Zion Williamson left the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday to attend to what the club described as an “urgent family medical matter.”
Williamson, the NBA’s top overall draft choice last summer, intends to rejoin the team in the Orlando, Florida, area for the resumption of the season, the Pelicans said, but the club did not specify when he would be able to return or whether he’ll miss any of the club’s eight remaining regular-season games.
“We don’t know anything right now from the standpoint of him coming back,” coach Alvin Gentry said after practice Thursday night. “Obviously, right now, we’re not concerned about the basketball part for him. We’re just concerned about his family.”
Williamson will have to quarantine again when he returns to central Florida, a period that will last at least four days and could be significantly longer if he is not tested daily during his absence from the team.
“Once we learn more about Zion’s specific circumstances, we will determine his reentry protocol based on our rules,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.
The Pelicans resume the season on July 30 against Utah, followed by a matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers two days later.
“We fully support Zion’s decision to leave the NBA campus to be with his family,” Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said. “Out of respect for the Williamson family, we will have no further comment at this time.”
Williamson, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound power forward who starred for one season at Duke, has averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in 19 NBA games after missing New Orleans’ first 44 games this season while recovering from preseason arthroscopic knee surgery.
“With him gone taking care of his family, we’ll hold down the fort for him,” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said. “This season and how crazy it’s been, it’s just another obstacle that we have to get through as a team.
“We know that when Zion gets back he’ll fall right back in line, just like he did last time,” Holiday added. “But until then, we’ll have to steer the boat.”
New Orleans is 10-9 with Williamson in the lineup and 18-27 without him.
“Obviously, he’s a great player that we’ll miss,” Gentry said, but also noted that the Pelicans had a stretch without Williamson from late December into January in which they won 11 of 16 games.
“We’re a good team. We’re a deep team,” Gentry said. “So we’ll have guys that will step in and play. We’ll have guys that will up their games a little bit more.”
The Pelicans are 3 1/2 games behind Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But there is also the possibility of qualifying for the playoffs by finishing ninth and within four games of the eighth seed. In that case, the ninth-place team would have to beat the eighth-place team in two straight games to advance to the full NBA playoffs.
Portland currently holds the ninth spot, with New Orleans and Sacramento less than one game behind in a tie for 10th. All 22 teams invited to conclude the season at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex will play eight games before the postseason begins.