Pelicans' Zion Williamson Cleared in Return to Play Progression Amid Injury Rehab

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 26, 2022

NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 28: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans smiles before Round 1 Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2022 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans announced Thursday that star Zion Williamson "has been cleared in his return to play progression without any restrictions."

The team said a checkup on his right foot "showed continued improvement."

Williamson underwent foot surgery before the 2021-22 season tipped off and missed the entire year.

Thanks in part to the shot in the arm they got from acquiring CJ McCollum ahead of the trade deadline, the Pelicans advanced to the playoffs and pushed the Phoenix Suns to six games in the first round.

Still, nobody questions Williamson's value to New Orleans and what he represents for the franchise. Through 85 career games, he's averaging 25.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

The foot injury, however, added to the concerns about whether the 21-year-old can hold up enough to be the centerpiece the Pelicans need. A meniscus tear sidelined him as a rookie and forced the team to diligently monitor his workload in 2020-21.

Williamson is also eligible for an extension this summer ahead of the final year on his rookie contract, leaving the front office with a conundrum.

The 2020-21 All-Star said in April he "couldn't sign it fast enough" if presented with an offer from the Pelicans, but his foot and meniscus injuries are likely to linger throughout negotiations. For New Orleans, giving him a fully guaranteed max contract might be too risky, while Williamson will understandably want as much long-term security as possible.

Seeing the 2019 No. 1 overall pick back on the court will generate a ton of excitement.

Mason Ginsberg @MasonGinsberg

Let Zion play five minutes of one summer league game just to remind everyone

Thursday's announcement also represents a step forward in his recovery.

But the Pelicans are likely to remain cautiously optimistic about his odds of avoiding a setback or picking up another injury.