Zion Williamson cleared to return to play “without any restrictions”

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We’re going to see a healthy Zion Williamson back on the court next season… if he can stay healthy through this offseason and next training camp.

A little later than he wanted, Zion has been cleared to return to the court without restrictions as he prepares for next season, the Pelicans announced on Thursday.

The last time we saw Zion on the court, he averaged 27 points a game shooting 61.1% — he was the best interior scorer in the league. He also averaged 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists a year, making his first All-Star team and looking like the future franchise anchor the Pelicans hoped he would be.

Put Williamson on the court with the shooting and shot creation of CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram, and suddenly Willie Green’s New Orleans team looks like a potential playoff threat.

The challenge is keeping him on the court — Williamson has missed 141 games in three seasons, including this entire season. Concerns about Zion’s body type and style of play — as well as his workout habits — have led to questions of if he can stay healthy, and if he’s willing to make the changes and put in the work to do so. The only way to silence critics is for Zion to get on the court and dominate.

The Pelicans are going to bet big on Zion doing exactly that this offseason.

Zion is extension eligible and has said he would sign a max deal instantly, reiterating he wants to be in New Orleans (despite the whispers around the league). The question is will the Pelicans put a max contract on the table? A five-year max extension for Zion would likely be worth between $182 million-$195 million, and if he made an All-NBA team next season that would jump to $218 million-$234 million (the way he played in the 2020-21 season, it’s possible he’d make the cut. 

Do the Pelicans just put that max on the table? Do they put a Joel Embiid-style clause in there reducing pay if specific injuries cause him to miss significant time? Do they take the risk of pissing him off, waiting a season and letting Zion go to restricted free agency in a year?

Most likely, the sides reach some kind of extension deal.

However, most of us want to see Zion back on the court — not dunking pregame or in an Instagram post, but in an actual, honest-to-goodness NBA game. Play like he did a couple of seasons ago — now with a much better cast of players on the court with him — and Zion will be worth every penny.

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Zion Williamson cleared to return to play “without any restrictions” originally appeared on NBCSports.com