Boston Celtics v New Orleans Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 26: Pelicans Executive David Griffin looks on before the game against the Boston Celtics on January 26, 2020 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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Transcript: Pelicans David Griffin media availability - July 31, 2020

David Griffin Media Availability – July 31, 2020

Opening Statement:
“Thank you very much for taking the time to listen to me first. I just want to make a statement regarding Zion Williamson. I know there’s a lot of consternation about the fact that he didn’t play more, and I wanted to try to make this make sense to everyone. What happened when we got here was, our performance team had a very clear plan laid out for every member of the team and every member of the team got to go through that plan. That plan included scrimmage minutes that many of the team got to play. Many of our players were held to fifteen minutes or twelve minutes or whatever, not because there’s a fixed minute number, but because there was a fixed approach to how they were going to play the game. Everybody got to do that during the course of the scrimmages. Zion didn’t get that opportunity. Unfortunately because of the situation with his family, he was called away, and it was a very legitimate reason to leave. Unfortunately he’s thirteen days removed from the group in terms of following that plan after not playing basketball for what amounts to four months. So I appreciate the fact that everybody wants him to play forty minutes tomorrow night…I can promise you that he’s not going to. No mistakes were made yesterday relative to how this was handled, other than by me by not coming forward and just expressing this in the clearest way possible. This isn’t complicated. So again, he will not play significant minutes in the next game and he may not in the following game, quite frankly. This is all about the ramp-up time, and he didn’t get the benefit of any of the things that his teammates got for those thirteen days. This is going to take some time, and I think it’s going to take time for him – he mentioned his flow and rhythm – it’s going to take time for him to find that. Again, I just wanted to address that specific issue right off the bat.”

On if Zion Williamson’s minute-restriction is solely a conditioning issue:
“Sure. ‘Conditioning’ I suppose is a word that everybody uses, but it’s really about the ramp-up. It’s about what our performance team was doing from a load-management standpoint for literally every member of our roster. If you go back and look at the box scores from those scrimmages, there was a reason people played the number of minutes they did. He didn’t get the benefit of that, and unfortunately with the nature of this setup with these seeding games our schedule doesn’t allow for us to play five-on-five in between…so the only way we can get him that simulation is during those games. I realize it’s really detrimental to actually doing what we’re attempting to do which is make the playoffs, but if we’re going to have him at full strength coming through these games he has got to go through this process. There is no alternative and there wouldn’t be for any other player.”

On if this same return-to-play protocol would apply to any player on the Pelicans roster or if Zion Williamson’s is different because of his injury in the preseason:
“Literally any player on our roster that went through exactly what he went through would be in the same protocol because they missed all of the ramp-up time. This has nothing to do with him being unique in that way. Now obviously the athlete that he is, the size that he is, the force and torque that he generates changes the nature of the dynamic because it’s him; but it doesn’t change that any player would go through this exact same protocol and the same return-to-play mechanism. And frankly, they have all year. It’s been the same return-to-play mechanism for everybody.”

On if the limited court availability in the bubble will hinder Zion Williamson’s ramp-up process:
“We try to simulate as much of that as we possibly can on the side, as well. He’s doing a lot of extra things that other players aren’t needing to do to try to condense this ramp-up time because he’s very mindful of wanting to help the team, and we appreciate that obviously. I think it’s something that we’re looking at in terms of all of the return-to-play metrics we’ve used all along. There’s several different devices that our trainers use – that Aaron Nelson and his staff use – that tell us where a player is at their peak performance, and then there’s percentages of that. Every player measures the exact same way throughout every day that we’re here, and as those numbers come through we handle players differently. We’re going to continue to build him up as we would anybody else.”

On if the attention and speculation surrounding Zion Williamson’s limited minutes is overwhelming or offensive:
“Personally offensive, no. It makes sense to me that there’s so much attention. Obviously, he’s a phenom. The league office itself takes as much interest in this as the fans do, and I’m grateful, frankly, that the fans take as much interest as they do. What I’m frustrated by is that there has to be a conspiracy theory involved when literally there’s not one thing different that’s being done with him than was done for every player on this roster when we got here, and he missed thirteen days of what those guys got. Now all of the sudden, because the stakes are raised and because unfortunately we were selected for seven national (television) games, we’re supposed to reinvent the wheel. It’s not fair to the kid, so I think on his behalf I’m a little bit frustrated, sure.”

On the team’s practice plan in the two practices prior to the game against Utah, and Zion Williamson’s lack of full participation in those practices:
“The rest of the team was on a timeline that was designed to peak at the right time for the games. They were all on a timeline that he wasn’t a part of, so as I said, he’s having to do a lot of extra work on the side. We can’t change everybody else’s workload to get him ramped up. This was all done well in advance so that we crescendo at the right time, and unfortunately we’re just trying to navigate a very difficult situation for timing. Ordinarily in a situation like that, you’d love to have somebody get to practice with the G League team, by way of example, or parts of your roster that weren’t going to play. We just don’t have that luxury here. Unfortunately it’s the nature of the bubble.”

On if there are any long-term injury concerns with Zion Williamson going forward:
“I think it’s a fair question. No, really, in terms of injury risk. It’s just that he’s a highly unique physical specimen, obviously. Several of them are, by the way. I say this and people act like I’m talking about him like he’s some sort of a freak; it’s not that. Jrue Holiday is similarly an amazing physical specimen. But what Zion is, is wholly and totally unique. So as he grows and matures as a player and evolves physically, he’s going to change radically; so being in front of all of that is important for us. The one thing that I would say relative to him specifically is – and I’ve said it many times – the amount of power and torque he generates is off the charts, relative to any other player that we’ve ever tested. It makes the things that you need to provide him, so that he can compete at the highest level, a little more unique. We’re learning that as we go along, as well.”

On how the Pelicans determine what Zion Williamson’s bursts of minutes look like and when they happen during the game:
“So I think what that ultimately comes down to right now is based on the number of minutes that he is playing. Again, there’s not a fixed number. It’s just (that) the bursts could go for three minutes, they could go for four minutes, they could go for four and a half minutes…however it comes up naturally in the flow of the basketball game. The reason that they’re taking place as they are at the beginning is just that the medical team wants to make sure he’s warm and loose before he gets on the court, because everything that they’re doing is predicated on that. Again, the players have a very clear routine. His routine is to get loose at a certain time, so we don’t want him to get loose and then sit on the side and wait because that just isn’t conducive to him playing his best.”


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