The date was December 12th, 2022.
The New Orleans Pelicans had played 26 games in the 2022-23 season. They were 18-8 and in first place in the Western Conference. They had just put together a seven-game winning streak, capped off with back-to-back wins over a contending Phoenix Suns team.
It did not feel like it at the time, but that moment would be the apex of the Pelicans’ season last year. They would begin a downward spiral after that point. Zion Williamson reinjured his hamstring on January 2nd. Although it looked like he may not miss much time, he never played another minute again during the season.
The Pels slowly descended their way through the standings, and by year’s end they had fallen into play-in tournament position. They lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the aforementioned tournament, and thus another season was lost.
The Pelicans have had health concerns for a while now. Williamson — the franchise centerpiece — has been plagued with injuries his entire career. He has only played more than half of his team’s games once in five seasons. Another core piece, All-Star Brandon Ingram, has never played more than 62 games in a season for New Orleans. Those two are just a couple of numerous injury issues that have been a recurring theme for several years in this organization.
The hot start to the 2022-23 season added another complicated layer to the already winding road that the Pelicans have been on. It added the idea that the team may be ready to contend when healthy. There has always been a sense that New Orleans was building, but last season showed some that the structure had been built. But then, they were not allowed to stay in the structure they had built for the rest of the year. It is one thing to see a team fail. Another is to know a team has talent, but never get a chance to see the full group play together.
This season has already started with injuries. Fortunately for New Orleans, it has not been to the core. Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and Naji Marshall will all miss time. However, Williamson and Ingram are healthy and ready to play for now.
There is reason to have optimism that this is the year. At the very least, it feels like the team needs to know where they are, when they have their assets available to them. The season started with a nice road win over the Grizzlies in which Williamson and Ingram were both healthy and both played well.
Here is to hoping we see a lot more of that moving forward.
Dawson Eiserloh is the co-host of “RP3, D-Loh & Meche” which is broadcast weekdays (11-1) on ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles — Southwest Louisiana’s Sports Station.