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Moore: What Zion Williamson’s Absence From the NBA Bubble Means for the New Orleans Pelicans

Moore: What Zion Williamson’s Absence From the NBA Bubble Means for the New Orleans Pelicans article feature image

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans.

On Thursday, the New Orleans Pelicans announced Zion Williamson left the NBA campus in Orlando, Fla. due to an “urgent family matter.” The team said he intends to rejoin the team “at a later date.”

There is, understandably, no explanation or elaboration of the emergency (nor should there be for privacy reasons), but Williamson’s absence raises questions about his availability for the Pelicans’ eight reseeding games and their drive to secure the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

Specifically, any player who returns to campus does so under different quarantine and testing measures than those who first entered earlier this month. The NBA has two classifications for return, excused and unexcused.

For more on the Orlando restart, schedules playoff odds & more check out our NBA hub.

From the NBA’s protocol for return to play, a copy of which was provided to Action Network:

Ten days of quarantine in a hotel room or other campus property (which may be extended up to a total of 14 days, as directed by a consulting infectious disease physician designated by the NBA for the case). If, however, a player leaves the campus for extenuating circumstances with prior league approval (e.g., need to receive team-directed medical care off-campus, birth of a child, documented severe illness or death in the family, or previously scheduled family wedding), and (a) during each day off-campus undergoes a daily PCR test and returns negative test results each time, or (b) if the player leaves for an extended absence but undergoes a daily PCR test and returns a negative test result for at least the seven days preceding his return to campus, then the player’s quarantine on the campus will be four days (subject to extension by a consulting infectious disease physician designated by the NBA for the case). The player must undergo his final PCR test prior to exiting quarantine via a nasopharyngeal swab.

In short: Williamson will need to test daily and while away from the team, and then quarantine for 10 days. Because of the urgent nature of his departure, Williamson’s absence was not evaluated by the league prior to his leaving campus.

“Once we learn more about Zion’s specific circumstances, we will determine his reentry protocol based on our rules,” a league spokesman told Action Network.

The reasons this matters:

  1. Zion’s absence was not cleared with the league prior to departure so he’s not inherently eligible for the four-day return.
  2. The league is treating each individual case within its own contexts for clearance, built around several strict protocols (like clearing multiple negative tests).

So there is still a good chance Williamson will be granted that four-day quarantine window when he returns, but it’s not certain. That of course is dependent on Williamson’s ability to be tested (and test negative) daily during his absence, which may not be practical depending on the circumstances.

The Pelicans’ first scrimmage game is July 22, and their first seeding game is July 30 and it’s reasonable to expect the chances of Williamson missing some of the reseeding games are fairly high — again, without knowing the details of his situation, that remains uncertain.

The Pelicans trail the Memphis Grizzlies by 3.5 games entering reseeding play. If they finish within four games of the team in eighth, or if they are No. 8 seed and the team in ninth finishes within four games, there will be a play-in game for the final seed in the West.

The Pelicans are +290 at DraftKings to reach the playoffs, and +6600 to win the Western Conference.

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