There was a recurring scene in the New Orleans Pelicans locker room last season.
No matter whether it was after a win or loss, lopsided or close, there was always a lime green rubber tub, packed full of ice and water and placed in front of E’Twaun Moore’s locker.
And there was the shooting guard, resting on a chair, covered in sweat, with his right foot sunken into the freezing mixture. This is what life in the NBA is like with turf toe.
Moore missed 10 games during the 2016-17 campaign because of the lingering injury, but he played most of the schedule without complaint even as he grimaced through nearly every pivot, cut and sprint. He still averaged a career-best 9.6 points and 2.2 assists, shooting 45.7 percent from the field.
“It was all season,” Moore said. “It was like a turf toe, so that kind of limits you. It hurt to walk, run or do anything. So, it feels good just to have no problems and just go out and play basketball and just have fun.”
Moore said he spent a significant part of the offseason working with a personal trainer to get his foot back to 100 percent, which has allowed him to participate fully during this training camp.
He’ll be needed now more than ever.
A core muscle injury to Rajon Rondo leaves the Pelicans without their starting point guard for four to six weeks and has likely thrust Moore into the starting lineup. Coach Alvin Gentry said Moore probably will fill the spot, but there’s still a chance the Pelicans could turn to backup point guard Ian Clark instead.
Gentry said there’s comfort in turning to Moore, who has shed the health issues that plagued him last year and has proven to be a reliable and versatile defender during preseason play.
“I think his whole body is better,” Gentry said. “So because of that, he’s moving better, and I think he’s shooting the ball better. I think he’s had a really good training camp, he really has. It’s kind of one of those things that never (went) away and so during the whole season he would play two or three games and it was back.
“So, he was never really healthy last year. And, obviously, when you have turf toe as a basketball player, it’s just about the most bothersome thing you can have. I think he’s healthy now and not only is he moving better, but he’s gotten better elevation on his shot, which is making his shot better.”
Moore said he’s comfortable playing alongside either starting guard Jrue Holiday or coming off the bench to pair with Clark. In certain rotations, he played alongside Rondo, and he likely will again as this season wears on.
However, with Rondo out, there’s some additional pressure to take over some point guard duties himself, keying the offense on occasion as Clark and Holiday both try to serve as aggressive scorers rather than pure distributors.
“I’m probably playing the point more if I’m with Ian, because he’s more of a shooter and Jrue handles the ball a bit more,” Moore said. “So, it’s just a little different. But, to me, it doesn’t matter.”
Moore’s pliability and adaptability is one reason general manager Dell Demps signed him to a four-year, $34 million deal last year, elevating him from a role player with the Chicago Bulls to a sixth man in New Orleans. He was part of the team’s defensive transformation, helping New Orleans blossom from No. 28 to No. 9 in defensive efficiency.
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis expects to see an even better version this time around, thanks partly to Moore.
“The way he’s moving is totally different,” Davis said. “He’s more aggressive and he’s shooting the ball and he’s doing some as a backup point guard, so he’s moving really well. It’s a lot better than last year.”
On a team with four former All-Stars and recognizable faces filling the starting lineup, Moore knows he’s likely to fly under the radar. But with that rubber ice tub discarded to the back of the locker room, his opportunity to contribute is better than ever.
“I just want to be that spark plug for us,” Moore said. “Everybody talks about the big fellas and everybody else, so I just want to come in and be that sneak attack who nobody is looking for.”