Head coach Willie Green says New Orleans Pelicans ‘really close to taking the next step’

The New Orleans Pelicans had a rough season, but their head coach says they’re close to taking the next step.

New Orleans Pelicans head coach Willie Green says the team is really close to taking the next step and that they’re in a position to compete for an NBA championship.

3:08 p.m.

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    ESPN’s Andrew Lopez

METAIRIE, Louisiana — The Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green was the solution when the New Orleans Pelicans were looking for a new head coach.

Green, who served as the Suns’ primary assistant during their unlikely run to the NBA Finals, is now focusing on finding success in New Orleans, and he doesn’t believe the Pelicans are too far away.

Green remarked during his inaugural press conference on Tuesday morning, “This is a scenario that reminds me a lot of Phoenix.”

“Players with exceptional skill. The same goes for the employees. Characteristics are strong. People who like coming to work. I’d want to get together. We’re on the verge of making the next move. That, I think, will be our aim and attitude heading into next season. That is what distinguishes us as a sleeping giant. We have two young All-Stars on our roster. Putting a lot of skill around those players and making this squad go.”

Green’s task in New Orleans will include getting the best out of the two young All-Stars on the court, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.

“Zion has a unique ability,” Green remarked. “Quick. Fast. Athleticism. He has the ability to play-make. On the basketball court, he is a force to be reckoned with. As I gather with our team and continue to watch movies, I realize that with him, the sky is the limit. It is, in fact. That’s what piques my interest. That, I’m sure, is what thrills us. He’s a player who can do about everything on the basketball court.”

It’s up to Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin, who has previously referred to the club as a sleeping monster, to put the proper pieces in place for Green to surround Williamson and Ingram.

Griffin, like Green, alluded to his time in Phoenix while discussing the possibility of what New Orleans may become. Griffin, who played with the Suns for 17 years from 1993 to 2010, knows how important it is to bring in the proper leadership on the bench and on the court for a young squad.

After serving as an interim coach for the last 61 games of the previous season, the Suns promoted Mike D’Antoni to full-time head coach before the start of the 2004-05 season. Phoenix won an average of 58 games over the following four seasons after acquiring 30-year-old point player Steve Nash, and made two visits to the Western Conference Finals.

“What we hope to be able to do in the coming weeks, in the offseason, and in the coming years is build a sustainable winner that’s rooted in that gratitude and joy led by Willie Green and the players that we’re able to bring to the floor that can represent Steve Nash, that leadership voice, and that shooting we need to put around our great young stars,” Griffin said. “We’re on our way there.”

According to sources, the Pelicans could make a similar splash in free agency this season after clearing cap space Monday with a trade that sent Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams, and multiple picks (including the No. 10 pick in Thursday’s draft) to Memphis in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas and two draft picks.

Green, the league’s third-youngest head coach, will have to make whatever players Griffin and the Pelicans’ front office hand him work together.

Green, who turns 40 on Wednesday, added, “When I think about coaching, the greatest coaches are not the X’s and O’s.” “Anyone can do it.” The greatest coaches are those that you know are concerned about your well-being. Teachers who are the finest. Interacting with gamers is no different from connecting with people in general. You soon discover that you have a lot more in common than you think.

“That’s how I look at basketball and how I approach it. When people feel you care about them, it’s simpler to encourage them to achieve their full potential. That is my or our method of interacting with players.”

Green picked up on this mentality from Suns coach Monty Williams.

Despite the fact that Williams did not appear in any games during the 2003-04 season, he was a teammate of Green’s during Green’s first season with Philadelphia. Williams then became the head coach of the New Orleans Hornets, where he coached Green in the 2010-11 season.

“Monty is everything to me,” Green remarked. “When he found out that I had an interview in New Orleans, he not only forced me to attend, but he also guided me through the process. He was quite thorough in his procedures for assisting me. I’m glad to have the opportunity to learn from a guy like Monty, a coach like Monty, and a brother like Monty.”

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