On the differences of this NBA season and his takeaways from the first half of the season:“Yeah, I think everybody in our positions around the league is experiencing something unlike anything they've ever seen before. So it almost doesn't matter how long you've been in the league. This is a first-time generational type of situation for everyone. I think it's remarkable what our players have been able to do league-wide in terms of showing up every night under these circumstances. The testing that is required, the grind that these kids are having to go through on a daily basis, I don't think people have nearly enough appreciation for how hard it is just to get through this season, let alone succeed during this season. I think, by and large, we've been building in the right direction, and I'm grateful for that.”
On Aaron Nelson and the outstanding performance the Pelicans training staff has done this season: “Yeah, I think Aaron (Nelson) and his team have done a remarkable job. First, from a COVID perspective - and just to give people some insights - these guys are testing twice a day. On off days, if they want to come in and treat in the morning, they have to take a test that takes 30 minutes to get back into the building. JJ Redick explained it to me as, on my off day, I show up to the building three times because of testing that that's complicated and what happens there. The one thing that's universal that all teams around the league is that Aaron Nelson or the person in his position have to be there every single day, all three times that any player shows up at the building. So you're talking about a group of people that literally will not get a single day off the entire NBA season, and people don't even think for a second about how grueling that would be for people in those positions, because everyone rightly thinks about the player's perspective, and I think that's really important. But Aaron and his staff have been there with those players and coaches every day, every step of the way. When this All-Star break starts, Aaron's going to have to be the one, making sure everybody's testing every day and following up on that. So he still won't get a day off. It is remarkable the ask that's being made of staff and players. Again I'm, grateful we have the group we do. Tom Maystadt and his team and that side of the house, they've done a remarkable job. Aaron and Daniel Bove and the performance side. Stan Williams, Jason Sumerlin, Jana Austin, Mike Montgomery. We've got really, really special people in that room, and it shows in the fact that they've kept guys in the shape they have.”
On the Pelicans inconsistent play and the youth on the roster: “Yeah, I think it is. I think Zion was fairly prescient when he said we're really close. We then showed up and beat Utah. We can play with literally anyone. We belong on the court with anyone. There are also nights we don't belong on the court with a single team in this league, and unfortunately, that's the nature of being a young team, learning how to win. It's the nature of being a young team, learning exactly what it's going to require in a day in day out basis. On the defensive side of the ball, we are an abomination, many, many nights defensively. We'll have quarters where we are outstanding, and those quarters are what we need to stack together more often. I think you saw one of those last night in the fourth quarter, Jaxson Hayes walked on the court, and his energy almost single-handedly turned the tide of the game on the defensive side of the ball. While I'm really happy about Jaxson’s performance, what that shows is the drop-off between Jaxson and everybody else energetically was fairly profound. We've got to address that, both in terms of the urgency we bring consistently and probably in the way we keep guys fresh through the course of the game.”
On Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy’s performance through the first half of the regular season: “I think, first of all, the coaches are in just as big a disadvantage as the players are from the standpoint of the grind of the season. In addition to that, when things go poorly in a season like this, they tend to continue in a poor direction because you don't have time for live practices to actually address the things that you're not doing terribly well or to add a new wrinkle to something. As a coach like Stan, who’s as dense of knowledge of the game as you will ever find, the idea of, okay, let's change things and do three different defensive tactics that we've never practiced. That doesn't make sense, but because we don't have practice time, they can't address those things. So I think Stan would tell you, he doesn't feel like he's been able to really put his mark on the team and the way he would like to in many ways, and I think that shows on the defensive side. It's certainly not that Stan and his staff have forgotten how to coach defense. They just don't really have the same opportunities to do it and to make the impact that you can ordinarily make. So sort of by definition, this season sets itself up for young teams that need to continue to grow and evolve to get better, being sort of behind the eight ball. We're going to have to start to do it by bringing every bit of urgency to every minute of games and growing in those moments because we're just not going to have practice time for the coaches to address it."
