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Zion Williamson Leaves NBA Bubble, Return Date Up in the Air

The restart of the NBA’s season, which has been on pause since March 11, is just two weeks away at this point, with the first games of each team’s eight-game seeding schedule getting underway on July 30. As everyone knows, 22 of the league’s 30 teams (nine from the Eastern Conference and 13 from the Western Conference) are in Orlando at the Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in an attempt to lock down a playoff spot in search of a NBA title. While only 16 of those 22 teams will comprise what would be a normal playoff field, each of these teams have a chance to earn one of those bids.

One of those teams that are on the outside looking in at the normal playoff field is the New Orleans Pelicans, who enter the seeding games tied for ninth in the Western Conference, 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies, who own the final playoff spot. Now, they have another concern to deal with as the season start creeps up. Zion Williamson, who was the top overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and who has been in the news regarding impermissible benefits while spending the one year he had in college at Duke, left the NBA bubble on Thursday to deal with a family emergency, which puts his status, at least temporarily, up in the air.

The Pelicans had a brief statement, saying that Williamson had left and plans to return. Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said Thursday that “We fully support Zion's decision to leave the NBA campus to be with his family. Out of respect for the Williamson family, we will have no further comment at this time."

Now, Williamson’s potential return date will be up in the air depending on how long he’s gone and how attentive he is when it comes to getting tested. If he sticks with the stringent testing like they are doing in the NBA bubble and he returns negative tests each time while being gone for less than a week, he would have to quarantine for four days. Should he be gone for more than a week and has had negative tests for the previous seven days before his return, he would also quarantine for four days. If he is gone for more than a week without any testing, he then would be quarantined for a minimum of 10 days.

Williamson had played in just 19 of the Pelicans’ 64 games this season due to knee issues that kept him out of action for much of the season. Still, New Orleans was 10-9 in those games, compared to the 18-27 mark when he wasn’t on the floor. Williamson averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while playing an average of 29.7 minutes per contest. He shot 58.9 percent from the floor, including 46.2 percent from beyond the arc (six of 13) but struggled to hit 64.5 percent of his attempts at the charity stripe. Still, his presence on the floor has been something that has helped the Pelicans.

During the pause, Williamson had gotten rave reviews for his transformation as he was working out religiously during the break. His new look generated plenty of positive publicity as he said he went back to square one and building from there. While the Pelicans are led by veterans like Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick, the fact remains that having Williamson on the floor is going to make a major difference as to New Orleans’ hopes of making the postseason. Hopefully, the family emergency is something that can be resolved quickly and Williamson can get back in the bubble sooner rather than later. Any sort of delay in a return could easily take him out of action for at least the first game out of the pause for the Pelicans, which comes July 30 against the Jazz.

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Chris Kubala

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