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NBA AM: New Orleans and the Injury Bug

The injury bug has bitten the New Orleans Pelicans again. Unfortunately, it’s nothing new, writes Cody Taylor.

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A crucial season for the New Orleans Pelicans is already off to a rocky start. Perhaps worse for the organization, it’s something that they’ve become quite familiar with in recent years.

Unfortunately, the Pelicans have been hit yet again by the injury bug, and it’s already caused some to hit the panic button. What initially began as a season filled with high expectations and promise now seems to have been slowed by recent injuries.

It was announced by the team on Monday that forward Solomon Hill was diagnosed with a proximal hamstring tear in his left leg after participating in a basketball workout in Los Angeles. He is expected to miss a majority of the 2017-18 season.

Losing Hill for an estimated six to eight months leaves the Pelicans with a gaping hole in the front court. Hill averaged seven points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 80 games last season while shooting 34.8 percent from three-point range.

The Pelicans have a strong starting lineup on paper, but what appeared to be a thin bench got even thinner with his injury. There is no perfect time to lose a key piece of your lineup to injury, but to lose him at the end of the summer is even more of a blow to the team.

By this point in the summer, the free agent talent pool has mostly dried up, leaving teams in need of quality help scrambling to fill roster spots. It was reported on Thursday by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that the Pelicans recently worked out Josh Smith, Chase Budinger and Martell Webster.

Smith and Budinger haven’t played in the NBA since the 2015-16 season, while Webster last played for the Washington Wizards during the 2014-15 season. The Pelicans are left with very few options at this point.

The Pelicans are expected to attempt to re-sign Dante Cunningham, but it has been reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves are also interested in the versatile forward, as well. Given the lack of options in free agency right now, the Pelicans figure to move quick on Cunningham.

A source told Basketball Insiders last week that the Pelicans were among the teams interested in Cleveland Cavaliers forward Iman Shumpert. Since acquiring Jae Crowder from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade, many speculated that Shumpert could be expendable.

There were conflicting reports last week that indicated Shumpert requested a trade from the Cavaliers, while some reported that he made no such request. Regardless, a source has maintained that the Cavaliers have been shopping Shumpert this summer.

It remains to be seen exactly what the Cavaliers might be looking for in a potential Shumpert trade, but he could be a welcomed addition to a Pelicans team that is very limited on the wing now.

Just after announcing the news on Hill, the team was hit with another injury when it was reported that rookie guard Frank Jackson will have surgery after breaking his right foot. It is the same foot Jackson had surgery on in May to fix a stress reaction.

The injury to Jackson isn’t quite as detrimental to the team as the injury to Hill since it was unclear how much time Jackson would see as a rookie. With the team positioned for the playoffs, his playing time may have been limited.

Still, each time the organization is in position to move forward, a setback always seems to occur. Last season, the Pelicans were one of the most injured teams in the league based on the number games players missed and most feel as though it has been that way for a few seasons now.

With training camp looming in a few weeks, the Pelicans are currently looking at a roster with just 11 healthy bodies. The team will likely sign more players to fill out its camp roster, but most teams fill those last roster spots with players likely to start the year in the G League. The Pelicans may actually need to keep one of those players around just to fill its opening night roster.

As the team is left to find a viable replacement for Hill, the pressure will continue to mount. Many believed this team was finally ready to take the next step this season considering DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis would have an entire season together.

Cousins played just 17 games with the Pelicans following his trade from the Sacramento Kings at the February All-Star break. The idea of Cousins and Davis working out together over the summer has surely created a lot of buzz heading into this season.

The buzz continued to grow after Cousins recently said that he’s in the best shape that he’s ever been in. He figures to benefit from a full summer under his belt to continue to get comfortable in head coach Alvin Gentry’s system.

Of course, the elephant in the room with Cousins is he’ll become an unrestricted free agent next summer. While Cousins has said all of the right things regarding his future up until this point, we’ve seen over the past few years a number of star players opt to sign elsewhere in free agency.

It’ll surely be a topic that will be discussed as the season progresses. While the team has surely been hit with some tough news just weeks before training camp, many still believe this team can remain in playoff contention. With Cousins, Davis, Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo the likely starters, the Pelicans figure to be a fun team to watch.

All teams in the NBA deal with their fair share of injuries, but the Pelicans may argue that they’ve dealt with injuries and then some. It even reached a point in the past where head coach Alvin Gentry jokingly called upon a voodoo doctor to cure the team’s injury issues.

The team figures to catch a break at some point in the future. Down in New Orleans, they’re surely hoping that will be soon.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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