The Pelicans have reached an agreement in principle to make former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin New Orleans’ new executive vice president of basketball operations, three people familiar with the situation said Friday.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because contract negotiations are ongoing and no announcement has been made.
Griffin will take over for former Pelicans general manger Dell Demps, who was fired in the middle of his ninth season with the club — a few weeks after All-Star Anthony Davis’ trade request in late January.
Griffin’s agreement to join New Orleans, which was first reported by ESPN, puts him at the center of the club’s effort to find the best deal for Davis. Griffin also could decide the fate of Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, who has two years left on his contract.
The 45-year-old Griffin was the Cavaliers’ GM from 2014 to 2017, during which LeBron James returned from Miami to Cleveland and the Cavs won an NBA title. The highlights of his tenure included a trade that brought star power forward Kevin Love to the Cavs. But Griffin’s contract was not renewed after the 2016-17 season and James joined the Los Angele Lakers in free agency a year later. Griffin also worked in the Phoenix Suns’ front office from 1993 until 2009, a stint that overlapped with Gentry’s time as both a Suns assistant and head coach.
Griffin was among six people interviewed by the Pelicans to replace Demps, including interim general manager Danny Ferry, Golden State assistant GM Larry Harris, Brooklyn Nets assistant GM Trajan Langon, Houston Rockets assistant GM Gersson Rosas and interim Washington president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard.
Now Griffin will attempt to transform a franchise that went 33-49 this season and has slightly better than a 25 percent chance of landing a top four pick in the NBA draft lottery on May 14.
Trading Davis also could fetch a high draft choice, if Griffin chooses to go that route.
Gentry has a regular-season record of 145-183 with one playoff appearance last season and one playoff series victory — a sweep of Portland before losing in five games to eventual champion Golden State.
Although the Pelicans struggled this season, Gentry was commended by his players for his professionalism amid difficult circumstances.
“He’s kind of been the guy who has let us grow,” said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who is coming off the best season of his 10-year NBA career. “I know he has for sure let me grow. He’s given me responsibility … and when he saw me succeed in it, he asked for more.
“Sometimes there’s coaches that you kind of feel like they’re holding you back as a player and kind of restrict you, but I feel like he kind of just lets you go and figure it out yourself,” Holiday said earlier this week. “He’s always been like a partner instead of like a dictator, and I feel like for professionals like ourselves and the guys in the locker room, we really respect that.”
Davis, who averaged 25.9 points, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 56 games, made his trade demand with 32 games left in the season and wound up missing 17 of those games, sometimes for rest and at other times was listed as out with back spasms, including for the final seven games.
When he did play, it was rarely for much more than 20 minutes a game.
The Pelicans will have a number of other pressing roster matters as well.
Starting forward Julius Randle and starting point guard Elfrid Payton both will be free agents. Randle is coming off of the best season of his career — averaging 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds. He credited the Pelicans with fostering his development and said he’s open to coming back.
Payton, who is from the New Orleans area, said playing in his hometown exceeded expectations and that he would like to be back. Payton missed much of the season with injuries, but also put together a historically significant string of five straight triple-doubles this spring.