CJ McCollum defends Zion Williamson: 'Leave the young fella alone'

New Orleans Pelicans acquired CJ McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers before February 10 trade deadline.

CJ McCollum with the Pelicans, Image credit: Twitter
By Amruth Kalidas | Feb 25, 2022 | 2 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum would like you to know that he has spoken to Zion Williamson, they will talk again next week and he is there for his injured teammate. At practice on Thursday, McCollum spoke up for Williamson, five days after telling a TNT panel at All-Star weekend that they hadn’t spoken after McCollum’s trade to New Orleans.

“Leave the young fella alone, man,” McCollum said. “He’s trying to rehab in peace, trying to get himself ready to come back.”

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New Orleans acquired McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers before Feb. 10 trade deadline. On Tuesday, former Pelicans guard JJ Redick, now an analyst for ESPN, described Williamson as “a detached teammate” and said that he’d addressed this with Williamson in front of the team in Williamson’s rookie season. Redick said that it was “a little bit insane” that Williamson hadn’t welcomed McCollum to New Orleans, even though Williamson — who has been rehabilitating in Portland — wasn’t physically present there. 

“He’s a very talented player,” McCollum said. “He’s going through a lot. You guys are putting him on the spot on the daily and I think he’s just trying to recover on his own time and really focus on his rehab. I’ve been injured before, so I know what it’s like. You feel disconnected. You feel a way. You wish you could be out there. And it’s tough, mentally and physically. It’s tough on the body. And you gotta read about yourself all the time. I know it’s frustrating. But I’ve got a lot of respect for him. We’re going to get along very well and continue to build a relationship and I’ll be here for him when he needs it.”

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McCollum went on to say that, while he’s not sure exactly what stage of the rehab process Williamson is in, it is challenging to not be able to do what you normally do. Asked if the Pelicans have been talking about this situation or if it had been affecting the team, he said: “I think you guys are making it a distraction but for us it’s just a part of the game.” McCollum called Williamson “one of the faces of this league” and “must-see TV.” 

It remains unclear whether or not Williamson will play this season. New Orleans is two games out of the last play-in spot in the Western Conference, and the organization appears to be going for it, but Williamson and the team have been far from transparent about his health.

“He’ll be healthy eventually,” McCollum said. “And when he is, we’ll welcome him back with open arms and hit the ground running.”