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New Orleans Pelicans believe if NBA regular season resumes, they’ll have opportunity to stamp ticket to 2020 playoffs

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The practice facility reopened today and seven Pelicans took advantage including Zion Williamson.

New Orleans Pelicans All Access Practice Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelicans practice facility opened back up for business today, albeit in very limited fashion, and the seven players on the roster who have maintained residence in New Orleans throughout this COVID-19 pandemic took advantage of the soft reopening by working on their strength and conditioning as well as engaging in various individual basketball activities such as getting up some shots.

While David Griffin did not divulge all the names on today’s conference call, he did point out that Zion Williamson and Kenrich Williams have already been regulars at the Metairie complex for rehabilitation purposes.

“The league made a decision when they closed the buildings that players that had urgent need of rehab protocols could still use the facility and go through rehab,” Griffin said. “We’ve had Zion and Kenrich rehabbing in the building throughout this period of time. They’re able to do a lot of the things that they needed to do from a strength and conditioning pliability standpoint. As you guys know, the flexibility aspect of Zion was really critical, so they’ve been able to continue to focus on that. They weren’t able to do any court work during that period of time, but they were able to get the work in needed on the table, and so that was important.”

Griffin did say that as recently as word first came down from the league about allowing teams to reopen facilities in accordance with local health officials, eleven Pelicans were in New Orleans, but four decided to leave once they learned of the accompanying guidelines.

“Seven players stayed in market,” Griffin said. “It was eleven, oddly enough, until we announced that the building was reopening and the fashion in which the building was reopening. We did a Zoom meeting with all of our players and walked them through the protocols, and after that four guys left, believing that they could get more done on their own, and that’s fine; we’re very comfortable with that.”

It’s hard to find fault with Griffin’s stance because the protocols are quite stringent. Not only are the players prohibited from participating in any team activities, they must also keep their physical distance from one another while inside facilities and wear masks when not exercising. Thus, it makes sense to allow players to work where they feel most comfortable, plus it doesn’t force those currently outside our market to return until travel is deemed much safer in all locales.

“Everybody takes a temperature when they walk in, everybody fills out a symptoms checklist when they come in,” Griffin said. “It’s all done in a very professional way, but it’s all done in conjunction with the CDC and public health officials that the NBA has been working with throughout this process. They’ve given us guidelines that we have to follow and Aaron and his team have been the ones to implement them. We’ve got tape and arrows on the floor telling guys where they can go and can’t go. The building is very sanitary at this point, but it’s also mostly off-limits. We’re going to use two baskets; one player per basket. We’re going to have one person in the weight room at a time working out, and we can have one person in the training room. Everyone that is working with those players has masks and gloves on. The players themselves are supposed to wear masks when they’re not exercising on the floor, they’re supposed to wear masks as they move about the building.”

New Orleans Pelicans v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Vice President of Player Care and Performance Aaron Nelson has been appointed the hygiene officer for the New Orleans franchise, and according to Griffin, he’s done a fantastic job of preparing the practice facility alongside the issued NBA/CDC guidelines.

As for when some restrictions get lifted or the league is allowed to move onto the next phase is anyone’s guess, but Griffin thinks Adam Silver will make an important announcement sometime during the first two weeks in June. However, Griffin does strongly believe that if the 2019-20 regular season schedule resumes to any degree, it will consist of more than just a handful of games.

“I think it will be difficult for the league to have us come back into the facility and get ready for – let’s call it a month to get physically ready, and then play only a week or two weeks of games. So I think unless they’re able to give us a full schedule, they won’t have us come back. I would anticipate that if we come back, there would be enough games for us to do some damage in.”

In other words, all of those teams sitting outside of the playoff picture will not be asked to serve as glorified practice dummies for the ones headed to the postseason. So, either New Orleans receives a fair shot to catch Memphis in meaningful game action or we’ve already seen the last of the Pelicans for the rest of this season. One important caveat: If the regular season does resume, don’t expect another cakewalk ahead — similar to the one New Orleans was staring at before play got suspended.

“We’re going to have to earn a playoff spot against a schedule that will probably in all likelihood be more difficult than the one we were going to play,” Griffin said. “We’re certainly going to get meaningful games, and I think we’ll get them against tougher opponents than maybe we had left on the schedule. It’s also interesting, as many of you know, we had seven games of those eighteen left against the teams that we were directly in competition with for the playoff spot. We had two against Memphis left, I think we had three with San Antonio, we had two with Sacramento...so we were going to get to play all of those teams right around us. In that sense, we feel like we lost an opportunity. But again, we’ll just be grateful to take part in anything going forward because our young kids need that challenge of meaningful games.”

One final takeaway from Griffin’s conference call today: count him among those who would prefer the NBA season be moved to a later date so that it doesn’t conflict with NFL football. As everyone living in New Orleans knows, the Saints are the top dog.

“Well, we’re in a really unique situation, obviously being partnered with the (New Orleans) Saints, in the way we are,” Griffin said. “We also have a unique appreciation for how football oriented this town really is until [the] season is over, so from my perspective, I would really embrace us starting later because quite frankly, that would be our best opportunity I think to make a foothold in the market in terms of our fan base being there right from the beginning. We’re in a situation where football is clearly king, and it’s always going to be, so again, we’re uniquely positioned to understand what that shift could do from a beneficial standpoint. Maybe other markets feel differently, but we certainly would embrace that if it was something that happened moving forward.”