The New Orleans Pelicans will sign 22-year-old, often injured, occasional superstar Zion Williamson to a five-year, $193 million Designated Player contract extension, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
The deal will net him $231 million if he makes an All-NBA team or earns league MVP honors next season.
Both parties have previously expressed optimism about the contract, despite Williamson’s health, which limited him to 85 games in his first three years, including all of last season, and several reports of friction between the Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin and the player he drafted No. 1 overall in 2019.
“It’s not a big decision; it’s a pretty easy decision,” Griffin said on the Ryen Russillo podcast as he offered Williamson a max deal. “The kid is historically good when he plays. … He’s a max player. It’s easy.”
Knee problems followed Williamson in the NBA, and a torn right meniscus cost him all but 24 games in his rookie year. He averaged 27 points (on 61/29/70 shooting), 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 33.2 minutes in 61 games during the 2020-21 campaign, making an All-Star appearance in his only healthy basketball streak in the league. But a broken right foot sidelined him for the whole of last season.
The injuries raised questions about Williamson’s conditioning at 6-foot-6 and (perhaps conservatively) 284 pounds. No player under the age of 6-9 weighs less than 25 pounds of Williamson’s listed weight, and no one comparable to his height and weight has ever enjoyed a lengthy NBA career. Then again, no one that size is as exceptionally athletic as Williamson, whose best moments have made him the most hotly anticipated prospect since LeBron James.
The Pelicans are banking on Williamson keeping that promise for the duration of his contract extension, and their commitment signals confidence that his foot and knee issues may not be long-term issues.
Whether or not Williamson completes that deal in New Orleans, even healthy, will be the subject of much debate for years to come. Chris Paul and Anthony Davis, the only other superstars the franchise has ever known, both requested small-market trades before the end of their similar contracts.
These concerns fueled the debate long before this agreement. If you trust the reports of the past three years, Williamson was unhappy with the organization’s careful treatment of his knee injury, and his rehabilitation from a foot injury at Nike’s facility in Oregon didn’t go down well. quelled these rumours. Reports of Williamson’s family also didn’t want to leave New Orleans or his stilted communication with his new teammate CJ McCollum.
All in, Williamson insisted“Anyone who knows me…they know I love New Orleans,” “I want to be here,” and when asked about the possibility of an extension, “I couldn’t. sign soon enough.”
The Pelicans’ success without Williamson last season helped Williamson follow the direction of the team. Brandon Ingram continued to perform at star level. Second-round pick Herbert Jones was a revelation. The trades of Jonas Valanciunas and McCollum brought veteran stability to an otherwise inexperienced roster.
Together, they pushed the Pelicans from a 3-16 start to a berth in the qualifying tournament and the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The 64-win Phoenix Suns needed an all-time great playoff performance from Paul to avoid a Game 7 in the first round against an upstart from New Orleans. Adding Williamson to this streak might have made all the difference, or at least that’s the theory behind the payout for being that player.
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