Why Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram will play in resumed NBA season despite pending free agency

The conference call should leave the New Orleans Pelicans feeling impressed with Brandon Ingram’s commitment to the franchise. It might also leave them feeling a little puzzled about his views on the novel coronavirus.

Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram expressed understandable skepticism that the NBA could successfully resume the season at a quarantine site in Orlando because of the growing cases in Florida. Yet, Ingram also conceded he has not exactly read the memos the NBA players union has sent him about the league’s health and safety protocols.

“I tell everybody I feel like I’m from Kinston,” Ingram said about his hometown in North Carolina. “I feel like I’m immune to a lot of this stuff. I’m not really worried at all about this virus.”

Safe to presume the Pelicans will fully brief Ingram about COVID-19 before the team departs for Orlando on Wednesday. In fairness to Ingram, he said he has mostly stayed at home and has kept his hands clean since the NBA halted operations on March 11. The franchise does not have to worry, however, about Ingram’s commitment to the franchise. Ingram very well could have sat out the resumed season, mindful that he will be a restricted free agent once the season ends. Yet, Ingram said he never had any worries about a potential injury derailing his future earnings.

“I didn’t look at it as if I had a choice of going or not. My teammates knew that I didn’t question it or anything. I just wanted to play basketball at the end of the day,” Ingram said. “I’m going to do it and let my teammates know I’m there 110%. I have to be there. It wasn’t a question.”

"I just wanted to play basketball at the end of the day," Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram said. (Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)

Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans decided otherwise. He will also become a free agent this summer and considered it best not to risk any injury after having two previous ACL injuries. The Wizards (24-40) are considered a long shot, however, to make the NBA playoffs. The Pelicans (28-36) have a better chance. While Washington trails the Orlando Magic (30-35) by 5 ½ games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, New Orleans has a chance to edge out the Memphis Grizzlies (32-33), Portland Trail Blazers (29-37) and the Sacramento Kings (28-36) for the final playoff seed in the Western Conference.

The Pelicans appear confident enough to make a late-season push that Ingram conceded it has “crossed everybody’s minds” they could face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Though plenty of the Pelicans’ success will hinge on rookie Zion Wiliamson, it will also depend on a handful of former Lakers players they acquired in last year’s Anthony Davis’ trade (Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart).

“We’re very excited. We’re building some momentum into getting better each and every day,” Ingram said. “Of course we haven’t reached where we want to go. It’s a long ways away. But I think we’re getting steps and steps closer to where we want to get to be at.”

That partly has to do with Ingram. When the Pelicans acquired him last summer from the Lakers, he had missed a combined 30 games in his third and final season with there after team doctors discovered he had a blood clot known as deep venous thrombosis. Doctors told Ingram it was not a life-threatening or career-ending condition. But with Ingram needing offseason surgery to remove a rib and strengthen his back muscles, the Pelicans declined to give him an extension.

Ingram shrugged off the uncertainty and made his first NBA All-Star appearance. With Ingram averaging 24.3 points per game on 46.6 percent shooting and 6.3 rebounds per game, the Pelicans have every intention of resigning him. Since Ingram will be a restricted free agent, the Pelicans can match any offer sheet he receives. Still, Ingram has had to wrestle with losing out on potential earnings since the NBA’s revenue has plummeted during the pandemic, a variable that determines each year’s salary cap.

“I know the way of life. I know everything is not perfect. I always know there is going to be a bump in the road,” Ingram said. “It’s important for me to stay positive and important for me to keep my head up and look forward to the next thing that I can be best at. I think I got a good opportunity to go out and have another outing. Hopefully win some more basketball games and get closer with my teammates. That’s the most important thing for me. I think if I worry about those things, the rest will take care of itself. Hopefully I stay healthy.”

Ingram might lack confidence that the NBA could successfully resume the season, but he sounded confident he could navigate the resumed season just fine.

Ingram said doctors have informed him he has nothing to worry about his previous blood clots since those issues emerged more than a year ago. Since he has spent most of quarantine with his family, Ingram said he will look forward toward spending more time by himself at the quarantined campus in Orlando.

Ever since missed 30 games last season, Ingram said that absence made him “want to come back play basketball all the time.” He has hosted various charitable initiatives that included helping a food drive in New Orleans and giving shoes, backpacks and water bottles to front-line workers in his hometown. So he seemed just as interested in helping the NBA’s efforts with addressing racial inequality.

“The most important thing for me at this time in my career is where I can show my talent the best and where people can see that I can do everything on the basketball floor,” Ingram said. “Wherever I’m in a good position and somebody is going to push me every single day and I love the environment and the people around. Guys around that can ultimately win a couple of championships, whatever it is. The ultimate goal is to win. Wherever we can do that the most, that’s where I want to be.”

Is New Orleans where Ingram wants to be long term?

“That is definitely a question that will be answered after the season. But how I feel right now? I feel really good about this team,” said Ingram, who lauded the team’s talent, chemistry and work ethic. “I like where I’m at. But that’s a decision that is going to have a lot of factors after the season.”

But there was one decision that Ingram did not consider complicated: whether he would sit or play during the NBA’s resumed season. Amid all the questions Ingram might have about the NBA’s quarantine setup, he offered full clarity on his desire to help the Pelicans maximize their chances with a playoff push.

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

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