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Zion Williamson practices with Pelicans, will not debut in next two games

Pelicans Nuggets Basketball

Injured New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson smiles as he jokes with fans while waiting on the team bench for the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019, in Denver. The Pelicans won 112-100. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


Zion Williamson is not making his NBA debut in the next few days, but things are getting closer.

Williamson practiced with the team on Thursday — his first with the team since his surgery. While there is no timeline for his return yet, he said he was just happy to be back out there.

Coach Alvin Gentry wouldn’t put a timeline on Zion’s debut, outside of saying it would not be on the upcoming two-game road trip in California (Lakers and Kings).

Zion is itching to play, and his teammates are itching to get his skills on the court with them.

There has been momentum building for a while now toward a January debut for Williamson. While a January date is longer than the usual 6-8 week timeline for a torn meniscus (Zion’s surgery was in October), the Pelicans always 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 has been not only on recovery from this injury but strengthening and conditioning to prevent future issues. That’s where the Pelicans retraining Williamson how to walk and run properly came from, but with that has been a focus on diet and conditioning.

A January return gives the Pelicans a chance to see how Williamson plays with emerging star Brandon Ingram, who is a restricted free agent next summer. Ingram’s improved play this season is going to earn him a max contract next summer, but the Pelicans now have a chance to evaluate and see if they want to be the ones to pay him that much.

The Pelicans are sellers heading into the trade deadline, with Jrue Holiday (the name I heard the most in Las Vegas at the G-League showcase), Derrick Favors, and maybe J.J. Redick all potential targets of other teams. The Pelicans will get to see how Williamson fits with those stars before the trade deadline, just to get a sense of what they have, but it likely does not alter New Orleans’ long-term plans.

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