New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson cleared to return without restrictions, paving way for 2022-23 return

Zion Williamson has been cleared in his return to play progression without any restrictions, the New Orleans Pelicans said Thursday .

The announcement clears Williamson to go through offseason workouts unrestricted this summer as he prepares for the 2022-23 season. Williamson missed the entire 2021-22 season after he broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot during workouts last summer.

There was hope Williamson could have played this season but setbacks prevented that from happening. There was an outside chance Williamson could have returned if the eighth-seeded Pelicans made a deep run in the playoffs, but they fell in six games to the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round.

The update comes after the Pelicans said recent imaging showed "continued improvement" in Williamson's right foot. Williamson just completed his third NBA season but has played only 85 games in those three years because of injuries. He played 24 during his rookie season after his debut was delayed by a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Williams is eligible to sign a five-year, $186 million max rookie extension with New Orleans this summer. When asked about the extension on April 29 when the Pelicans did exit interviews, Williamson said, "Of course. I wouldn't be able to sign it fast enough."

Williamson said the 2021-22 season was a "rough year" because of the injury that included him taking time to rehab away from the team in Portland. But once he returned in March, he said he could tell the Pelicans were building something.

"Being real, it sucks watching from the sideline," Williamson said. "I just want to be out there. Just seeing the potential. We have a lot of great pieces. I'm excited to get out on the court with those guys."

Williamson progressed to playing 5-on-5 full-court games with Pelicans staffers and end-of-the-bench players in April, but never could clear the final hurdle to make it back on the court for games.