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Maybe, the third time will be the charm for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Zion Williamson, who was the first player picked in the 2019 NBA Draft by the club out of Duke but has been unhealthy for most of his career, signed a five-year extension to his contract for $231 million that will keep him in New Orleans through the 2027-28 season after rumors he would land elsewhere. He also appears healthy after missing the entire 2021-22 season with a broken right foot.
“I’m locked in, baby,” Williamson said Wednesday at a press conference at a YMCA in New Orleans where he has been holding a youth camp. “I told the world, ‘If you ever want to know if I want to be here, ask me.’ Instead of asking me, the world just ran with narratives.”
The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks were popular possible landing spots for Williamson, a Salisbury, N.C., native who became a phenom at Duke in the 2018-19 season despite a knee sprain late in the season against North Carolina. He missed three months of his rookie season at New Orleans with a torn meniscus. Then he broke his foot before last season.
“I feel like I’m in a great situation right now,” said Williamson, who played just 85 games in his first two seasons before missing all of last year. He averaged 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists a game in his one healthy season in 2020-21 and made the All-Star game.
“I want to prove I’m a winner,” he said.
Williamson signed on his 22nd birthday.
“For the Pelicans to give me this birthday gift, I’m not going to let them down,” he said. “I’m not going to let the city down. I’m not going to let my family down. But most of all, I’m not going to let myself down.”
Williamson has at times embraced the city. He was seen shooting hoops on an outdoor court at Delgado Community College just last month. Word quickly spread, and he was swarmed by kids, but he played with them and posed for pictures.
“Zion wasn’t looking for a way out. He was looking for a way to stay,” Pelicans’ executive vice-president David Griffin said. “The noise on the periphery is completely irrelevant to us, including Zion, because his actions speak far louder than any words that were said.”
But questions remain.
Can Williamson, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound power forward, become the NBA’s next Charles Barkley and help New Orleans do what it could not with previous franchise players Chris Paul (2005-11) and Anthony Davis (2012-19) – win more than one playoff series? Can New Orleans win enough with Williamson to keep Williamson. Paul and Davis tried to make it work in New Orleans, but both wanted out.
The New Orleans Hornets, who became the Pelicans in 2013, never could surround Paul or Davis with teammates good enough to form a true contender. Williamson represents New Orleans’ third try.
Through 20 seasons, New Orleans has but six winning seasons and reached the playoffs only eight times with the only advances to the second round in 2008 after the club’s only division title and in 2018.
The Pelicans recovered from a 1-12 start last season without Williamson to finish 36-46 and beat the Los Angeles Clippers in a play-in game to reach the playoffs, where they lost in six games to Phoenix.
Williamson is already on his third head coach as a Pelican in Willie Green after Stan Van Gundy and Alvin Gentry.
“The ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Williamson said. “We’re hungry.”
Starving would be more like it as the Pelicans are fourth in the pecking order of sports in Louisiana as far as fan base intensity behind LSU football and the New Orleans Saints in a deadlock, then LSU baseball and LSU basketball.
Since the Pelicans’ arrival in 2002, LSU football won three national championships (2003, 2007, 2019 seasons), the Saints won one Super Bowl (2009 season) and reached two other NFC title games (2006, 2018 seasons), the LSU baseball team won the 2009 national title, reached the national championship series in 2017 and won four SEC titles (2009, ’12, ’15 and ’17), and the LSU basketball team reached the Final Four in 2006 and won the SEC title in 2019.
The Pelicans appear to have a chance to finally make a mark beyond round two of the playoffs with Williamson, forward Brandon Ingram and guard CJ. McCollum – if Williamson stays healthy.
“You saw what the team did in the spring. I’m excited to add to that,” Williamson said.
“I think we can be a scary team,” Green said.
That would be new.
3 CommentsLeave a Reply
LOL hasn’t won a thing plus showing to be fragile oh well
Being Zion Williamson must be awesome. $231 million after not playing for most of his career. Dude seems like a good guy, so I’m not ripping him, but this is proof that the NBA has no fucking clue what a player is worth. So when in doubt, back up the money truck.
Only in America.