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Transcript: Pelicans VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin discusses Zion Williamson's progress

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New Orleans Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, David Griffin FOX Sports New Orleans Interview December 5, 2019

Everybody wants to know about Zion Williamson, so let’s get an update first on Zion:
It’s fascinating that anybody feels like there’s a different agenda out there in any way, shape, or form relative to Zion. From the very beginning it was put as a six to eight week recovery, and we were six weeks – I think – three days ago. He continues to progress. He’s progressing very well. He feels very good about his process, and eight weeks is several days from now. And if we get outside of that, it will be because he hasn’t met the metrics for return to play that are laid out for him and every player on our team. He will not be treated any differently in terms of the return to play metrics. Now we have been much more cautious with him in terms of how quickly we’ve ramped him up from stage to stage because he’s 19 and he’s still growing and he was 285 pounds when he had the surgery. That’s a different person. That’s a different player. It’s a population of one, so we’re obviously going to treat him differently as we ramp him through the stages. But there’s been absolutely no setback and no other mission afoot than to get him on the court as soon as possible.

What about when people say you have not been transparent enough?
“Well I think the thing, for me, about the transparency is I think many people in our organization would tell you I’m nauseatingly transparent. All you have to do is ask a question; I’ll give you the answer. And I think what’s the most interesting about this is we did a radio interview on ESPN Radio here locally as well, said some very similar things – I don’t know, three weeks ago – when we were actually in Phoenix oddly enough and said very similar things. Nothing’s changed. The timeline has not changed. So when Kristen Ledlow on national TV says that it will be ‘outside the timeline’, what she’s referring to is comments that I’ve made where I have said, ‘If he hits those metrics in seven weeks, fine. If he hits those metrics in ten weeks, fine. We don’t care when that is, but he’s not getting on the court until he proves to us he’s healthy, no matter what he wants to do.’”

When you do get him on the court, do you have anything in mind as far as load management? Are you going to play him in back-to-backs or kind of take it slow to see how his body responds?
“Anytime you come past a ‘return to play’ protocol – which is a term that became really popular with Kawhi Leonard missing as many games as he did – what happens is because you’re post-surgical, you’re going to be treated a slightly different way. So, yes, he very likely will not be asked to take the pounding of back-to-backs initially. There will be a sort of ‘ramp-up’ for him to getting back to where you would call him full-strength, but he’s certainly going to be playing and we’re trying to win basketball games…and quite frankly, we’ve done a horrible job of that. And where we may be failing in terms of the short-term, I’m very confident that we’re succeeding over the breadth of what we’re trying to do, which is build a sustainable winner…and we’re well on our way to that, despite the current record.”

With Zion at the four, Jaxson Hayes at the five, and Brandon Ingram at the three…it looks pretty good down the road, doesn’t it?
“Yeah and I think the thing that’s exciting about this group is JJ (Redick) has taken to his leadership role so well that he’s giving these guys everything they need to know about what it is to be a professional. And if there’s a silver lining to all of the injuries, it’s been the young guys have gotten a chance to compete more and that that young man Brandon Ingram has gotten an opportunity to show he’s ready to take that next jump in his career. So there’s actually been a blessing in some ways with the injuries, but it’s certainly set us back in terms of winning and losing.”

Can you talk about the growth and progression that you’ve seen in Brandon Ingram since Zion has gone down?
“The thing that’s the most exciting about Brandon is he knows he has greatness within him and he’s desperate to get it out. When he went to our coaching staff when he first got to campus and said, ‘Listen, I think I can be great. Do anything you have to do to bring it out of me. I don’t care how you have to coach me. Dog-cuss me if you have to. Show me film. Do whatever you have to do. I want to be great.’ Because he is of that mind and will work as hard as he does, when you’ve got the gifts he has you’re going to be successful and then it’s just a matter of finding what level that is. Fortunately, for our sake, Brandon is finding new levels every night.”

It seems like Brandon Ingram is very comfortable in the South, a region he grew up in.
“There’s no doubt. He very much embraces being a southern kid. He likes to think of himself as a country kid, and this is a pace of life he enjoys. He’s found a family here and a home, and I think he very much looks forward to staying here for a long time.” 

Nobody is happy with the record right now; we know that at 6-15. Injuries have something to do with it, but at the same time. If there aren’t injuries, Jaxson Hayes may not be on the floor. What we’ve seen from the eighth overall pick, I’ve got to congratulate you guys. You get Zion and that’s the ping pong balls, but then you get eight overall and seventeen overall in the draft. You’ve got to feel good about that, especially with what Jaxson’s done.
“We’re excited with what Jaxson’s been able to give us. At the same time, we’re not excited about the fact that they’ve got 52 points with 7:40 to go in the second quarter. We don’t get nearly enough stops, and one of the reasons for that is while Jaxson has been spectacularly positive in a lot of ways, he’s also – you can see him now with the hands on the hips – he’s learning how to actually play at this kind of level minute after minute and to bring it defensively minute after minute. He’s been thrown into a situation that was really unfair to him. You might remember at one time we talked about he might be a redshirt for the season, and now he’s having to play a focal role as a defender on this team. And we are dreadful defensively very often at the moment. A big part of that is because we’re so young and schematically reliant on our center to clean up a lot of messes. When Derrick Favors is healthy, he does that. Jaxson Hayes doesn’t have that nuance yet, and so you see that when he’s in this situation. But, like Brandon (Ingram), Jaxson’s going to do whatever it takes to be successful.”

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