The New Orleans Pelicans did their best to hold back Zion Williamson during his rookie season, and the forward was not a fan of his treatment.
Christian Clark of NOLA.com provided a breakdown of Williamson and the team's differences during 2019-20:
"Throughout his rookie season, Williamson had grown increasingly frustrated with the Pelicans for the number of hoops they required him to jump through to return from the knee injury he suffered in the preseason. The team initially provided a return-to-play timetable of six to eight weeks, but it took more than three months for Williamson to get back on the floor. When he was finally given the thumbs up to play, he was placed on "burst" limits, which he detested. The way Williamson's return was handled caused significant tension between him and the team's medical staff, sources said."
Williamson only played 24 games as a rookie, averaging 27.8 minutes per game. He averaged just 20.7 minutes in five appearances during the NBA restart in the Florida bubble as the Pelicans fell out of playoff contention.
It has helped create a "sour" relationship with Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin, per Clark.
It made sense for the Pelicans to remain cautious with Williamson. The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick was one of the most hyped prospects in a decade, and the team wanted to avoid any potential long-term damage.
The problem is it has created a divide between the player and the organization, which is significant with the 21-year-old eligible for an extension next offseason.
Though no NBA player has ever turned down a max extension on a rookie contract, the rift could be enough to persuade Williamson to look for options elsewhere.
Despite being limited at times, the Duke product has thrived, earning an All-Star selection in his second season. He finished 2020-21 with averages of 27.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, hitting 61.1 percent of his shots from the field.
His 7.1 offensive win shares ranked third in the NBA behind only Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard, per Basketball Reference.
The Pelicans will hope to mend fences with the talented big man before he chooses to leave.