From the Basement | The most disappointing year in Pelicans history

Benny Greenspan, Staff Reporter

Mylie Bluhm

Around a week ago, in the 9 vs 10 seed play-in game, the Oklahoma City Thunder came to New Orleans and knocked the New Orleans Pelicans out of the playoff race. The loss, which ended with Herbert Jones carelessly throwing the ball out of bounds to seal the game, perfectly encapsulated what was the most disappointing season in Pelicans history: a heartbreaking loss amongst high anticipation. 

New Orleans has had an NBA franchise in its city since 2002, and while they have had talented teams led by all-time great players such as Chris Paul and Anthony Davis, none of their teams ever reached legitimate championship contender status. That changed this season as a wide open Western Conference and the return of Zion Williamson, paired with stars Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum and the collection of young talent on the roster, meant the sky was truly the limit for the 2022-2023 New Orleans Pelicans. 

Flashback to Nov. 12, 2022 — the Pelicans were in the best possible spot. The team had a 7-6 record and was just starting to build momentum with their new “big three” of Ingram, Mccolum and Williamson in the lineup together. They also had the best odds to acquire the sure No. 1 pick, Victor Wembanya, due to the pick they acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade, who had a 2-10 record at the time. Both the present and the future looked bright for the Pelicans. 

Fast forward a little less than a month to Dec. 9, when the Pelicans took sole possession of the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. They had just finished what was their best win of the season by far, beating the Phoenix Suns 128-117. Williamson was starting to become a superstar, putting up 35 points in a game that ended with him 360 dunking right in front of the Suns bench. With Williamson cementing himself as one of the top talents in the league, the Pelicans were officially in “win now” mode, earning the respect of being a championship contender. 

On Jan. 2, the Pelicans season took a turn for the worse when Williamson suffered a strained hamstring in the middle of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers. With a Pelicans team already without Brandon Ingram for an extended period due to a toe injury, Williamson’s injury was a major blow. The Pelicans then experienced a 10-game losing streak, going from a certified contender to suddenly fighting for their playoff and even play-in lives. 

The team regained their composure after the massive losing streak, going 16-13 to cap off the season. The Pelicans finished with a 42-40 record, just barely achieving a winning record for the first time since 2018. The record signaled improvement but was a far cry from the lofty expectations set early in the season. A bitter loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the final regular season game dropped the Pelicans to the ninth seed, forcing a do-or-die game against the Thunder.

The bad news continued: on Feb. 12, ESPN reported that Williamson had faced a setback in his recovery and would miss multiple weeks, even after All-Star weekend. As the season progressed, so did Williamson’s rehab, to the point where he was throwing down windmill dunks before the play-in game. However, when asked about his availability for their season-defining game,  Williamson stated that he was not “mentally ready” to come back, and the Pelicans season slipped away. 

Following the Pelicans elimination, when asked about the disappointing ending to the Pelicans season, McCollum put the blame on “lack of availability,” claiming that to achieve success in the future, “We need our best players on the court. We need to play extensive minutes together, especially in meaningful games and showcase what we have to offer.” 

Now watching the NBA playoffs like the rest of us, the Pelicans leave the 2022-2023 season with more questions about their future than answers. While they have a good enough roster on paper to compete with everybody in the league, their potential rests entirely on whether Williamson can finish a season healthy. Is that even a possibility at this point? 

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