<
>
EXCLUSIVE CONTENT
Get ESPN+

New Pelicans coach Willie Green has one job that rises above all others: Ensure Zion stays in New Orleans for the long haul

play
How will Willie Green fit with the Pelicans? (1:30)

Richard Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins discuss the Pelicans hiring Suns assistant coach Willie Green as their new head coach. (1:30)

Willie Green has a lot of things to accomplish as the new head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. But one task, even if it's mostly unspoken, rises above the others:

To help make sure Zion Williamson wants to stay long term.

Green comes to the team with a reputation of creating deep bonds with star players, which he formed as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors and then the Phoenix Suns. And this connection, between coach and franchise player, is vital; the 21-year-old Williamson is a year away from his contract being extension-eligible and potentially binding him to the Pelicans into his prime.

But it's a relationship that's starting from scratch.

"I haven't met Zion yet but I'm excited to meet him and to talk to him and to get to know him," Green says. "I'm sure there's more to Zion than we all know. And I'm intrigued to get to know him as much as he's willing to open up. That takes time and we have some time. I'll invest and do what we need to do to be authentic. I believe we'll get there."

Williamson's two years in New Orleans have been turbulent. There have been his injuries and the seasons rocked by COVID-19, which are out of anyone's control. But other issues have been just as problematic -- from missing the playoffs, to seeing two coaches fired, to watching respected veteran JJ Redick torch the team's front office publicly for being dishonest.

After firing Stan Van Gundy after just one season, the Pelicans were close to hiring Brooklyn Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn, sources say, before talks suddenly broke down and they had to pivot to Green.

To put it mildly, it hasn't been the type of fertile ground that allows deep roots to grow. It's a challenge team president David Griffin is well aware of, though, which is one of the reasons he executed a wide-ranging trade Tuesday that cleared an extra $20 million in salary cap space that he's expected to use in shopping for a point guard.