Zion Williamson spent the entire season on the sidelines as whispers began to grow louder that the 21-year-old may force his way out of New Orleans.
But if Williamson’s recent comments are anything to go by he is fully committed to the Pelicans and New Orleans is just as confident in its franchise superstar.
So confident that they are willing to pay up and reward Williamson with a five-year, $181 million ($A261m) max rookie extension this summer.
There could be a few clauses in that contract though, if New Orleans listen to the cautious advice of a few former NBA players, that is.
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Speaking on ‘The Ryen Russillo Podcast’ last week, Pelicans vice president of operations David Griffin was quite straight-forward in his thoughts on a possible max extension for Williamson.
“I think it’s not a big decision,” he said.
“It’s a pretty easy decision. The kid is historically good when he plays — two different ways. He played a season being historically good as a back-to-the-basket big, and he played a season being historically good as ‘Point Zion’…this is a max player. That’s easy.
“We’re all the way in with him, and I think we always have been.”
Williamson is all in too, telling reporters at a New Orleans area YMCA he is “ready to get to work”.
“I do want to be here. That’s no secret,” Williamson said, via ESPN.
“I feel like I’ve stood on that when I spoke. It was a long year for me for rehab and mental battles. I’m fine now.”
Former teammate JJ Redick has been highly critical of Williamson in the past, calling out the 21-year-old’s concerning pattern of behaviour in February.
But even Redick agreed with Griffin that this is a “pretty easy decision” for the Pelicans to make.
“Yes, you max him out,” Redick said on ESPN’s ‘Get Up’, although he did admit some clauses will need to be inserted in the contract.
“I was Joel Embiid’s teammate in the fall of 2017. They put protections on his rookie max extension in terms of games played to qualify to get those guarantees down the line. I absolutely think you should max him with a similar contract to what they signed Joel Embiid on in 2017.”
Vince Carter was more hesitant though, agreeing that Williamson “deserves the money” but adding the Pelicans superstar needs to prove he wants to be that guy.
“I’d say no right now because of health,” Carter said.
“Can he stay healthy, can he keep his weight down because that is important for an athletic guy like that. At the same time, I like what JJ is saying in terms of protections. You put incentives in there where he can get that money.
“If you do it that way, maybe you look into it. From an organisational side, you hear what David Griffin is saying. He is speaking loud and clear — if he is available and healthy, it’s possible — but that is a big if because of what we have seen so far. He deserves max money.”
Amar’e Stoudemire said Griffin needs to have a “sit down” with Williamson and personally gauge just how dedicated the 21-year-old is to putting in that work.
“If he feels as if Zion is committed to play at a high level, I would give him the max,” Stoudemire said.
“But there has to be some kind of stipulations because you want to make sure this guy is focused on basketball and wants to keep himself in optimal shape. It’s very tricky because you want him on the court and health is the main ingredient but I do feel like I would offer him the max if he is ready to play.”
Williamson did not play this past season after several setbacks with his injured foot but is confident of returning to his best in the 2022-23 campaign.