Coach Alvin Gentry and the New Orleans Pelicans recently faced criticism for the way they handled Zion Williamson's time on the court in their 106-104 loss against the Utah Jazz on Thursday night. In an interview with reporters on Friday, Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin broke his silence over the controversy, ESPN reported.
The Pelicans were leading the Jazz by four points in the fourth quarter when Gentry decided to bench Williamson. Some people thought that they were just reserving the rookie's energy for the final moments of the game, but even though their opponents took the led, New Orleans didn't bring him back to the court. Griffin explained why the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and the man that is expected to be the next face of the franchise only played at the beginning of the quarters and wasn't on the floor in crucial situations.
"The reason they are taking place as they are at the beginning is just that the medical team wants to make sure he's warm and loose before he gets on the court," Griffin said, as quoted by Andrew Lopez of ESPN. "Everything that they are doing is predicated on that. The players have a very clear routine. His routine is to get loose at a certain time. We don't want him to get loose and then sit on the side and wait, because that's not conducive to him playing his best."
Griffin added that the way Gentry and his staff handled Williamson's minutes was all part of their plan. He explained that before they headed to Orlando, the medical and performance staff had a "very clear plan" for every player on their roster. After the rookie spent eight days away from the team due to family emergency and four days of undergoing a mandatory quarantine, he missed a crucial time to get ready.
For a team that is aiming to get the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, every game is a must-win. As of now, New Orleans is sitting at the No. 11 spot in the Western Conference with a 28-37 record, 4.5 games behind the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies. Despite their current situation, the team doesn't seem to have any plans to rush things for Williamson.
According to Griffin, the 20-year-old power forward isn't expected to play "significant minutes" when they go up against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. Griffin also hinted at the possibility that Williamson may not play when they face the Grizzlies on Monday night.