Spirits dampened as Pelicans start season without Zion
It has been quite an offseason for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Talk about a prolonged win streak!
The arrival of David Griffin presented New Orleans with a proven winner, a man who has been part of outstanding teams and an NBA championship.
Then came the memorable NBA Draft night and Zion Williamson falling into the lap of the Pelicans as the Good Lord looked out for our city and team once again.
A good trade to erase a bad season and bad memory of Anthony Davis brought a sizeable, quantifiable return of talent. Signing JJ Redick, a proven sharpshooter helped. Acquiring Derrick Favors was important.
Then, the preseason arrived and New Orleans won every game it played. In the process, a host of players looked quite good, most notably, Williamson.
The young man-child looked the part of being all man, no child, in a dominant, impressive run of performances.
The stage was set.
Then, Williamson exited stage left, the victim of torn meniscus in his right knee.
The initial thought process was that he would rehab the knee and perhaps miss two to three weeks.
The stoic, startling prognosis stung.
Of course, it is far better to arrest the bad development fully then to kick the can down the road with a temporary fix.
Now, the incredible anticipation and excitement surrounding Williamson will have to wait.
New Orleans has 30 games televised, in some capacity, outside of their local originations this season. That was all about Williamson. Make no mistake about that.
A massive amount of tickets were sold. That was all about Williamson. Make no mistake about that.
The hype machine for the Pelicans was ticking in full. It was hard to turn on television and not hear about Williamson for more than a day or two.
He is that type of person and that type of freakish talent.
The concern is his long-term health.
At Duke, he blew a shoe and flew the coup for a few weeks with a knee problem. He was shut down in the Summer League after just one game with health concerns, though cautionary.
Now, the other knee is an issue.
Social media exploded about Williamson perhaps having chronic health problems, with the ominous name of Greg Oden appearing frequently as a comparison.
That is a dreaded thought and prognosis. I am here to strongly encourage others to perish that thought process.
Of course, I have no way of knowing if Williamson will overcome this injury and remain healthy for a long period of time but he is a young man of character who burns to succeed.
The naysayers will point to his body type as a load to carry on his knees and ankles.
Still, it is unfair to say that he may incur injuries regularly.
Now, the Pelicans must mitigate the damage in the very tough Western conference.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of young talent on hand, led by the veteran presence of Jrue Holiday, Favors and Redick.
Brandon Ingram can get his shot on just about anyone in the league and he can score.
Lonzo Ball can run the floor, sees the floor well and can distribute the ball with the best of them. If he can improve his shooting just a bit, he can be a truly outstanding player.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a long, intriguing player who is confident, can distribute the ball and can score it. Frank Jackson is healthy and is a very good athlete. If his shot improves, he can be a huge asset.
Josh Hart is a solid option off the bench with solid experience.
Jahlil Okafor provides size and a low-post game off the bench at center while Kenrich Williams proved he can play in the league a year ago.
E’Twaun Moore is a good scoring option off the bench.
Nicolo Melli is a big body and a proven talent at the international level. Josh Gray has the ability to contribute as well. Zylon Cheatham is a good athlete.
Jaxson Hayes can run the floor with any big man in the league. He is a superb athlete who can block and affect shots as well as he grows into his body and develops an offensive game.
The trick for Alvin Gentry will be finding a solid nine or ten-man rotation. He truly has 12 players who can play and contribute on a nightly basis and two or three others who could do the job, if called upon as well.
The suspicion is that early on, Gentry will use a lot of different combinations while searching for chemistry among his capable roster. It is the deepest roster New Orleans has had since the franchise relocated here from Charlotte. It may well be the deepest roster Gentry has ever had in his NBA career.
He will not be able to keep everyone happy. Everyone wants minutes. It will all sort itself out.
Regardless of who plays, look for this team to play at a breakneck pace, getting up and down the floor perhaps faster than any other team in the league and ranking among the top scoring teams I the league.
The challenge will be on the opposite end of the floor with Holiday hopefully setting the example with his superb effort and execution defensively.
Meanwhile, the wait for Zion is on.
The Pelicans have their prime example to lean on in their brethren, the New Orleans Saints.
The NFL squad had to do without Drew Brees for over a month. The Pelicans will do the same with Williamson.
The Saints handled it in fabulous fashion.
While on one expects the Pelicans to live up to that lofty status, there is still reason for optimism that this team will compete well without its young lion.
Don’t sell your tickets. Show up at Smoothie King Center. I have the feeling that you are going to like what you see.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…