The New Orleans Pelicans’ playoff dreams were dashed on Wednesday night as they succumbed to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Play-In Tournament. The team’s injury woes, particularly the ongoing absence of star Zion Williamson, took center stage. Guard CJ McCollum’s postgame remarks about the importance of player availability have left many wondering if he was indirectly referring to Williamson’s situation.
Although the Pelicans were also missing the services of Jose Alvarado and Larry Nance Jr., it was Williamson’s continued absence that captured the most attention. Williamson, who secured a five-year, $193 million extension with the Pelicans last year, has faced questions about his physical fitness and readiness to return to the court.
In his postgame media session, McCollum underscored the importance of player availability, asserting, “We’ve got to be available. We’ve got to do what we need to do off the court in terms of preparation, in terms of getting treatment, in terms of getting the right sleep, the right type of hydration, having the right type of diet.” Although he did not specifically name Williamson, many have speculated that his comments were a veiled reference to the star forward’s ongoing injury and absence from the court.
McCollum also disclosed that he had been grappling with a thumb injury for months but decided to delay surgery to help the Pelicans in their pursuit of the playoffs. He added that he never made excuses for his performance, stating, “I just go compete and do the best that I can and always try to lead by example.”
A day before McCollum’s comments, Williamson spoke about his rehabilitation process, revealing that he could “pretty much do everything” but felt he wasn’t performing at the level he was before his injury. He expressed his reluctance to return to the court and potentially adversely affect the team.
Pelicans’ coach Willie Green emphasized the significance of having key players on the floor, remarking, “It helps your team reach its potential. We didn’t do that this season.” With only 10 games played together by McCollum, Williamson, and Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans were unable to fulfill their potential this season.
As the Pelicans turn their focus to the next season, questions remain about Williamson’s future availability and the team’s ability to reach their potential with a fully healthy roster.