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Both Pelicans, Zion Williamson reportedly ‘hopeful’ for January debut

Utah Jazz v New Orleans Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - OCTOBER 11: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans reacts during a game against the Utah Jazz at the Smoothie King Center on October 11, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

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Zion Williamson’s debut as a Pelican is growing closer.

Despite some buzz he could sit out longer, I heard from a source during the G-League showcase Williamson was nearing a return and would practice with the team soon. There were other reports along those lines.

Now we have a somewhat more firm timeline, with both the Pelicans and Williamson’s camp “hopeful” for a January debut, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. He has yet to start on-court practices or have contact in practice yet, but that will come in the next few days.

A January debut would give the Pelicans some time to see how Williamson plays with emerging star Brandon Ingram before they have to pay him next summer (Ingram is going to get the max, but do the Pelicans want to pay him that?).

While Zion’s return is well outside the usual 6-8 week timeline for a torn meniscus (his surgery was in October), it’s not unreasonable for this particular case. The Pelicans were going to be “overly cautious” — to use coach Alvin Gentry’s words — with the future franchise cornerstone.

New Orleans’ focus during Zion’s recovery was to prevent future issues, which is where the much-discussed focus on retraining him to walk and run properly — something that is fairly common throughout professional sports — comes from. There also has been a focus on diet and conditioning while he is out. An explosive athlete like Williamson puts a lot of strain on joints and ligaments, the Pelicans want to reduce the chances that leads to future injury.

New Orleans are sellers heading into the trade deadline, with Jrue Holiday (the name I heard the most in Las Vegas), Derrick Favors, and maybe J.J. Redick all potential targets of other teams. The Pelicans want to see how Williamson fits with those stars before the trade deadline, just to get a sense of what they have.