The New Orleans Pelicans were in a unique position when the NBA season was halted March 11: They weren’t exactly where they wanted to be in the Western Conference playoff race, but things were trending in the right direction. They were also about to compete in a set of potentially valuable games, both standings- and experience-wise.
It’s impossible to predict the fate of the final 18 games New Orleans (28-36. 3.5 games behind eighth-place Memphis) was supposed to play to cap its 82-game schedule, but Executive Vice President of Operations David Griffin noted Thursday that the Pelicans generated many encouraging and positive signs over their first 64 contests. Griffin declined to speculate on the likelihood of whether his team will get back on the court again, but if New Orleans has already reached the conclusion of its 2019-20 campaign, Griffin said he’d deem it a successful season in several ways.
“I would,” Griffin said. “Much less because of the on-court results, and more because of what we’ve been able to do off the court. It’s fairly clear we’ve got really, really good, high-character humans here. The culture has changed a great deal for the better. I think players love being a part of what we’re building.”
New Orleans’ opportunity to play its way into the No. 8 seed was boosted by the fact that there will still two matchups remaining vs. Memphis, as well as a total of five others against San Antonio or Sacramento. One of the Pelicans’ biggest goals back in fall training camp was to claim a playoff berth – JJ Redick publicly and adamantly stated the importance of extending his personal postseason streak to 14 years – but a young team with many inexperienced NBA players also hoped to be involved in high-stakes regular season games in March and April. That was about to take place, including March 21 and 24 games against the Grizzlies, but coronavirus concerns intervened.
“We wanted to play meaningful games coming down the stretch, and I think we very clearly were in a position where we were going to play meaningful games,” Griffin said. “We had seven games scheduled against the teams that were closest to us in the standings. We were certainly going to find out what we had on the floor. In aggregate, we didn’t get to experience what we hoped when the season was called, but off the court, we were more successful than we had any right to be.”
Every member of the New Orleans front office, coaching staff and roster is hopeful that there will be a way to return to the hardwood and claim a ’20 playoff spot, but the future appears to be very bright even if that short-term desire becomes unfeasible. Forward Brandon Ingram made his first All-Star appearance at age 22, while fellow 22-year-old Lonzo Ball also made major strides this season. Zion Williamson, 19, immediately excelled in his 19 games played.
“We have a young group here that is exciting,” Griffin said. “We have a team that is sort of on the precipice of being very good and is just scratching the surface of what we’re capable of. We’re optimistic – if we’re able to restart in any form or fashion – that we’re going to be a team that is one to be reckoned with.
“We’re a team that has shown a great deal of promise. I think there is a lot of optimism that surrounds our team on a lot of levels.”