It’s one of the biggest challenges in restarting the NBA, having enough time for a slow ramp-up to get players back in shape and avoid injuries.
For teams not headed to the playoffs, an additional question becomes, “how much should we play our stars? Are we risking injury, and for what?”
For the New Orleans Pelicans, that ties directly to Zion Williamson. Their rookie sensation missed the first 45 games of the season; if the Pelicans play again it’s possible Zion will be brought along slowly and have a minutes restriction, coach Alvin Gentry said in a conference call with the media Thursday.
“Obviously, his health will be the number one priority, but the restriction was really off after his first five/six games,” Gentry said. “So, he was playing the minutes that he would normally play, considering with any situation really. But, it will be something that we talk about when we do resume and as far as how it looks for Zion from a minute standpoint, and we’ll do that really with some of the other players.
“This is unprecedented, really. You play in a basketball game, you play 60 games and then all of a sudden the season ends, and then now it’s going to start back up. So, this is going to be something that is different for every single player that has ever played in the NBA or is playing in the NBA now.”
How the Pelicans handle this will be determined in part — probably in large part — by exactly how the NBA returns. If the league cancels the rest of the regular season and goes straight to the playoffs, this is all moot.
If the league plans to play regular season games — NBA officials want to, but the timeline and logistics become much more difficult, essentially doubling the number of teams and players involved — the question becomes how many? When play was suspended, the Pelicans were 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West. If New Orleans gets to play out their final 18 games, maybe they can catch Memphis, and in that case they want Zion on the court to help them win. However, if the league reduces the number of regular season games, maybe to 10 (or fewer), it becomes much harder to close that gap, and it becomes a different equation for the Pelicans and Zion.
Gentry is right about one thing: This is unprecedented. Nobody knows what comes next or exactly how it will look. Teams and the league can prepare for scenarios, but that’s the best they can do.