If the New Orleans Pelicans defeat the Los Angeles Clippers in the final round of the NBA play-in tournament on Friday and advance to play the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs, don't expect one of their best players to return to the court.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst said Thursday on NBA Today that the Pelicans have no intention of playing Zion Williamson if they advance to face the Suns. New Orleans is more focused on getting him ready for the 2022-23 campaign, Windhorst added.
Windhorst's comments come after the Pelicans told ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth (h/t Real GM) that there was "no chance" Williamson would play against the Pelicans or in a potential first-round series against the Suns. The team added that "a return to play is not imminent."
Williamson has not played since May of last season and underwent offseason foot surgery after suffering a broken foot over the summer. He was supposed to be ready for the start of the 2021-22 campaign, but wasn't cleared to participate in full basketball activities until November.
While the 21-year-old was back on the court practicing, he began to experience soreness in his surgically repaired foot and was shut down before getting an injection in his foot in January.
At that point, Williamson continued rehabbing his foot injury away from the Pelicans in Portland, Oregon, and Christian Clark of NOLA.com reported in February that Williamson could need a second surgery on his foot.
It was revealed in March that Williamson did not need another surgery on his foot and was making progress in his rehab. Fans were hopeful of a possible return when Williamson posted a video of himself doing a between-the-legs dunk late last month, but Windhorst reported shortly after that the big man wasn't medically cleared "to do that kind of dunk" by the Pelicans.
Williamson then performed a 360-dunk during warmups before the Pelicans' play-in game against the Spurs, but all signs have pointed to the 2019 first overall pick not suiting up this year.
Williamson had an impressive sophomore season during the 2020-21 campaign, earning his first All-Star selection after averaging 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 61.1 percent from the floor in 61 games.
If Williamson can return to form and avoid injury next season, the Pelicans could be a dangerous team in the Western Conference.