Zion Williamson‘s stepfather, Lee Anderson, said he expects Williamson to return to play this season but understands that it’s a decision that has to be made with the New Orleans Pelicans‘ medical staff with a look toward not only the present but also the future.
Anderson made the comments on Tuesday to “The Jordy Culotta Show,” an online show based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
When asked directly whether he thought Williamson could return this season from a fractured right foot that has kept him out the entire season, Anderson said that it was a “tough” question to answer but that he did think so.
“I expect him to play. If you were to ask Zion, I’m sure he would probably say the same thing,” Anderson said. “But with just a couple of games left, with the magnitude of what’s going on in New Orleans and the opportunity to qualify for the play-in game and possibly get into a seven-game series, that would be off the charts in the city of New Orleans. That would be a plus in New Orleans. That would be a plus for Zion with the way things are right now.”
“Do I expect him to play? Certainly I do. That’s on me, though. That’s purely me. I don’t think there’s anything else that would hinder him from doing that right now.”
Prior to Tuesday’s win over the Sacramento Kings, Pelicans coach Willie Green gave no official update on Williamson, saying, “He’s getting on the floor, doing what he’s supposed to do but no further updates.” However, sources said Williamson has progressed past three-on-three work after being cleared for only one-on-one work prior to the beginning of the Pelicans’ four-game road trip last Tuesday.
Officially, Williamson remains out indefinitely. Anderson didn’t say whether Williamson has done any more work but did mention that the Pelicans staff has talked about looking at the long-term picture.
“He’s feeling great,” Anderson said. “Speaking for the Pelicans staff, and not saying any names, they mentioned to me that they are just one player away from being where we need to be at. That was enough for me to know that they are putting some stock in Zion getting healthy and being ready for the long haul.
“But my thing with the long haul, you have to wait on it. The short haul, sometimes when you’re faced with an opportunity right now, you never know when you’re going to be presented with that opportunity again in the long haul or how long it’ll be from that time. I’m a guy that believes in taking advantage of the moment at hand. Let’s deal with it right now and let’s go forward and see what happens.”
There was initial optimism from Williamson and the Pelicans that he would be able to play on opening night, but instead various setbacks have occurred that have pushed back his timeline.
“I guess certain circumstances with the rehab didn’t initially go the way we wanted it to go or the way the team wanted it to go,” Anderson said. “He just wasn’t able to make the opening day tipoff, which we thought was going to be a possibility. It just became out of our control how things worked.”
Anderson said that right now he believes Williamson is healthy and is willing to do whatever he can to “help instill that winning fabric, that winning culture that New Orleans wants right now. I think it’s burning him to the core for him to get back out there and help his team win basketball games.”
On March 22, Williamson posted a video to his Instagram story that showed him doing a between-the-legs dunk after catching the ball off the backboard. At that point, he wasn’t cleared by the team to be doing many weight-bearing exercises. The next day, he was cleared to do one-on-one.
“I think Zion for the most part, being the person he is and the competitor he is, he just kind of wants to do something different,” Anderson said. “He was telling us the entire time that ‘I am a lot better than I’ve been and you guys have to trust me.’ Doctors were pretty much agreeing with what he was saying. We kind of rely on the medical staff and our medical people and the Pelicans’ medical people to make sure the best judgment is being made for his success and his career.”
Aside from the injury, Anderson also addressed the reported frustrations around the Williamson family about being in New Orleans.
Anderson admitted to there being frustrations that come with losing but said there has never been a fractured relationship with the Pelicans front office.
“I don’t know where the comments or the rumblings or the misunderstandings came from. It’s always someone referring to someone in Zion’s camp. And ‘sources say.’ There are only four sources in Zion’s camp. Zion’s mom [Sharonda Anderson]. That’s me. That’s Noah [Williamson’s little brother]. And that’s Zion. If it didn’t come from one of us, they are not sources,” Anderson said.
“We have not sourced information to anybody on Zion’s behalf at any time. If anybody can come back and say we said that, we’ll discount that. We’re enjoying New Orleans. We’re enjoying the fabric. We love the pickups that the Pelicans have made the last month or so. We’re excited about that. We think — the acquisitions they have made and Zion being on the mend 110 percent — we think the future is very bright in New Orleans right now.”
Anderson praised the move for New Orleans to pick up Green, Williamson’s third coach in as many seasons as he’s been with the organization.
“They smacked a walk-off home run,” Anderson said. “They did an amazing job. Willie Green has come in and righted the ship. I’m not throwing shade at no coach, I’m not doing that; I’m just saying what’s happening right now. He’s come in, he’s a young coach, and evidently he’s a player’s coach because the players have really bought into what he was doing.”
Anderson said that while Williamson was doing his rehab work in Portland, Oregon, he was adamant that he wanted to come back as the Pelicans made a push for the play-in tournament because of the culture Green was fostering.
The Pelicans are currently the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference and would have to win two games to make the playoffs. If they do, they’d be slotted at No. 8 and take on the top-seeded Phoenix Suns.
“The play-in game will give us additional experience,” Anderson said. “If all the pieces are in place, even for the play-in, go ahead and lock that in and get that taken care of and win what we’re supposed to win with everybody included, I’m just saying everybody because I think if everybody, everybody is included, we are a dangerous team.
“I was telling my wife yesterday, even in eighth place and we’d have to face Phoenix in the opening round, I would love that opportunity to go against Phoenix see what the full team, the complete team, reacts to being in the playoffs. I would love to see that. If I had any money, I’m putting it on the Pelicans.”
Before the interview ended, Anderson reiterated that there were no “bad spirits” between the family and the organization and that they’re happy where they are.
“But for them to put Zion’s family name out there and say that we’re not happy in New Orleans, that is false information,” Anderson said. “And it’s coming from the horse’s mouth. You don’t have to look anywhere else for any further information, I’m telling you right now that it’s false.”