After months of mystery and speculation, it simply ended.
Zion Williamson’s much-ballyhooed contract extension was executed with little hesitation on Saturday, confirming the New Orleans Pelicans’ intent to contend for some time.
Just 72 hours after the free agency window opened, the Pelicans ranked former No. 1 was handed a five-year max contract worth $231 million based on various incentives. It marries Williamson with Brandon Ingram (under contract for the next three seasons) and CJ McCollum (under contract for two more seasons) to form a stable foundation of talent this franchise has rarely enjoyed.
Zion Williamson said in April that he couldn’t sign a contract extension “fast enough” with the New Orleans Pelicans.
While the Ingram deal was predictable and the McCollum commitment acquired via trade, the Williamson extension was always expected to be more complicated.
Reports of acrimonious tension between Williamson and the front office escalated when he missed the entire 2021-22 season with a mysterious right ankle injury. The intensity was so unexpected that Williamson himself said he didn’t think he’d miss a regular season game.
Instead he missed them all.
Still, despite the silence, the occasional fumble and a trip to Portland, Oregon — to isolate himself from the team entirely during part of the rehab process — history was always on the Pelicans’ side.
In the NBA’s modern salary cap era, every rookie signed a contract that gave him a max contract. And often this is done as quickly as possible.
This time it lasted a few extra days. But nowhere near the Cold War, when tensions were at their most ominous, many doomsayers predicted.
Instead, when Saturday’s news came and went, it didn’t seem like a terribly significant event.
“Of course, of course,” Williamson said last month when asked if he would sign an extension. “I won’t be able to sign it fast enough.”
But signing Williamson through the 2027-28 season was far from a foregone conclusion. So credit must go out for making the extraordinary seem somewhat mundane.
Unlike most third-year players who jump head-first into their second contract (the first mega NBA payday allowed by the collective bargaining agreement), this deal requires more than just dollars. Williamson had earned more than $100 million in guaranteed endorsements before even stepping foot on an NBA floor.
That earned him a rarely-seen flexibility to survey the landscape.
So the Pelicans need to provide him with faith for the future.
After two underwhelming seasons in New Orleans, Williamson got a front-row seat to one of the league’s most remarkable in-season turnarounds in the second half of last year, as the Pelicans went from cellar dweller to head-spinning playoff spoiler. the speed
Zion’s return from Portland coincided with the Pelicans’ rise, allowing Williamson to soak up the atmosphere of New Orleans, winning a tournament and first-round series against the Phoenix Suns.
The New Orleans Pelicans are in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.
Thanks to coach Willie Green and an ambitious rookie-laden overhaul — paired with the arrival of McCollum — the abysmal chemistry of Stan van Gundy’s 2020-21 team was bulldozed and replaced by a tight-knit unit that coalesced at just the right time.
This helped reframe Williamson’s perspective and breathe fresh life into the relationship.
“It helped a lot to get out and feel the appeal of this place and be around my teammates,” Williamson said last month. “Being with my teammates was a big mental change for me. At first, I felt like I was in a bad place mentally. When I’m around friends, there’s always good vibes with them.
Why would the Pelicans pay that kind of money to someone who only played 85 games after being drafted in 2019?
simple He is special.
The New Orleans Pelicans went 5-0 in the Las Vegas Summer League in 2021.
No one his age has scored around the rim like Williamson since Shaquille O’Neal roamed the paint. And after creating the opening salvo by contending in the postseason, no one else in the league can single-handedly raise the Pelicans’ ceiling like Williamson.
The Pelicans really had no choice. He had to take the leap.
There are combustibles and nothing is guaranteed in roster-building, but that’s a risk the Pelicans can’t afford to take, as the returns could produce something this franchise has never seen before.
And after a tumultuous, nervous road to get here, the deal came with more applause than celebration, because it made so much sense.
Zion and the Pelicans are joined at the hip for the foreseeable future. And it all feels natural.
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