The Pelicans were vying for the top seed in the Western Conference during the first half of the 2022/23 campaign before injuries to forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram derailed their season, which ended in a play-in tournament loss.
New Orleans didn’t make major changes to its roster this offseason, but head of basketball operations David Griffin said on Tuesday that the team didn’t want to just sit back and hope for better health luck going forward. Instead, the Pelicans proactively explored new strategies to try to keep their players off the injured list.
“What we tried to do this offseason was not sit there and say, ‘Wow, if we could just be healthy, we could be really good,'” Griffin said, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. “Because hope is not a plan. But Mrs. (Gayle) Benson (the Pelicans’ team owner) gave us the financial bandwidth to address this in different ways. We came at it from the medical side. We did some very different things there.”
As Clark has previously reported, New Orleans’ sports and performance team will no longer be led by Aaron Nelson, who was let go this summer. The Pelicans have yet to formally announce the changes made to that team. However, according to Clark, Griffin said on Tuesday that the club has hired a physical therapist and that several players have stayed in town during the offseason to focus on entering the season in the best possible condition.
“I can tell you Zion Williamson has been in our gym more than he has in his entire career in the offseason,” Griffin said. “He has been in New Orleans virtually all offseason, which is different.”
Williamson has spoken this summer about dedicating more time and effort to his conditioning and maintaining healthy eating habits. Griffin’s comments on Tuesday suggested that he noticed a change in the commitment level of the former No. 1 overall pick.
“For us, we have certainly learned over the years what we think works and doesn’t work. But a huge part of that is incumbent on him. A huge part of that is, ‘Is he willing to do what it takes to be successful?’” Griffin said. “I think oftentimes, the people you put around a player are judged for their lack of effectiveness when in reality not everyone is giving the same amount. He has reached a point where he recognizes that and is embracing doing his part.”
As Clark observes, Williamson and Ingram have played just 93 games together since they became teammates in 2019, including only 12 last season. Significantly increasing that number in 2023/24 may be the key to contention for the Pelicans.
“We know we have a group that is talented enough,” Griffin said. “We have a group that has the ability. That has the bones of being a good team. What we also know is we haven’t found a way to put it all together. I think what we need to do is continue to work towards that. And if we get to a point where we’re not going to be able to move forward with the group we have, I feel like we are really blessed from an ownership standpoint. There won’t be an impediment to making us better.”