Zion Williamson departed the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort on Thursday morning to attend to an urgent family medical matter, the New Orleans Pelicans announced in a release, while adding the forward intends to rejoin the team at a later date during the NBA’s restart.
“We fully support Zion’s decision to leave the NBA campus to be with his family,” said Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said in the team’s statement. “Out of respect for the Williamson family, we will have no further comment at this time.”
The league requires Williamson upon return to quarantine again for a period that will last at least four days and could be extend to a significantly longer term if he is not tested daily throughout his absence from the team.
Zion Williamson update: pic.twitter.com/eShAPl1gB2
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) July 16, 2020
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry addressed the media after Thursday’s practice, but couldn’t nail down a firm timetable for Williamson’s possible return.
“Don’t know anything right now from the standpoint of him coming back,” Gentry said. “Obviously, for us, we’re just very supportive of him and his family, and his privacy during this time right now.”
In early July, as teams readied to arrive at the NBA campus in Orlando, Williamson told The Associated Press he and New Orleans were gearing up for a playoff push. That appeared highly unlikely when he was sitting on the sidelines with a surgically repaired knee, watching New Orleans labor through a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak that left the club with a record of 6-22.
“I think this team can be really special when we’re all healthy,” Williamson said.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Williamson was expected to be out 6-to-8 weeks when he had surgery after tearing his right lateral meniscus the day before the regular season opened. He wound up missing about three months and 44 games. When he finally returned on Jan. 22, fans packed the stands and Williamson routinely delighted them with around-the-rim highlights.
“As far as the impact on our team, we played 44 games without him,” Gentry said. “We had a tough stretch in there. We also had a stretch where we won 12 out of 16 without him. Obviously, he’s a great player that we’ll miss. But the one thing we always talked about, even when we went through the tough times, is, ‘Next man up.’ We’re a good team. We’re a deep team. That’s the one thing that we are. We’re a very deep team. So, we’ll have guys that will step in and play. We’ll have guys that’ll up their game a little bit more.”
Williamson averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in the 19 games he played. New Orleans won 10 of those games and looked to be gaining momentum when the season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, that stint kept the Pelicans close enough to the playoff picture – 3 1/2 games behind Memphis for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference — to be included among 22 NBA teams that will finish their regular seasons at a central location in Orlando, starting July 30, when New Orleans plays the Utah Jazz.
It’s been 18 years since an NBA team began a regular season at 7-23 through 30 games and still made the NBA playoffs. It’s been 35 years since a club withstood a losing streak of 13 games and reached the postseason.
“With [Zion] gone taking care of his family, we’re holding down the fort for him,” said point guard Jrue Holiday. “He’s our brother, and he needs to take care of his family, and take care of his business.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.