It appeared the New Orleans Pelicans would enter the 2019-20 season worthy of throwing a party in a city known for Mardi Gras and its jazz festivals. Instead, the Pelicans are trying to clean up something potentially more messy than Bourbon Street.
The Pelicans ruled out rookie Zion Williamson for six to eight weeks after having surgery on Monday to treat a torn lateral meniscus. Below are five issues the Pelicans face because of this development.
1. The Pelicans’ playoff fortunes already appear bleak. Williamson will miss between 20 to 27 games. He could return as early as Dec. 3 against Dallas or as late as Dec. 17 against Brooklyn. Either way, the Pelicans could begin the season losing serious ground in the Western Conference standings.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers will have star power to make a significant splash. The Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors all have continuity that could help them stay afloat. That could leave the Pelicans needing to spend the rest of the season playing catchup.
Zion Williamson will be sidelined for six to eight weeks while he recovers from knee surgery. (Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)
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2. The Pelicans might have to always handle Williamson with delicate care. As much as the Pelicans’ playoff fortunes might depend on Williamson’s play following his injury, New Orleans might want to already adopt a load-management program for the 19-year-old rookie.
Williamson sprained his right knee during his freshman season at Duke after his right sneaker ripped through the seams. He played only eight minutes in his summer-league debut after bruising his left knee. And he sustained his current injury in the Pelicans' exhibition against San Antonio on Oct. 13. Even if this might hurt the Pelicans’ short-term success, New Orleans might benefit long-term.
3. The young Pelicans have more pressure to develop quicker. It appeared fourth-year forward Brandon Ingram, third-year guard Lonzo Ball and third-year guard Josh Hart could develop more organically without the pressure to win in Los Angeles with LeBron James. It might be too early to compare Williamson to James’ stature. Yet, those three former Lakers players suddenly will face the same issues as they did on the Lakers after James injured his left groin in a Christmas Day matchup against the Warriors. While James eventually missed 27 games, the Lakers suddenly went from competing for a playoff spot to ping-pong balls in the draft lottery.
4. The Pelicans lost some buzz. Well before Williamson’s injury became official, the NBA scheduled the Pelicans to play on national TV in 11 of their first 20 games. The Pelicans had a sell-out crowd in Las Vegas for Williamson’s summer-league debut. New Orleans also reportedly sold more than 12,000 season-ticket equivalents shortly after drafting Williamson at No. 1. And now? Get ready for those ticket prices to drop on the open market.
5. How will the Pelicans adjust their roster? Ingram will start in Williamson’s vacancy, while veteran J.J. Redick teams up with Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday. Derrick Favors will start at center. The good thing for Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry — he has overseen both small-ball and post-up oriented offenses throughout his extensive coaching career.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Mark Medina on Twitter @MarkG_Medina.
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