Zion Williamson shoots a free throw during training camp

Seven Pelicans players resume usage of practice facility this week

by Jim Eichenhofer

Roughly half of New Orleans’ 15-player roster is taking advantage of Monday’s official reopening of the team’s practice facility, as the Pelicans try to remain in physical condition and gear up for a potential resumption of the 2019-20 season. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said in a conference call with local media that seven players are using the Ochsner Sports Performance Center’s courts this week for separate, socially-distanced individual workouts.

As many as 11 players remained in the Crescent City following the March 11 suspension of the NBA season, but four of those Pelicans recently returned to what would normally be their offseason home cities, in order to keep working out.

Griffin declined to list the seven players who will be in Metairie and using strict guidelines that govern their practice time, but noted that Zion Williamson (pictured above during 2019 training camp) and Kenrich Williams have both been there recently, to get treatment. Although teams were restricted from using their facilities in general since late March, some exemptions were granted by the NBA, based on the specifics of players’ unique circumstances. Williamson missed the first 44 regular season games of 2019-20, then was on an initial minute restriction before only getting 19 games in; Williams had been poised to return from a back injury that caused him to be sidelined for 27 consecutive games.

Two-plus months since New Orleans played its most recent game (March 8 at Minnesota), there still are few definitive answers regarding the status of the 2019-20 season, due to concerns about COVID-19 and its spread. Reports have circulated that all options remain on the table, with the league not ruling out the possibility that the 82-game season could be completed. New Orleans (28-36) is 3.5 games behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference with 18 games remaining; two of those contests were scheduled to be vs. the Grizzlies.

Asked for his confidence level in a return to basketball, Griffin said, “If we can find a way to a healthy environment – one that our players can embrace and one that public-health officials can get behind – I know it’s the league’s intention to play. Knowing Adam Silver’s group as well as we do, I’m pretty confident that when they put their minds to it, good things tend to happen.”

Recently, there has been a building consensus that regardless of what happens related to the current season, the 2020-21 campaign will start later than originally scheduled, with the possibility of a December tip-off, perhaps on Christmas. Asked for his opinion on an NBA calendar shift – which would also potentially give teams a better opportunity to get fans in the stands at some point next season – Griffin expressed support for the idea.

“We’re in a really unique situation obviously, being partnered with the Saints,” Griffin said of the city’s NFL franchise, also owned by Gayle Benson. “We have a unique appreciation for how football-oriented this town really is until the (NFL) season is over. So from our perspective, I would really embrace us starting later, because quite frankly, that would be our best opportunity to make a foothold in the market, with our fan base being there with us right from the beginning. Football is clearly king – and it’s always going to be (in New Orleans). We understand where that shift could benefit us (and provide less of an overlap with football).”

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