As the New Orleans Pelicans remain mired in one of the poorest starts to this NBA season, league-wide speculation has only increased about the job security of executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin.
The rumblings began following the Pelicans' 0-3 start (currently a league-worst 1-11 after Wednesday’s loss to OKC), coupled with Griffin's public handling of All-Star forward Zion Williamson's prolonged recovery from offseason foot surgery. New Orleans brass certainly hoped Griffin's tenure would finally lead to a playoff berth, despite its tenuous two years building around Williamson.
Word of a heated exchange between the chief executive and Sacramento Kings associate head coach Alvin Gentry has since circled around the league.
Griffin and Gentry first connected during a shared tenure in Phoenix in the Steve Nash era. Later, as the Pelicans head coach from 2015 to 2020, Gentry played an integral role in helping Griffin land New Orleans' head of basketball operations position in 2019, only for the executive to fire Gentry following just one season.
While New Orleans projected optimism about competing for a postseason berth during the Orlando bubble, Gentry and a large portion of Pelicans staffers were already prepared for the coach's ouster, sources said, as Griffin was widely known to covet Ty Lue, who was the head coach in Cleveland when Griffin served as the general manager for LeBron James' 2016 championship team. Griffin would often tell team and other league officials that he'd given Gentry "all the answers to the test, and he still fails," sources confirmed to B/R.
That expression was first reported in a September article from NOLA.com, which served as the catalyst for Griffin and Gentry's exchange in New Orleans, sources told B/R. After the Kings defeated the Pelicans 113-109 on Oct. 29, Griffin approached Gentry in the bowels of Smoothie King Center to offer a warm hello to his former head coach, yet Gentry brushed off his initial efforts as inauthentic.
From there, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the incident, Griffin denied the findings of the NOLA.com article, particularly his "answers to the test" line, and the notion that he played piano for Williamson during the team's bubble stay in Disney World.
Gentry responded with his own choice words, noting how his eventual replacement, Stan Van Gundy, who was also fired after one season in New Orleans, finished just one game better (31-41) than the Pelicans did under Gentry (30-42) the year he was let go. "You must not have given Stan the answers to the test, either," Gentry shouted at Griffin, according to multiple sources, and the two men had to be separated.
Though Pelican sources say the exchange would have no effect on Griffin's job status, it did become part of the increasing conversation around the league about Griffin's future in New Orleans.
League observers have noted New Orleans' repeated appearances in national television games, that were supposed to feature Williamson, have cast a far larger spotlight on the Pelicans' losing dynamic than otherwise would have existed.
Griffin was on hand Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden with the rest of the NBA flock that attended the Champions Classic, scouting top Duke prospect Paolo Banchero, among others, and Pelicans staffers have proceeded as normal.
But it's difficult to imagine New Orleans' slow start turning around any time soon. In addition to Williamson, All-Star scorer Brandon Ingram has been sidelined for the past six games with a hip contusion.
Head coach Willie Green, the third in Griffin's three seasons in New Orleans, announced on Nov. 1 it will take 2-3 weeks for Williamson's next update in his recovery, let alone a plan to return to game action, sparking concern around the league that Williamson may not see the floor until January.
(Editor's note: This article was updated to correct the date and location of the exchange between Griffin and Gentry, to clarify the exchange’s effect on the discussion of Griffin’s job status, and to adjust the headline to better reflect the article.)
Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.