Pelicans Notes: McCollum, Zion, Green, Lineup Change

CJ McCollum has been with the Pelicans for nearly two weeks, but he still hasn’t talked to injured star Zion Williamson, writes Christian Clark of McCollum, who was acquired from the Trail Blazers in a February 8 trade, shared the surprising news Saturday in an interview with TNT.

“He’s a big part of our future, obviously,” McCollum said of Williamson. “We’re looking forward to getting him back. I haven’t had conversations with him directly. I’ve spoken to people close to him. I look forward to sitting down with him sooner than later. I know about as much as you do right now. But I’m going to get to the bottom of it.”

There has been an air of mystery surrounding Williamson ever since the start of training camp. The Pelicans announced on Media Day that he suffered a fracture in his right foot over the summer, but suggested he was expected to be ready for the start of the season. He has encountered repeated setbacks since then and has been working with a personal trainer in Oregon since January.

McCollum, who consulted with Portland’s front office on the trade, said he’s looking forward to playing alongside Williamson, no matter when it happens.

“The way he scores around the basket is exceptional — 60, 65%, essentially,” McCollum said. “He demands double-teams. He gets to the free-throw line. He gets you into the bonus early. And he gets out in transition as well. So it’s a guy who can do a lot of different things with the basketball and changes the game for everyone around him.”

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • The Pelicans made the move for McCollum with the understanding that Williamson may not return this season, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said this week in an appearance on “Get Up!” (hat tip to James Herbert of CBS Sports). Although the team hopes to reach the play-in tournament, the addition of McCollum is targeted toward improving next season.
  • One of the first things Willie Green had to do when he became the Pelicans’ head coach last summer was rebuild the morale of the team, Clark adds in a separate story. Josh Hart, who was sent to Portland in the McCollum trade, said he “hated playing basketball” under former coach Stan Van Gundy last season, but Green quickly turned that around. “Willie (had) all the trust in me to go out there and play my game and play with confidence,” Hart said. “I think that’s the biggest thing that we talked about. It wasn’t just standing in the corner and hoping and praying for the ball.”
  • The Pelicans’ chances of reaching the play-in tournament may depend on the success of a lineup change that Green made in the final game before the All-Star break, per William Guillory of The Athletic. Green inserted Jaxson Hayes into the starting unit in place of Devonte’ Graham, hoping Graham will find his shooting touch as a member of the second unit.
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