Pelicans will use load management for Zion Williamson upon his return

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Cassandra Negley
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Zion Williamson is getting load-managed.

The New Orleans Pelicans’ No. 1 overall draft pick will not be given big minutes after he makes his NBA regular-season debut. Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin did not give a return date, but spoke about how the Pelicans (6-16) will handle the star on the team’s television broadcast Thursday night in a 139-132 overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns.

"He very likely will not be asked to take the pounding of back-to-backs initially," Griffin said, via ESPN. "There will be a sort of ramp-up for him to getting back to where you would call him full strength, but he's certainly going to be playing, and we're trying to win basketball games.

"And quite frankly, we've done a horrible job of that."

Williamson has not yet played this season after he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery for a torn right lateral meniscus days before opening night. It’s the six-week mark of his recovery; he was expected to miss between six and eight weeks.

Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said earlier this week the star had yet to do any on-court work since surgery. He added that he was still “on target” to return between six and eight weeks. According to ESPN, Williamson has reportedly been on the court since with some light walk-throughs and shooting.

The Pelicans organization has been cautious with its young superstar from the beginning. Williamson missed all but one game of summer league with a bruised left knee, a move Griffin said was out of an “abundance of caution.” Gentry said this week the team is looking to protect Williamson from himself and being “overly cautious” to make sure he’s ready to go.

New Orleans’ losing skid was extended to seven games Thursday night, and the team is currently second to last in the Western Conference, above only the Golden State Warriors. They’ve done it in front of national TV audiences because the team was featured in prime-time spots for Williamson, who will have missed nearly a quarter of the season when the Duke product finally ends up making his debut.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 16: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on from the bench against the Miami Heat during the first half at American Airlines Arena on November 16, 2019 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
The Pelicans will not overload Zion Williamson when he returns to the court. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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