The New Orleans Pelicans are receiving some much-needed help for their thin roster.
League sources confirmed to The Advocate on Tuesday that the team received an injury hardship exemption, meaning it can add shooting guard Orlando Johnson on a 10-day contract without having to cut anyone loose.
Johnson, 26, is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League. He’s shooting 46.1 percent from 3-point territory on 3.8 attempts per game, making him one of the D-League’s most prolific outside threads.
Before his signing, there were just three guards available in the Pelicans backcourt following prolonged injuries to Eric Gordon (finger), Tyreke Evans (knee) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (wrist). The thin depth chart gives Johnson an early opportunity to log significant minutes.
New Orleans received the same waiver Nov. 10, using it to sign Jimmer Fredette, who was released when his 10-day contract expired.
The hardship exemption is reserved for teams suffering prolonged injuries to at least four players for a minimum of two weeks. An independent physician reviewed the Pelicans’ medical claims and gave affirmation to the NBA.
If one of the injured Pelicans returns this season, the exemption expires and the roster gets trimmed back.
Surgery ends Gordon’s season
Gordon’s first finger fracture cost him 16 games. The second will cost him the rest of the season.
The Pelicans shooting guard had a second successful surgery Tuesday on his right ring finger — Gordon fractured it last week for the second time this season — and will not return this season, the team announced.
Gordon joins Evans, Dejean-Jones and forward Quincy Pondexter, who has not played this season, as the fourth Pelicans player to be ruled out for the rest of 2015-16.
The 6-4 Gordon played in 45 games this season, averaging 15.2 points, 2.7 assists and 2.2 rebounds. He first fractured his right ring finger Jan. 19 and had surgery Jan. 20, returning to action Feb. 27. He suffered a fracture in the same finger last Saturday.
Norris Cole arrived right on time.
Faced with the possibility of employing just two healthy guards Monday night, Cole took himself off the injury report (questionable with a lower back strain) and into the starting lineup. His addition provided a critical lift in the Pelicans’ 115-112 victory over Sacramento.
Cole not only scored 23 points, his second-highest total of the season, but he also drew three defenders under the basket before finding Dante Cunningham for the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute.
It was a pass coach Alvin Gentry said wasn’t drawn up during the timeout before the play. He expected a pass to find Anthony Davis or Ryan Anderson, but Gentry credited Cole for predicting before the play that Cunningham would be the one to spring open, if he could dribble to the baseline.
“When I got to the basket, Dante’s man was trying to meet me there,” Cole said. “So it left him wide open, and I just got it to him with a pass he could catch. He did the rest.”
Considering Cole scored 14 points in the first quarter, converting 6-of-9 shots despite his sore back, he did more than enough to keep New Orleans in contention during a particularly sloppy first half.
Cole said he didn’t push himself back into the lineup to help team’s paper-thin depth chart. If he’s healthy enough to play, he said, he will.
“I got to the arena and went through my routine and got some treatment, then gave it a shot out on the floor to see if I felt good enough to play,” Cole said. “I was just taking it minute by minute. I just so happened to get into a great rhythm early, and I was just trying not to think about my back.”
Point guard Jrue Holiday knows his aggressive nature can sometimes get under his coach’s skin.
When he pulled up for a critical 19-foot jumper with 12 seconds remaining during Monday’s win, Holiday was fully aware of the reaction that would greet him on the bench. But when the shot left his hand and found the bottom of the net, pushing the Pelicans’ lead to 113-110, Holiday was all smiles.
Gentry admitted after the game, even though the shot went in and it secured a victory, it was earlier on the shot clock than he wanted it.
“A lot earlier,” Gentry said. “Quite a bit earlier. By about six seconds. But that’s Jrue.”
When asked about the shot and Gentry’s comment, Holiday smiled and said he was aware of how much time was left, but he saw an opening in the defense and went for it.
“It’s cool,” Holiday said when asked to describe his relationship with Gentry. “He yells at me. I say sorry. And then I try to go out and do what he wants me to do.”