After being sidelined for all of the 2021-22 season due to a foot injury, Zion Williamson can’t wait to get back on the court with his New Orleans teammates. Next season and beyond.
At Williamson’s Friday exit interview, the 21-year-old detailed how excited he is to be able to rejoin the Pelicans, after witnessing the team’s journey from a 1-12 start to Western Conference playoff qualifier. During the latter stages of what was supposed to be his third NBA season, Williamson was frustrated by not being able to play in games, but found joy in a New Orleans locker room that was a daily source of fun. The 2021 NBA All-Star described his current state of mind as being “in a great space.”
“Being around the guys, being in Smoothie King, seeing that playoff environment,” Williamson explained of what generated his current outlook. “And the locker room – we have a special locker room. My first two years, it was a good locker room, but this year it was more together.”
Asked if he would sign a contract extension with New Orleans if one is offered by the Pelicans this offseason, Williamson responded, “Of course! I wouldn’t be able to sign it fast enough.”
Williamson fractured his right foot during the 2021 offseason, preventing him from being in uniform. He spent a portion of the season rehabilitating in Portland, but returned to the Pelicans in mid-March. That gave him an up-close perspective as New Orleans surged during the final month of the regular season to claim the West’s No. 9 seed, then won play-in games over San Antonio and the LA Clippers. The Pelicans gave the top-seeded and NBA-best Phoenix Suns all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs, being outscored by an average margin of 1.5 points in a six-game defeat.
“It helped a lot, just to come back and feel the allure of this place and just be around my teammates,” Williamson said. “Being around my teammates was the biggest mental change for me. At first I was in a mentally bad space, but when I got around the fellas, it’s always good vibes with them.
“Being real, it sucks watching from the sideline. I just want to be out there. But just seeing the potential, we’ve got a lot of great pieces. I’m excited to get on the court with those guys.”
Williamson believes he could’ve helped New Orleans late in the season, but added that ultimately a decision was made for him to sit out from a long-term perspective.
“From a physical standpoint, I definitely could have played (this spring),” he said. “But me and my team and the front office and the (Pelicans), we decided longevity was better than trying to rush back.”
Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said Friday afternoon that Williamson is “probably a couple weeks away from the last round of imaging we hope we have to do (for his foot). That will be when we cross the bridge of thinking, ‘OK, he can get ready for next season without any limitations.’ ”
For his part, Williamson can’t wait to get started.
“It’s been a rough year,” he said Friday. “It had its rough patches. But I’m in a great space now.
“The locker room was a different feel this year. A lot of that goes to (Brandon Ingram’s) leadership, the young guys buying in to Coach (Willie) Green so fast. You saw it on the court. We have a special group. I truly believe that.”