New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin told reporters that superstar rookie forward Zion Williamson will not play "significant minutes" against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.
Williamson was forced to leave the Walt Disney World campus near Orlando, Florida, where the league is holding its 2019-20 season restart amid the COVID-19 pandemic, due to an "urgent family medical matter."
He did not practice or scrimmage with the team from July 16 through July 24, and that time away to ramp up for game action forced the Pels to adjust his game minutes during the restart.
"That, according to Griffin, was all part of the plan. Griffin explained that the Pelicans' medical and performance staff had a 'very clear plan' for every player heading into Orlando and that because Williamson spent July 16-24 away from the team because of a family medical emergency and then did his four-day quarantine, the rookie missed crucial time to get ready."
The NBA was suspended for over four months due to the pandemic. Williamson had already missed the first three months of the season with a torn meniscus and was initially placed on a minutes restriction upon his return.
"And every member of the team got to go through that plan," Griffin added. He said:
"That plan included scrimmage minutes that many of the team got to play. Many of our players were held to 15 minutes or 12 minutes or whatever. Not because there is a fixed minutes number, but because there was a fixed approach to how they were going to play the game.
"Everybody got to do that over the course of the scrimmages. Zion didn't get that opportunity. Unfortunately, because of the situation with his family, he was called away. It was a very legitimate reason to leave. But unfortunately, he's 13 days removed from the group in terms of following that plan after not playing basketball for what amounts to four months."
On Thursday, Williamson played 15 minutes and scored 13 points in his team's 106-104 loss to the Utah Jazz.
As Griffin acknowledged, the Pels' plan for Williamson is "detrimental" to the team's goal of making the playoffs. They are in a multiteam race for the eighth and final playoff spot and sit three-and-a-half games behind the Memphis Grizzlies.
However, as Griffin noted, the issue is that Williamson wasn't afforded a proper "ramp-up" opportunity to get ready for NBA games.
"He didn't get the benefit of anything his teammates got for those 13 days," Griffin said. That period includes Williamson's time away from the NBA campus as well as a mandated four-day quarantine upon his return.
Williamson clearly makes the Pels better, and his efforts are needed for his team to make the postseason. However, New Orleans has consistently taken a long-term view when it comes to Williamson's health, and that appears to be the case here with the team transitioning him back to NBA games slowly.
That could hurt the Pels' playoff push, but the team still has seven more games to make up some ground and at least hopes to force a No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed play-in series to determine the final Western Conference playoff spot.