Zion Williamson Should Have Played In Play-In Game, Period – Do Not Believe Pelicans’ Institutional Spin: Guilbeau

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Sometimes people in lofty positions in politics, business, or sports hear themselves and read themselves quoted so much that they tend to to think they’re smarter than they are.

I call this institutional spin. A president or a senator, or a magnate like Logan Roy, or an athletic director, or a team president and the like get used to their words making news and big headlines. And they realize, they can shape the news and advance their narrative or agenda by what they say – whether accurate or not.

This seems to happen more in sports, because unfortunately more people tend to be more interested in sports than the other two.

New Orleans Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson (left) speaks with team executive vice-president of basketball operations David Griffin at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images.)

Pelicans Continue To Disappoint

This happened Friday when New Orleans Pelicans vice-president of basketball operations David Griffin spoke to beat reporters in New Orleans after the Pelicans failed to make the NBA Playoffs. That has happened 13 times in the 21 seasons since the NBA returned to New Orleans. In six of the other eight seasons, New Orleans lost in the first round of the playoffs. In the other two, they lost in the second round.

Griffin has only been with the Pelicans since April of 2017, so he has only missed the playoffs four out of six times. And he was Cleveland’s general manager when they won their only NBA title in 2016 after Griffin signed LeBron James back to Cleveland in 2014. He clearly knows what he’s doing and is the best front office person the Pelicans, previously known as the Hornets, have ever had. That’s not saying much, but still. He will make the Pelicans consistently better than they have ever been.

But on Friday, he tried to spin an embarrassing moment in a mostly embarrassing two decades of NBA basketball in New Orleans. He sounded like he was a little too used to his words being treated as Gospel. But few seemed to notice and most just went with what he said as if it came from on high.

Zion Williamson Spoke Honestly About His Health

Last Tuesday, oft-injured Pelicans superstar Zion Williamson dropped a bombshell when asked by a reporter, “What do you feel like you can do on the court right now?”

“I can pretty much do everything,” he said. “Things have gotten a lot better. Physically, I’m fine.”

But he added that he was not ready to play because he didn’t feel right in his head. He would be thinking about the injury too much and worried about re-injuring it in a game. This is understandable as Williamson has been sidelined with various injuries since late in his only season at Duke in 2018-19 and throughout his four-year NBA career much more than he has been healthy.

This caused quite a stir in the news as Williamson had not played in a game since straining his hamstring on Jan. 2 in Philadelphia. And the Pelicans would play a play-in game at home against Oklahoma City the next night. Hamstring injuries at the worst tend to heal in three months. Williamson was healed.

Williamson is only 22. Most athletes that young aren’t calculating their every word and are not into moving their narrative or agenda. They usually tend to just say what’s on their mind, which is more honest. That’s not the case with older, wiser, image-conscious, narrative-forwarding team presidents and vice-presidents. They like to spin. People used to say, “Don’t trust anyone over 35.” That is especially true in covering sports.

Zion Williamson Has Had Weight Issues

Williamson knows his body. He knows his injury. He was being honest. He did qualify his statement, though.

“I would just say the team and myself are being extra cautious, so it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

OK, that makes sense, particularly when you consider Williamson is always either fighting an injury, his weight, or both. And his weight – listed as 284 but probably over 300 – does not help him stay away from injuries. So, why risk it just to make the playoffs with a team that has advanced in the playoffs twice in 21 years?

That made sense until Williamson went out and looked like Superman in pregame warm-ups before the Oklahoma City game, then watched his team lose by five. I think Williamson wanted to play, but the organization didn’t want him to. So, he decided to show that he could play in the warm-ups to make them look like fools. And it worked. He should’ve played – not the whole game. Obviously not.

Zion Williamson Needs To Learn How To Manage Injuries

Play him a couple of minutes in each quarter. Williamson is one of the best players in NBA history in points per minute at .805. He is instant impact. He could’ve made a difference against Oklahoma City and then Minnesota Friday night. And the Pelicans would be in the playoffs right now. Along the way – win or lose – he learns how to play when coming off an injury. He learns body management, injury management. He learns how not to play full bore all the time, which is something he desperately needs to learn.

What better scenario to learn that than in a few games, where if something goes wrong, he has several months to get his body back to 100 percent and to get it leaner?

Griffin didn’t see it that way. He likely did not want to risk any more injury to Williamson, which is understandable. But that’s not what he said Friday.

“He came up here the other day and told you all, ‘Physically, I’m fine,'” Griffin said. “And nobody followed up on what that means.”

Oh, so now Mr. Griffin is a journalist. Well, congratulations.

Actually, there is nothing to follow up when an athlete says, “I can pretty much do everything,” and “Physically, I’m fine.”

Mr. Griffin is just mad that Williamson said that. Williamson was a little too candid for Griffin’s taste in this specific instance.

Pelicans’ David Griffin Spinning Narrative

“Well, ‘I’m physically fine’ means ‘I’m not currently injured,'” Griffin tried to explain.

Correct, Mr. Griffin. So, he can play if he is “not currently injured.” Not the whole game, no. Not even most of the game, but he can freakin’ play.

