So much for the highly anticipated debut of Zion Williamson. The NBA’s most heralded rookie since LeBron James had surgery Monday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
The New Orleans Pelicans announced he will miss from six to eight weeks. And that is a crushing blow to an organization relying on the rookie to help transform its franchise.
Late last week, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry speculated Williamson injured himself during their game against San Antonio last Sunday. The specifics surrounding the injury take a back seat to how much his loss is going to impact the organization.
Williamson was off to a great start in the preseason. He was averaging 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds and shooting 71.4 percent from the floor in the four games he played. It was clear his development was right on schedule. Those who projected he’d have a major impact on the league this season were on point.
Meanwhile, you’ll recall Williamson has already dealt with knee issues during his career. The most famous incident was at Duke. He suffered a right knee sprain in a game against North Carolina when his sneaker exploded when making a move
Williamson, 6-foot-7, 284 pounds, missed three weeks because of that injury. It also attracted attention from those questioning whether he should have returned for the remainder of the season.
Zion also missed time during the summer league after banging his knee in a collision in first just eight minutes. The Pelicans decided not to take any unnecessary chances, so they shut him down for the remainder of the campaign.
Of course, while Williamson’s absence is certain to hurt the Pelicans, it’s likely to also have an adverse impact on the NBA.
Once the Pelicans drafted Williamson, the league broadcast partners, ESPN and TNT, began working on their schedules with an eye on featuring New Orleans as much as possible.
Seriously, when was the last time you can remember the New Orleans Pelicans being featured in a primetime game? It is very similar to how the NFL’s broadcast partners reacted to the possibility the Cleveland Browns would write a major storyline in the 2019 season. How is that working out?
The Pelicans are scheduled to open the season on Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors on TNT. On Friday, ESPN is scheduled to televise their home game against Dallas. As of now, there are no plans to shake up the schedule. But you can imagine much of excitement about those games has just swirled down the drain.
“We were taking the opportunity to put New Orleans there to get Zion’s first game, and the Pelicans and their whole new team, on in Toronto,” Thomas Carelli, vice president of broadcasting at the NBA, told The Athletic. “And then you look at who else you want to feature in terms of great storylines throughout the first week, and we try to get as many of them as we could in the eight games we had to work with.”