Brian Allee-Walsh

With Zion Williamson, Pelicans rebuild has same feel as Saints’ resurrection in 2006

On the first day of summer, the New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of a season of change, thanks to a 45-year-old team builder named David Griffin and teenage phenom Zion Williamson.

Presto chango!

And just like that, a once moribund NBA franchise has been taken off life support and left breathing on its own, full of life and brimming with promise. Oh, the Pels probably need to learn how to walk under coach Alvin Gentry before being able to run with the big dogs in the Western Conference but watch out when these Baby Birds get their sea legs.

Unquestionably, there will be growing pains. After all, New Orleans didn’t recover overnight. But the possibilities are endless for the city’s NBA franchise thanks to Griffin’s crafty, blockbuster trades with the Lakers and Atlanta Hawks and a winning lottery ball.

The cache of players and draft picks is impressive — three former Lakers (SF Brandon Ingram, PG Lonzo Ball and SG Josh Hart) and three No. 1 picks (Williamson/No. 1, F Jaxson Hayes/No. 8 and G Nickeil Alexander-Walker/No. 17) and a second-round pick (G Marcos Louzada Silva/No. 35).

Again, they are just names on a roster, a bunch of gifted basketball players with individual dreams and aspirations. The quicker they become a team, the quicker they will justify their existence in New Orleans and bring Griffin’s vision to life.

How long it takes, and whether Griffin can accomplish his goal, remains to be seen.

The overnight transformation in the Pels’ franchise is reminiscent of what happened to the Saints in the spring of 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when a new coach (Sean Payton), new quarterback (Drew Brees) and No. 2 overall draft pick Reggie Bush burst on the scene.

It seems like yesterday when the Houston Texans shocked the world and took North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams with the No. 1 overall pick, dropping Bush, the celebrated Southern Cal running back and college football’s top player in 2005, into the Saints lap.

Four NFL seasons later, the Saints earned their first Super Bowl championship.

I’m not suggesting a similar meteoric rise for the Pelicans but they have the makings of a good, young roster with the 18-year-old Williamson paving the way. By the way, Williamson turns 19 on July 6, the same day the trade that sends Anthony Davis to the Lakers becomes official.

To which I say to AD: Goodbye, good luck and good riddance.

He may call it business at the end of the day, doing what he did in late January on the advice of his representatives when he expressed his desire to leave New Orleans. But, in my eyes, the Unibrow quit on a team, a city and its fan base.

He looks much better in a rearview mirror.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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