Zion Williamson is one of the most polarizing names in the entire NBA, really in all of sports. Why is he so polarizing, you may ask? Because when on the floor, he is a bonafide superstar and perhaps in a way never seen in the NBA.
He can dominate a game physically the way Shaquille O’Neal used to, but he does it in such a different if not more exciting way. He is an athlete that is in a class of his own. Built with the strength of an NFL defensive tackle, the vertical of a power dunking 6-foot guard, and the skill set of a veteran post player.
The term “built different” is often used as a joke but is 100% applicable when describing Zion Williamson. Here is the problem though, he has missed more games throughout his NBA career than he has played in.
Zion has not played in a single game this season while recovering from an off-season foot surgery that was thought initially to be routine. The injury occurred while Zion was working out ahead of the 2021 NBA summer league. When the procedure was announced, New Orleans Pelicans GM David Griffen said he would be ready for the start of the NBA season. That obviously is not how this has played out.
How New Orleans Got to This Point with Zion
Zion was cleared for full basketball activities on November 26th, and there were signs of life. He never appeared in a game, but things were headed in that direction. Then everything took a 180-degree turn, and suddenly Zion had to be shut down.
Let’s look at the recent timeline:
December 11th: Zion gets shut down for an unknown period of time due to soreness in his surgically repaired right foot.
Pelicans’ Zion Williamson continues to experience soreness in his surgically-repaired right foot and is likely to be shut down from basketball activities for time being, sources tell me and @WillGuillory.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 11, 2021
December 16th: Announced that Zion will be out for at least another 4-6 weeks. He received a biological injection in his foot to promote his foot bone healing.
Zion Williamson Medical Update:
Following a consultation and further evaluation with Dr. Richard Ferkel of the Southern California Orthopedic Institute yesterday, Zion Williamson received a biologic injection into the fracture site to stimulate bone healing in his right foot. pic.twitter.com/sSD0rBq5yK
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 16, 2021
January 13th-January 27th: Zion will be reevaluated sometime in this window to see his healing progress. Note that this is not the total recovery time but instead just when they will take more steps medically to see where he is.
Zion Williamson has received an injection to promote bone healing in his right foot.
He will be reevaluated in four to six weeks. pic.twitter.com/L1drv0CL3o
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 16, 2021
Now here we sit, the New Orleans Pelicans sit at 10-21 on the year 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference. They have the third-worst odds in the league to make the playoffs according to BetMGM Sportsbook and there are some serious questions the franchise needs to address over the final few months of this season.
What are the Pelicans going to do about this ongoing Zion saga? On one hand, most would consider him a top-five player impact-wise when he is on the floor. Yet with him being on the floor so rarely at this point in his career, what good is he doing for the Pelicans. Right now, it is a constant holding pattern, and the franchise seemingly can’t move forward without him.
New Orleans’ playoff chances are very slim; maybe that would be different if they got Zion back for their next game. That is not happening, though, and it is honestly starting to look like it would be a surprise if Williamson plays at all this year. The next issue is that Zion is only on the books for one more year. After the 2022-2023 season, Zion will be a restricted free agent. The Pelicans need to find a way to be competitive not to repeat the Anthony Davis drama.
What is the Correct Path Forward for the Pelicans?
Many suggest that the Pelicans start seeking trades to improve their team and fight their way back into the playoff hunt or at least into the play-in games. The team has a solid core and a bright future with a healthy Zion.
Others are suggesting tanking to try and garner better draft picks. Is accepting a losing environment really something you want to do with this young of young team, though? Regardless, the remainder of the 2021-2022 season, as well as this upcoming offseason is going to be a very interesting time down in New Orleans.
Are they going to be aggressive in the trade market and fight to get back in the playoff hunt? Eventually this has to transition from a team of promise to a team of now, or Zion will wald as a free agent having never won in New Orleans.
Are they going to tank to try and put another superstar next to Ingram and Zion? Assuming the Pelicans are unable to lure free agents to The Big Easy, the draft seems like the best place to find a bonafide star to create a big three here.
When is Zion going to be back or will he be back this year at all? Is it the right move to rest him for the entire season and allow him to get healthy? How will he respond to an entire season away from basketball? Can New Orleans afford to waste one of the few years he is under team control?
Unfortunately, the only clear answer right now is that only time will tell, a message that is starting to get old for Pelicans fans.