Excitement is building in New Orleans for the debut of Zion Williamson, even though a target date hasn’t been set, writes Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. The top pick in this year’s draft is recovering from meniscus surgery, and a return before Christmas is still considered possible. He is able to do partial, weight-bearing workouts, but hasn’t been cleared to take contact.
“He’s dying to be back out here,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’s taking his rehab very, very serious. He’s chomping on the bit. We’d love to have him out there because he is a game-changer. Who wouldn’t want him out there? … It’s been tough for him only to be able to play in the preseason and not play now. He’s going to be special regardless because he is a team-first guy. And team-first guys seem to succeed in this league and have an impact on their team.”
The Pelicans are expecting Williamson to contribute right away when he does return. After a 6-12 start marked by a long string of injuries, executive vice president David Griffin said the team needs Williamson’s “energy” and “unbridled joy” for the game.
“He’s a monster,” Jrue Holiday added. “Having Zion has been really cool. He definitely surprised me professionally. Obviously, coming from college at 19, he is a little kid at heart. But the way he handles it is like an ultimate professional.”
There’s more from New Orleans, all from Spears:
- Former Pelicans star and fellow No. 1 pick Anthony Davis met with Williamson when the Lakers traveled to New Orleans this week. Davis could have been Zion’s teammate, but didn’t back off from his trade request after the Pelicans won the draft lottery. “I told him to get healthy,” Davis said. “Obviously, they’re waiting on his return and they’re trying to hold on until he gets back.”
- Gentry cites “a change of culture” since Griffin was hired to run the organization in April. The move was part of a front office overhaul that included adding Trajan Langdon as general manager and former WNBA star Swin Cash as vice president of basketball operations and team development. “The players know that everything is first class,” Gentry said. “Not that it hadn’t been before. But just the overall feeling and overall environment in a more positive way.”
- One change that wasn’t made was on the bench, where Gentry was retained despite a 33-49 record last season and a 145-183 mark in his first four years in New Orleans. Griffin had previous experience with Gentry in Phoenix and is confident that he can eventually produce a winner. “Everybody says, ‘Why didn’t you start over with a new coach?’ ” Griffin said. “‘Well, I don’t know a lot of other coaches that I went to the conference finals with, with a roster similar to this.’ The fearless Alvin that coached the 2010 Suns to the conference finals is a different animal than he was able to be here. My job is to get to channel as much of that person as I can because that was a masterful job that I watched him do.”