The New Orleans Pelicans are nearing a deal to hire Willie Green as their new head coach, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez of ESPN. He'll replace Stan Van Gundy, who was fired after just one season with the club.
Green is currently an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns, who are in the middle of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. This is his second season with the Suns and his fifth as a coach overall. He previously worked as an assistant under Steve Kerr with the Golden State Warriors, and helped the team win back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018.
Prior to his coaching days, Green spent over a decade in the league from 2003-2015, and played for five different teams. One of them was New Orleans, back when they were still called the Hornets. While he only spent one season there, it does give him a connection to the franchise.
As an assistant, Green has quickly risen up the ranks, and credits his long and varied career for his ability to relate to players.
"Being in a position where I have experienced a ton," Green told The Athletic in 2019. "I've been a starter. I've come off the bench. There's times where I haven't played at all. So I can relate to what the players are going through. I've also had some really good coaches (as a player), and learned from some really good coaches (as an assistant). Just trying to put all that together is kind of what I bring to the table. I was in their shoes. It's kind of easy to relate to when you've been there before."
On the court, Green's main responsibility has been building the Suns' defense, which finished sixth in the league in defensive rating this season. That figures to be enticing to the Pelicans, who were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season.
The future is bright for the Pelicans with young stars such as Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram already in place. However, the team is coming off a disappointing season in which they went 31-41 and missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Plus, there have been reports that Williamson's family is unhappy with the direction the team is going. So while there are obvious reasons Green would want this job, it would also come with immediate pressure to win.