Zion cleared to play after missing entire 2021-22 season
Williamson missed the entire 2021-22 campaign after suffering a foot injury in the offseason. Despite being expected to make his return by opening night, the former No. 1 pick suffered countless setbacks in his recovery.
The rehab process brought plenty of challenges for both Williamson and the Pelicans, partially based on rumors surrounding the All-Star's desire to remain in New Orleans.
Reports about Williamson's distaste with the organization, particularly vice president of basketball operations David Griffin, surfaced in February after newly acquired Pelicans guard CJ McCollum told reporters Williamson never reached out to welcome him to the team.
The detachment led to a report that Zion's issues with Griffin and his hand-picked medical team played a role in his slower than expected return from injury.
Williamson recently stated he wants to remain with the Pelicans, saying he would "of course" sign a maximum extension with the team.
However, as a result of the lost season, Griffin later responded that working on a deal with his franchise cornerstone would be "a challenge." Williamson will be eligible for an extension this offseason; next year's campaign will be his last on his rookie deal.
Even without the forward, who has put up a gaudy stat line of 25.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game over his first two seasons in the league, the scrappy Pelicans fought their way through the play-in tournament. The team ultimately went blow-for-blow with the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs before being eliminated in six games.
For his part, Williamson joined the team on the bench for their playoff series after being away from the franchise during the season and even showed off his signature dunks pregame.