The goal of Zion Williamson's minutes restriction might be to preserve his health, but it doesn't make things easy for the No. 1 overall pick on the court.
"It's very tough, to be honest, because as soon as I start to break that sweat, I look over and that horn's for me and I have to come out of the game," Williamson told reporters Sunday. "Also, when I do catch the flow of the game, like I said, that horn goes off, and it's for me."
The Pelicans are attempting to play their way into the playoffs, but that hasn't been enough to alter their plan for how to handle Williamson's workload.
When Williamson exited with seven minutes, 19 seconds remaining, New Orleans led the Utah Jazz 93-89 in its first game back as the NBA restarted the season in Orlando, Florida. He didn't reenter the contest, and the Pelicans lost 106-104.
Williamson then played just 14 minutes as the Pels fell behind early en route to a 126-103 drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The team was handling Williamson carefully as a result of the torn meniscus he suffered in October prior to the start of the season. He also left the NBA's bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort to tend to a family matter, causing him to miss workouts and training sessions in preparation for meaningful games.
Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin highlighted that as a clear hindrance to his playing time.
"This is all about the ramp-up time," Griffin said, per ESPN's Andrew Lopez. "He didn't get the benefit of anything that his teammates got for those 13 days. This is going to take some time, and I think it's going to take time for him, he mentioned his flow and rhythm. It's going to take time for him to find that."
While it would be great to see Williamson playing 30-plus minutes a night, the incentive just isn't there for the Pelicans.
New Orleans was a long shot to make the postseason before the restart, and a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers was the likely outcome if everything broke right.
Getting Williamson some playoff experience—even in a sweep—would be a good thing, but it's not worth risking the recurrence of another knee injury. Kawhi Leonard is a perfect example of how some injuries require continued maintenance long after a player has fully healed.
The Pelicans have to look beyond this season in terms of Williamson's role and playing time.