent that they can live to tell the story, but I have always believed that the biggest threat of the best teams came from within. I think you have seen it all year with them. They are vulnerable. And they are vulnerable because they are not quite together yet, emotionally. That's what seems to me.

That said, they have so much talent. Kevin Durant is a two-time MVP, dominating the other best player in the world. It's a pretty powerful indication of your talent. He is really good. And because his drama is the drama that everyone was telling about their struggles, he will be Kyrie's seven-foot version, but he will protect the edge.

SB: It sounds terrifying.

DG: He's going to do a show in the playoffs.

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