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Foot injury to keep New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson sidelined for start of season

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson will miss the beginning of the regular season because of a right foot injury that required offseason surgery, Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said on Thursday.

Williamson received scans on Wednesday, and after reviewing the scans with Dr. Richard Ferkel and Pelicans team doctor Dr. Scott Montgomery, Griffin stated the doctors were “very encouraged” by the healing of the bone.

However, there was no “fixed timeline” given on Williamson’s return-to-play status. Griffin said Williamson will get more scans in two to 2½ weeks and the team will go from there.

“It’s everyone’s goal that Zion return to play as soon as safely possible,” Griffin said. “Obviously, two to 2½ weeks from now means he will not be on the floor for the first week of games. When he is able to return safely, we will do that.”

At media day on Sept. 27, Griffin said Williamson injured the foot prior to summer league in the early part of the offseason but added at the time that “his timeline should get him back on the court in time for the regular season.”

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Williamson followed that up by saying, “I expect to be back for the first game. First official game, I would say.” Griffin said there have been no setbacks in Williamson’s recovery and that nothing has gone wrong, either.

“It just takes a certain amount of time for guys to lay the bone that the doctors want to see,” Griffin said. “This is where our timeline is.”

Williamson was cleared to start running and to do individual on-court work, Griffin said. But it was unclear when he would be specifically cleared for more activities.

“Throughout the process, we’ll be heading toward that,” Griffin said of Williamson getting to the point where he could play 5-on-5. “It may be well before the 2½ weeks that he does that. It’s really just a function of how things progress.”

For first-year Pelicans coach Willie Green, he now has to start year at the helm without Williamson.

“It’s a part of [the game]. We miss him,” Green said. “He’s here and he’s progressing, as Griff spoke about. But we gotta get other guys ready — there’s a game coming up Wednesday against Philly. We just need to be prepared.”

How the Pelicans line up on opening night versus the Sixers remains up for debate. For the first preseason game when Brandon Ingram played, Green went with Ingram and Naji Marshall as the starting forwards. When asked about playing Ingram up at the power forward position, Green mentioned the fluidness of NBA lineups today.

“I think 3, 4, 2 are interchangeable in the NBA right now,” Green said. “Unless you play certain teams, you play the Lakers, they could be a little bit bigger. You play Milwaukee, they could put a big lineup out there. That’s when you really gotta think about your starting 4, 3. But against a lot of teams, 3 and 4 guys are interchangeable and BI can play either of those positions.”

Williamson and Ingram, two All-Stars, were supposed to anchor a Pelicans lineup that featured more shooting this season — something that was going to ease the burden and number of bodies each player saw on the defensive end of the floor. Now, as the team had to do in Williamson’s rookie season, they’ll have to get off on the right foot without their big man.

In 2019, Williamson also suffered an injury in the preseason that delayed the start of his season. A torn meniscus in his right knee pushed Williamson’s NBA debut to Jan. 22, 2020.

“It’s not ideal, obviously,” Griffin said. “It’s also not terribly debilitating either. The idea again is to return as soon and safely as possible. I think the way the doctors are handling this gives a great deal of confidence that that’s going to be the case. We would love to not have to deal with it. But we’re really happy with the way it’s gone so far.”

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