Williamson’s workload was light, according to Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, who said Williamson did 3-on-0 and 5-on-0 work and did not participate in five-on-five drills. Williamson left Orlando, Florida, on July 16 to tend to a family emergency and returned Friday, completing his quarantine on Tuesday before the Pelicans took the floor for a late practice.
Gentry said the team will have another practice Wednesday and evaluate Williamson then to see if he’ll be able to play in Thursday’s seeding games opener against the Utah Jazz — the first official game of the NBA restart.
“The medical staff will evaluate and see where he is and see if it makes sense for him to go out and play,” Gentry said.
While the Pelicans’ medical staff will have a role in Williamson’s playing status, the rookie forward will, too. Gentry said the team will talk with Williamson to see how he feels after 12 days without team activity.
Williamson was one of the final players on the court Tuesday, getting up extra shots while working on his ballhandling as he tries to get ready for the Pelicans’ opener.
Still, Gentry said the team won’t risk its long-term future to get Williamson back on the court for one game Thursday.
“It really isn’t a tough decision, guys. If he’s ready to play, he’ll play. If he’s not, we won’t play him,” Gentry said. “You’re not going to risk anything long term for something very, very short term. We’ll see and evaluate tomorrow where he is. The medical people will and so will Zion. Zion will tell us how he feels. From there, we’ll go and see and make decisions on what is best for him and what is best for our team.”
The Pelicans won all three of their scrimmage games without Williamson — including Monday’s final tune-up against the Milwaukee Bucks — and played 44 games in the regular season without him as well. In the final 16 games before Williamson’s return, the Pelicans went 11-5, and they won one game without him after his return in mid-February.
Williamson’s presence on the court — even if he didn’t do full-contact drills — was a welcome sight for his teammates.
“It’s always good when someone is away for four, five, six days. It’s always refreshing to see their face, to get energy from them,” Pelicans guard Josh Hart said. “Obviously, he didn’t participate in five-on-five, but his presence was there, and we’re looking forward to him getting out there tomorrow or Thursday. But it’s always good to see someone knowing they had to battle with some off-the-court stuff, to see them coming back and smiling and being professional.”
Lonzo Ball, whom Williamson was developing a strong on-court relationship with this season, said the team is happy to have Williamson back.
“We’re a lot better with him than we are without him. We know that,” Ball said. “So just having him back to start the games back is great for us.”