On the balance of winning games and also getting young players minutes in games: “Yeah, so I disagree with that. I don't think it's a terrible tight rope. The reason I disagree with that is the way you learn how to win in this league is devalue winning. If what we're going to do is play to win games, and the young kids realize that their minutes are not a given, then they don't take those minutes for granted. They attack them in a totally different way. I think what's happened is so much of Twitter and the intellectuals in social media - of which I was one for a couple of years, so believe me, I'm not denigrating that group of people, but because that group of people have so much voice and sway now, that idea of all or nothing has really taken hold in a way that doesn't make sense. You don't learn how to win without coveting winning. You don't just bestow minutes to young kid. So where we're struggling right now is finding a way to play those guys in a way that makes sense within the framework of a system that doesn't allow for practice to put them in a position to succeed when they're on the court. So it's complicated, and I think the coaches have done a remarkable job of trying to find the balance there. I really take exception to the idea that, well, if you're losing, you might as well be playing the young kid, that that doesn't make any sense. In fact, there's a very clear correlation to the teams that didn't value winning very openly went much longer without making playoff appearances than other teams did. We've had teams in this league go 10 consecutive years without playoffs, 15 consecutive years without playoffs [and] 14 out of 15 years. Well, in almost all of those cases, they were tanking, and they were deliberately giving minutes to young kids or not playing totally healthy, good players so that they could build their draft standing. You don't learn to win in that setting, and we're not going to do that. So if there's going to be an expectation that we just throw young kids out there, that not what we're going to do.”
On Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram being the cornerstone of the Pelicans franchise: “Yeah, I think we're really optimistic about what the future can look like, and I think you've seen over the course of the past 20 games or so that Zion with the ball in his hand as a play creator and BI’s (Brandon Ingram) ability to play both on and off the ball are incredible fits with each other. I think you can see that as they start to learn one another more consistently and in a way that is going to start to translate to winning games. I think we feel very strongly about the fact that we can surround them with the right pieces and we believe, quite frankly, we have many of those right pieces on the roster. They just have to grow together. It takes time. BI’s 23 [years old], Zion's 20 [years old]. This is not going to happen overnight. A lot of teams that had success in this league had a nucleus together for four years before they really caught fire and did what they were capable of doing. So we're excited about how bright the future can be. I'm probably surprised how quickly it's arrived in both cases, and I think we need to be really grateful for that.”
On Lonzo Ball’s performance in the month of February and his growth this season: “Lonzo's a player who came into this, not a hundred percent physically. When we shut him down for the week that we did to help him get his knee situation in order, I think that made an enormous difference for him. I think he feels better physically than he did early on by quite a bit. I think his confidence has soared because of that. I think you're seeing the work that he puts in with Fred Vinson and with Brandon Ingram, from a shooting perspective, really start to take hold. Zion, working with Fred as well, has made it so those three guys sort of share a bond that they're growing around shooting, and that's bred confidence in all aspects of Zo’s (Lonzo Ball) game, and I think you've seen that. I think you're seeing Zion and Brandon embracing everything it is that Zo contributes to the group, and because they are, they're sort of feeding him. They're pumping him up a little bit now, and I think they've seen the value of that, and I think our fans have as well.”
On the NBA protocols for All-Star break: “They can travel out of the city. They can travel to any domestic market. Preferably they do that through private means, either driving or private flights. It does not have to be that way, but by and large, we're urging that. They must test every day that they're away. Aaron Nelson and his staff are arranging for people to get to either BRL locations, which is the daily testing group that the league uses or other hospital venues that would enable us to get daily testing. They must do that if they miss a day, they'll face a minimum of six-day quarantine when they return, which would really be detrimental to putting a team on the court. So I think you'll see us not miss those test days. As a league, what's really interesting is when they come back, you cannot report any earlier than 5:00 p.m, two days before your first game. So we play on Thursday, I believe the 11th, we have to be back no earlier than 5:00 p.m. on the 9th. They'll start testing at that point, and then for the first eight days that teams are back, you can't practice until evening because they want you to get a morning PCR test back before everyone convenes as a group. So in addition to the fact that the 36 games in the second half create the greatest density in the history of the NBA for every team, let alone the 40 games that Memphis has to play by way of example. In addition to the greatest density in the history of the NBA, you're not going to be able to practice for the first eight days unless you practice at night. So it's going to be a really interesting juggling act that the coaches have to pull off, and again, I feel for them because they've been given an incredibly difficult task.”