2023-24 Kia Season Preview

Q&A: Willie Green talks Pelicans' injuries, Zion update & more

New Orleans' coach believes his team has what it takes to battle through injuries and compete at a high level.

Pelicans coach Willie Green says Zion Williamson is entering training camp in good health.

Imagine a chorus of thousands inside the Smoothie King Center, assembled early this month in anticipation of the New Orleans Pelicans’ 2023-24 season:

“What do we want? Good health!

“When do we want it: Now!”

Then a news alert flashes on the scoreboard above them that forward Trey Murphy III, one of the Pelicans’ brightest and most durable young players last season, had just torn the meniscus in his left knee and would be sidelined for months. Somberly, the fans get up and exit the arena …

Willie Green got slapped with that news while in Chicago earlier this month for the annual NBA coaches meetings. Losing Murphy for surgery and a recovery of 10 to 12 weeks wasn’t as dire as feared, but it is the latest in a series of injuries that have hobbled the Pelicans the past several seasons. Green spoke briefly with NBA.com about that challenge at the start of a new season.

Editor’s Note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited.

NBA.com: Trey Murphy’s injury has to be the last thing you wanted to face, after dealing with Zion Williamson’s repeated setbacks and injuries to Brandon Ingram and others.

GREEN: Tough break, right? Trey Murphy is coming off a fantastic year for us. He was working his tail off in the offseason. We were in the gym preparing, he took a misstep, kind of tweaked his knee. We learned he had a torn meniscus.

Any consolation that he was at the facility, rather than having it happen in some random offseason activity or pick-up game outside team supervision?

With him being at our place, we knew exactly what happened. But at the end of the day, it was still a tough break for Trey, tough news for us. … The positives are that this is not a career-ending injury at all. We were hoping we were going to have him back at some point.

The Pelicans seem overdue for a season of good health. Can you imagine what that would be like, to go 82 games without veering around pylons of significant injuries?

It is challenging, maybe frustrating at times. But we try to shift our focus to what we can control. I try to look at it as much as I can as opportunity. Opportunities for players to step up, opportunities for guys who might not have gotten time, and opportunities overall for our team and our organization.

No team wants to deal with injuries, but we understand it’s a part of it. Hopefully, we can go into the season pretty healthy, obviously minus Trey’s situation. If we do, we can compete with any team in the NBA.

Williamson missed 52 games (he has played only 114 of a possible 308 in his four NBA seasons). Ingram was sidelined for 37. How do those guys look for the start of camp?  

So far, so good.

In your two seasons, the Pelicans have improved from 23rd to 18th, then to 6th defensively (in points allowed per 100 possessions). You have developed players such as Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado and Murphy who have shined at that end. Is the goal still to improve there or are you going to shift to offensive growth? (New Orleans ranked 20th last season.)

We want to take steps in the right direction on both ends. We hang our hats on being a good defensive team first. But we’ll take some steps offensively this season because we hired James Borrego [former Spurs assistant and Hornets head coach] as one of our top assistants. He’ll bring some assured firepower that he’s learned in San Antonio and while coaching in Charlotte. We definitely want to ramp up on the offensive end, but we don’t want to lose our identity in the process.

Three-point shooting is essential to your attack to open space inside for Zion when he’s available and center Jonas Valanciunas. But last season the Pelicans ranked 29th in 3-point attempts (30.1) and 23rd in makes (11.0). How can that get better, especially with Murphy – your second-most prolific shooter from the arc – out at the start?

Other guys have to step up in that department. We know C.J. [McCollum, who led New Orleans in volume, 211 of 543) is more than capable. Brandon, historically, is a good 3-point shooter – he needs to take more. There will be more shots for Naji [Marshall], Herb and Jose. And then we drafted Jordan Hawkins from UConn, who is an elite shooter coming out of college. He may get some minutes when we need shooting on the floor.

* * *

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. 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.