The New Orleans Pelicans were a full 10 games under .500 this season. They’re still one loss away from missing the playoffs entirely, and their franchise player has played in just 85 of a possible 226 games because of a variety of injuries.
Despite the red flags, CJ McCollum sees big things ahead for his new team.
After the Pelicans defeated the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Play-In Tournament, McCollum made a bold proclamation about the future of the franchise.
CJ McCollum inches the Pelicans closer to a playoff berth
The Pelicans haven’t made the postseason since 2018, but they’re one win away from punching their ticket to the 2022 playoff bracket thanks in large part to McCollum.
The veteran guard, who joined New Orleans via trade earlier this year, put up 32 points (27 in the first half), seven assists, and six rebounds to lead his new team to a play-in win over the Spurs on Wednesday night. McCollum finished with a game-high plus/minus of +16 in 39 minutes.
Considering the shooting guard has the most playoff experience on the roster, it wasn’t surprising to see him put the Pelicans on his back in a must-win situation. New Orleans will play another must-win game against the Los Angeles Clippers Friday night with a trip to the playoffs on the line.
McCollum might need a similar performance against LA if he wants to will the Pelicans to a first-round playoff matchup against the Phoenix Suns.
McCollum makes a bold proclamation about the Pelicans’ future
The Pelicans’ play-in victory over the Spurs could be quickly forgotten. If New Orleans loses to the Clippers on Friday, it will be yet another missed playoffs for the struggling franchise.
But McCollum sees a bright future ahead for this group, and he believes Wednesday night’s victory could be the spark.
“This is the start of something special, for sure,” McCollum told reporters after the game, per ESPN. “You see the energy. Feel the energy. My mother is in town; I have some family in town. When we go out to eat, you can feel the city is excited about basketball, as they should [be]. There’s a lot of talent here. We’re playing the game the right way. It’s going to be a lot of winning in our future.”
For a team that’s only made the playoffs twice since 2012 and has never been to a Western Conference Finals, it’s a bold prediction for McCollum to expect the winning to start now. But if Zion Williamson can return next season and live up to his pre-draft hype, the Pelicans will have one of the most dynamic trios in the NBA. Williamson, McCollum, and Brandon Ingram can make some noise in the West starting as soon as next year.