“He wasn’t physically cleared to play basketball,” Griffin said. “He was playing one on none. He went up and windmill dunked pre-game. Well, that’s not the skill set that makes you capable of playing skilled 5-on-5 basketball. He was never cleared to play 5-on-5 basketball.”

Uh, Williamson would not have been the first player not in the best shape or not completely healthy to play, or at least try to play. He was not about to play a football game or run a marathon. I’ve seen 100 percent healthy players in the NBA take a quarter or two off in the regular season.

Williamson was not ready to play as he normally plays when healthy, true. But neither was Williamson’s teammate CJ McCollum, who played with an injured shoulder and thumb for 41 minutes out of a possible 48. He scored 14 points with four assists, two steals, two rebounds and a block while not at his best. Because he’s a pro and a veteran of 10 seasons.

Would Pelicans Have Let Injured Willis Reed Play?

Wonder if Griffin and the Pelicans’ crack medical staff would have “physically cleared” New York Knicks center Willis Reed “to play 5-on-5 basketball” on May 8, 1970, with a severe muscle tear in his right thigh. He was not “physically fine” and could not “pretty much do everything.” But he played because it was game seven of the NBA championship series against the Lakers.

Reed played only 27 minutes and scored just four points with three rebounds, but his mere presence helped the Knicks beat the Lakers, 113-99, for the title. Reed had missed game six after injuring his thigh in game five. He was not expected to play in game seven. This is why the crowd went wild at Madison Square Garden when he warmed up with teammates and started.

The Pelicans could have deftly showcased the same thing. Could you imagine, Williamson starting the game? The Smoothie King Center would have exploded.

Reed just standing there at the tip intimidated the Lakers. Williamson just standing there at the tip would have intimidated the Thunder.

New York Knicks center Willis Reed plays despite a severe muscle tear in his right thigh on May 8, 1970, in game seven of the NBA Finals vs. the Los Angeles Lakers and helped lead his team to the title. (Photo By James Drake via Getty Images.)

When Reed hobbled around and hit two jumpers in the opening moments, the Lakers were worried. He never shot again. If Williamson had run out of breath in the first four minutes, but hit a couple of shots with a dunk and a rebound, the Thunder would have been worried. Oklahoma City only won by five. Williamson could’ve made a difference in 10 minutes.

Would The Pelicans Have Let Injured Michael Jordan Play?

Wonder if Griffin and the Pelicans’ crack medical staff would have “physically cleared” Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan “to play 5-on-5 basketball” on June 11, 1997, with an 103-degree fever, dehydration and other flu-like symptoms because of food poisoning. MJ was not “physically fine” and could not “pretty much do everything,” at least not in the first or third quarters. But he played because it was game five of the NBA championship series at Utah that was tied 2-2.

And he didn’t need to play well the whole game or play the whole game. He just needed to play enough to help his team win, which he did. He scored 38 points in 44 minutes with seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block. He only scored five points outside the second and fourth periods. But he led a late comeback and hit a 3-pointer for the difference in a 90-88 win.

What a moment the Pelicans possibly could have had by just playing Zion here and there. As it is, Williamson has been in the NBA for four seasons and has not even sniffed the playoffs or the play-ins. In four seasons, he has missed 221 games and played in 114. It was just a play-in game or two, but Williamson badly needs those type of significant games for his development.

At least, Griffin admits to the Pelicans needing to do a better job managing Williamson’s injuries and thus career.

David Griffin Knows Pelicans Need To Do Better

“We need to do a better job maybe of examining the whole situation from top to bottom a little bit better,” he said. “Finding a way to put him in the best position to succeed is important. And his participation in that is a big part of it as well.”

Yes, Williamson needs to become a pro like McCollum, Reed and Jordan. He needs to become more of a man, and not a kid.

Interestingly, Griffin referred to Williamson as a “kid” three times during his press conference Friday. After the third time, he did apologize, but therein lies the problem.

Zion Williamson Is No ‘Kid’

Williamson is 22 now. The Pelicans need to quit treating him like the 18-year-old “kid” they drafted with the first pick of the 2019 draft. And they need to quit coddling him like they’re afraid he’s going to want to leave. The Pelicans need to treat Williamson like a man.

And Williamson the man would have played in the play-in game Wednesday night and would be a better man for it.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests.

A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention.

Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at www.acadianhouse.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.

One Comment

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  1. The number of passes this guy has gotten from the media [until now] amaze me.

    As part of his recruitment, we have an assistant coach of a major program discussing on an FBI wiretap his family’s demand for $100K. That program [Kansas] has been in the NCAA wringer for six years as a result, but the player, the family and the program he attended [Duke] and their sponsor [Nike] walked away scot free.

    He was hyped as a college player beyond all proportion. Obama went to his games. His team finished third in the ACC, didn’t reach the Final Four and had to be bailed out by the refs in the second round of the NCAA Tourney against UCF.

    In the NBA he’s been a franchise killer while earning well into the nine figures in salary and endorsements.

    Finally, some accountability.

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