Zion Williamson returns to NBA Orlando campus; could play opening night


Zion Williamson is back.

After leaving the NBA’s Orlando campus last week to deal with a family medical matter — which led to a lot of empty speculation on NBA social media and questions about why we didn’t know more (it was a personal matter, that’s why) — Zion Williamson returned to the Orlando campus Friday, the Pelicans announced.

The Pelicans also released this statement from Zion:

“My family and I appreciate the love and respect that everyone showed us while we dealt with a private family matter. I‘m excited to rejoin my team in Orlando and look forward to getting back on the court with my teammates after quarantine.”

Because Zion tested negative every day he was outside the bubble, he will have at most a four-day quarantine with his return. That timeline will have Zion in quarantine for the remaining Pelicans scrimmages (Saturday against the Nuggets and Monday against the Bucks) but he will be available for the New Orleans opener against Utah next Thursday night.

The Pelicans need Zion in the rotation for as many games as possible, the team is in the middle of a tough chase for the eighth seed in the West. New Orleans, Portland, and Sacramento are all 3.5 games back of eighth seed Memphis and whichever team grabs the ninth seed (and is within 4 games of Memphis) gets into a play-in series with the Grizzlies. That is the target for the Pelicans.

Zion benefits from changes to the NBA’s quarantine rules for returning players, which now include 30 minutes outside his hotel room per day so long as strict social distancing measures — 25 feet minimum — are followed. That could allow some real workouts outside the room to help with conditioning.

Williamson looked in great shape upon his return but reportedly was dealing with cramps in some of the early practices.