30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Pelicans' hopes riding on Zion Williamson's health

With Zion Williamson healthy, the Pelicans look primed to compete in a tough Western Conference. But can they count on their star forward?

Until Zion Williamson turns in a full season, the specter of his health looms large over the Pelicans’ hopes in 2023-24.

Key addition

  • G Jordan Hawkins (draft)

Key subtraction

  • C Jaxson Hayes

Last season

Zion Williamson couldn’t make it through the season. That’s your recap of the 2022-23 Pelicans right there. The fragile franchise player once again saw his body betray him and the Pelicans paid the price for it, failing to reach the playoffs after — no joke – leading the entire Western Conference two months into the season. That’s a regression of astonishing proportions.

Williamson played just 29 games before his season was a wrap. A bad hammy suffered on January 2 was the latest physical issue and Williamson missed the final 45 games. He has played just 114 of a potential 328 regular-season games across four years. Without him, the Pelicans died a slow death, finally collapsing during the Western Conference AT&T Play-In Tournament. It didn’t help that Brandon Ingram missed almost half the season as well. The positive signs were few: Trey Murphy III showed he was more than just a 3-point shooter and CJ McCollum proved reliable, steady and consistent.

But a team built around Zion couldn’t handle life without him, once again.

Summer summary

The best summer news from New Orleans was Williamson pledging to handle his business a little better. Meaning, taking care of his body through dieting and conditioning in an effort to reduce the chances of injury. Yes, the Pelicans have heard this before. But after so many premature season endings, will it finally register?

Williamson called himself “a hooper” and said being in street clothes was not fun. OK then. The Pelicans are hoping that seeing “less” of Williamson — weight-wise — will equate to seeing more of him next season.

Rather than make wholesale or drastic changes to the rotation, Pelicans GM David Griffin decided to run it back, hopefully with a healthier Williamson this time. There were summer rumblings, none substantiated of course, that New Orleans entertained the thought of trading Williamson for a haul. Was this leaked to send a message? At some point, patience has its limits. The Pelicans gave Williamson a rookie max contract two summers ago in spite of his issues, so there’s much at stake for him and the franchise.

With their first-round pick, the Pelicans took Jordan Hawkins, star of Connecticut’s national championship team. It’s the second year in a row the Pelicans drafted a big guard. Dyson Daniels struggled as a rookie in 2022-23 … and he just got more competition.

Sam Mitchell thinks Zion Williamson may have figured out how to take care of himself, which means the best could still be coming.

And if you’re young and don’t show much promise once it’s time for your team to make a financial decision on your future, you get cut or traded or simply allowed to leave. Such was the case with Hayes (No. 8 overall, 2019), who had plenty of chances to make a name for himself, and money to go with it, but failed in New Orleans. His minutes per game last season dwindled to 13, fewest of his young career. It didn’t help that off-the-court issues haunted him as well. He signed with the Lakers in free agency in the offseason.

With a core of young players and three respectable veterans in Ingram, McCollum and Williamson, the Pelicans chose to maintain the status quo for one more season. Next summer might prove more eventful if the 2023-24 results are more of the same. And if that’s the case, maybe the Pelicans begin to seriously question their relationship with Williamson.

Up next: Houston Rockets | Previously: Dallas Mavericks

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

* * *

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.