The New Orleans Pelicans are ready to get the 2023 season underway.
This week is the official start of training camp for the season, and with the Pels coming off their first winning season in five years, there’s optimism for success after much of the roster returns.
“First day of this new NBA season, so we’re excited,” General Manager Trajan Langdon said to open Media Day on Monday. “Obviously a lot of continuity with our roster. We were excited about our team. Last year. I think there’s a lot of some bitter taste in the mouth of all of our players after the way that we ended up last year just with the injuries and didn’t get to show what we truly were capable of.”
“I think there’s some chips on the shoulders and a lot of our players coming back and they’ve really worked hard. They’ve been in the gym. Obviously like I said a lot of continuity with our only additions being Jordan Hawkins through the draft and then Cody Zeller, who we’re excited about adding that veteran element in the frontcourt.”
The Pelicans will look to benefit from that continuity with veterans like CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, and newly acquired Cody Zeller from the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat.
However, the big story for this team will be health. The “Big 3” of Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum, and Brandon Ingram have played just 10 games together since February of 2022 when McCollum was acquired from Portland.
In order to address that, the organization hired Amy Atmore to be the team’s Director of Rehabilitation, using her extensive background in physical therapy to help with recovery time and get players back on the court.
One player that has already seen that firsthand is Trey Murphy III, who had a standout rookie season, but suffered a setback in the offseason and will miss the first month or so of this season.
“Yeah, so me and Amy have been working a lot together,” Murphy said. “With her being the head of PT, and the day after surgery, I was doing physical therapy. So me and her were talking a lot. We’ve been getting a lot of work done in New Orleans and she’s been great. Very thankful to have her here.”
“I’m very excited for, you know, my recovery process. She’ll say something like, do you want to do this or that. I just look at her at say you’re the professional here, so you tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I just want to get back and be better than I was. So I’m putting my full trust in her.”
If this Pelicans team can stay healthy, the sky’s the limit from a talent perspective. A potential starting five of McCollum, Murphy, Ingram, Williamson, and Valanciunas is a very strong one with Jones, Marshall, Zeller, Alvarado, and others coming off the bench.
Last season before injuries hobbled the Pels, New Orleans was sitting at 23-14 and 1st place in the Western Conference before Williamson went down with a hamstring injury that put him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Add in back-and-forth injuries to Ingram and others and the Pelicans were sitting at home when the playoffs began in April.
Which is why head coach Willie Green feels the team has unfinished business.
“I thought we put together a solid year,” Green said at Media Day to open the season. “We had a great start. We had some bumps in the road towards the middle of the season, obviously with health, but, it’s a credit to our entire staff and our players to fight through adversity the way we did, and to put together a winning season was was pretty cool to see. Now, with that being said, I still feel like we fell short of our goal, which is the disappointing part of the season. So a solid year, another step in the right direction, but we definitely feel like we have unfinished business.”
This is an incredibly talented and well-coached group, and now you add in the offensive mind of James Borrego, the ceiling has certainly risen. But if this group gets afflicted with injuries again, people will begin to question ever more than ever if this franchise will ever reach the top of the mountain. For the first time in franchise history, this Pelicans organization is in the luxury tax threshold. But if the players can’t stay healthy, spending money on extra taxes won’t do them any good.
There’s no question that there’s excitement for the New Orleans Pelicans to start the season between the team and its fans alike. However, that excitement should be tempered by realistic and factual evidence that this team has to stay healthy in order to reach those goals and expectations.
Matt Miguez is the host of the Miguez Mindset podcast on ESPN Southwest Louisiana’s YouTube channel. He is also a digital contributor for ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles.