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Newly acquired Murray pledges to push Williamson, Pelicans to higher level

Dejounte Murray Atlanta Hawks Zion Williamson New Orleans Pelicans Dejounte Murray and Zion Williamson - Getty Images

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Dejounte Murray took no offense to being traded after each of his two best seasons in the NBA.

Rather, the 27-year-old point guard says he's gratified by the opportunity to join a team that made the 2024 playoffs and is headlined by Zion Williamson — who showed up Tuesday for Murray's introductory news conference at the New Orleans Pelicans' headquarters.

Murray figures his future in New Orleans will be determined more by team results than by how he performs individually — and he can accept that.

“It's a business and I stay out of when it comes to the front office," Murray said. "You've got to realize, in the NBA, you have to win. It's not on one player. You always have to do what's best for your team and sometimes those are hard things and I understand.”

Murray's main goal is “working hard and being a great person,” he said. “That's the same thing I try to tell young guys coming into the league — control what you can control.”

Murray was an All-Star during the 2021-22 season, when he averaged 21.1 rebounds, 9.2 assists and two steals per game for San Antonio. That wound up being his last season with the Spurs, who'd selected him 29th overall out of Washington in the 2016 NBA draft.

San Antonio dealt Murray to Atlanta, where last season he averaged a career-high 22.5 points per game. Now, for the second time in three years, he has been traded again.

“San Antonio was San Antonio, and Atlanta was Atlanta,” Murray said. “I'm in New Orleans as a Pelican and I'm excited for that — and that's all that matters.

“I understand my role. I’m a basketball player. I’m not a GM,” Murray said. “I want to continue to grow as man and a father and basketball player. ... I fit in perfect and I think it’s going to be a smooth transition.”

Murray said the Pelicans were "already a great team.”

New Orleans finished the past regular season seventh in the Western Conference, but it fell to the eighth playoff seed after losing a play-in tournament game to the Los Angeles Lakers. Williamson suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in that game, and New Orleans was swept by top-seeded Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs.

“They won 49 games and going to the playoffs, that speaks for itself,” Murray said.

Murray also believes he'll help Williamson grow as a pro — and vice versa.

“That’s our superstar and I’m excited to push him," Murray said, nodding toward a smiling Williamson, who took a front-row seat across from the dais where Murray sat for his introduction.

“I told him I’m going to push him,” Murray continued. "If I see something I think he can be better at, if he sees something to me, we’re going to be open to that. ... I’m excited to push him to the next level because there are a bunch of levels he can reach.”

Pelicans basketball operations chief David Griffin and coach Willie Green both said they've been monitoring Murray's career and seized upon the opportunity to bring him in — even though that meant giving up players they liked, including veteran big man Larry Nance Jr. and 2022 first-round draft choice Dyson Daniels. New Orleans also sent two future first-round draft choices to the Hawks, as well as 2022 second-round pick EJ Liddell and veteran center Cody Zeller.

“When talked about where are the opportunities for us to improve, the vast majority of those questions ended with one answer, and it was Dejounte Murray,” Griffin said, emphasizing that he viewed Murray as a “two-way closer" with a knack for making winning plays at both ends of the court in a game's late stages.

Murray's arrival also gives the Pelicans a true starting point guard — something they lacked last season when CJ McCollum, a career shooting guard, took over the point guard spot in New Orleans' starting lineup.

Griffin said the Pelicans tried to acquire Murray before least season's trade deadline and were encouraged this offseason to try again when they met with agent Rich Paul at a Klutch Sports pro day for draft prospects in Los Angeles.

Griffin said Paul told him, “You really need to go try to get Dejounte Murray.”

And when Paul "shared with us the excitement that Dejounte had for our situation, it was really an eye-opening thing,” Griffin said. “He's hungry to win. He's hungry to win in New Orleans. He's hungry to win with Zion, with Brandon (Ingram), with CJ. He's hungry to be part of this family and I think that's going to resonate throughout the time that he's here.”