It seems like last season just ended. In fact, when the New Orleans Pelicans tip-off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, it will have been just four months and 19 days since the last time they took the court.
A lot has happened in that time.
- Head coach Stan Van Gundy was fired after a 31-41 season, and was replaced by Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green.
- Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe were traded as part of a three-team deal for Memphis center Jonas Valanciunas and Charlotte guard Devonte’ Graham.
- The Pelicans drafted Virginia sharpshooter Trey Murphy III and the SEC Player of the Year, Alabama’s Herbert Jones.
- Lonzo Ball was sent to Chicago in exchange for guards Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple.
- The Pelicans’ Summer League team went 5-0 in Las Vegas.
- Brandon Ingram and Jaxson Hayes got bigger.
…and, somewhere during that time Zion Williamson broke a bone in his foot.
With all of that out of the way, the Pelicans enter the third year of the Williamson era.
The first two years have produced, shall we say, mixed results.
The Pelicans have gone 61-83 over those seasons, and pandemic or no pandemic, that’s a disappointing record to say the least as New Orleans failed to qualify for the NBA’s expanded playoffs after both campaigns.
The annual rumors about unhappy superstars and front office division have surfaced, and Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin is running out of time to create the “sustainable success” he speaks of so very often.
The talent is there.
Williamson has already proven himself to be a unique figure in the NBA, as the league’s most dominant interior scorer since Shaquille O’Neal was in his prime.
Brandon Ingram has proven to be the jewel of the Anthony Davis trade, making the All-Star team in his first season, and putting himself among the franchise’s top 10 scorers after just 123 games.
Third-year reserves Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes could both push for starter’s minutes this season as well.
Valanciunas is an upgrade offensively from Adams and a fantastic rebounder, but it remains to be seen if he’s the right center to pair with Williamson in the front court.
Graham is one of the top long-range shooters in the league, making better than 37 percent of his shots from distance since 2019. He made a career-high 218 three-pointers during the 2019-20 season. Lonzo Ball led the Pelicans with 172 last season.
The bench is still very young, outside of vets Josh Hart, Temple and Satoransky, but has the potential to be more versatile defensively and certainly more athletic in the open court.
Before the start of every season, coaches, players, and fans are optimistic.
As they should be.
Unfortunately, optimism doesn’t win games. Optimism doesn’t make the playoffs.
The Pelicans have to produce this season. The only acceptable next step for this team is the postseason.
We’ll get out first glimpse of what the Pelicans can be tonight. The bigger question is how quickly will we know who they are.