Talking to reporters as the Pelicans opened their training camp, Willimson flashed the biggest smile of the day when asked about what limitations he might have this season. “Me and (Pelicans) Coach (Stan) Van Gundy have talked and from what I know now, there are no restrictions. None,” Williamson said.
When asked about being happy about that, he added, “Of course. I love to play basketball. With no restrictions? Why wouldn’t I love that?”
Van Gundy told reporters earlier on Sunday that Williamson has “no limitations in practice. That’s a good thing.” He added that Williamson easily passed his conditioning test which included a three-minute run on the court.
“He and Nickeil (Alexander-Walker) probably did theirs the easiest,” Van Gundy added. “I thought in practice he gave really, really good effort as did everybody. It’s all been positive so far.”
Williamson dealt with “bursts restrictions” last season when he returned in January from a knee injury that wiped him out of the first half of the regular season. At the time Williamson expressed some frustrations with his limited minutes but still managed to have a productive season averaging 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in just 27.8 minutes per night.
In the bubble, Williamson missed time leading up to the first game because of a family issue and once again was on restricted minutes playing an average of 20.7 minutes in five of the first six games before being shut down for the last two.
But now that he’s entering the season healthy, there are no plans for any restrictions moving forward — something that Williamson is more than excited about.
“I think it definitely will be different because, well, it was tough, man. When you’re going through rehab and when you’re finally able to step on the court, three minutes goes by, four minutes by and….you gotta get subbed out. It was a lot,” Williamson said.
“I tried to make the most of the situation and I think I did the best that I possibly could. But it’s going to be a lot different.”
Williamson hopes the start of a brand new season unleashes an old version of himself as well.
“I want to show that I’m a basketball player. I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do on offense or defense no matter what it is to win. I’m just a competitor,” Williamson said.
“When I’m healthy and competing, I’m just a different kind of player. I think that’s the player everyone fell in love with.”
Last season was a trying one for Williamson for another reason as the Pelicans stumbled to a 30-42 record and missed the playoffs.
With the moves made this offseason, Williamson and Brandon Ingram, who recently signed a five-year max contract extension, are now the undoubted cornerstones of the franchise moving forward.
“If we want to be winners, we have to do things outside the norm or uncomfortable for us. That’s where being professional comes into play,” Williamson said.
“Losing is just not fun. It’s needed because it makes you better. What don’t break you will make you. That’s a part of ups and downs. But if we want to win, we have to remember what we’ve been through and stay steady onto the winner’s mindset.”
Part of being able to change that mindset will come with how Van Gundy approaches the game. Sunday’s practice was 30-40 minutes of Van Gundy breaking down defensive concepts and then over two hours of getting after each other in defensive drills.
“He’s a very detailed guy,” Williamson said of Van Gundy. “We went through a lot. I felt like we got a lot done for one day, especially the first day. I’m excited to continue to work with him.”