The New Orleans Pelicans made Zion Williamson the centerpiece of their organization when they selected him with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft, and now they are nearing a deal to keep him with the team for years to come.
The two parties are nearing a five-year max contract extension that will be worth up to $231 million, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
Williamson said after the season ended, “I couldn’t sign it fast enough.” Indeed, the All-Star locks in commitment to New Orleans.<br><br>The deal is expected to include protections that both sides were sorting through overnight and will finalize, sources said. <a href="https://t.co/n0hyRwRk9e">https://t.co/n0hyRwRk9e</a>
Williamson was eligible for a rookie contract extension after the 2021-22 campaign, and Christian Clark of NOLA.com noted in May 2021 it could be "a five-year deal with an annual value worth anywhere between 25 percent and 30 percent of the salary cap depending on what accolades he receives."
Clark also pointed out no player on a rookie deal had turned down such an offer over the last decade, although his report in September 2021 suggested there was at least some tension between the 21-year-old and the organization.
Much of that tension stemmed from how the team handled his injury rehab process during his rookie campaign:
"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."
It reached such a point that Williamson's relationship with executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin had "begun to sour."
The power forward played a mere 24 games during that rookie season and averaged 27.8 minutes a night. The Pelicans fell out of contention inside the Walt Disney World Resort bubble when he averaged just 20.6 minutes per game in five contests.
Williamson was still named to the All-Rookie first team despite the limited playing time, and he averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the season. He then took another step in his second season as an All-Star, averaging 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 61.1 percent from the field.
However, health again became a primary concern during the 2021-22 campaign.
The Pelicans announced in December that he suffered a setback while rehabbing his surgically repaired right foot before he even made his debut in his third season. "As a result, the volume and intensity of his training will be reduced for an extended period to help allow for further bone healing," the update read.
He ended up missing the entire season.
When healthy, the Duke product can overpower defenders on the blocks, help control the glass, attack off the bounce and soar through the air for high-flying dunks and alley-oops. He is an ideal building block at his age and will surely look to lead the core alongside Brandon Ingram in the future.
As for the Pelicans, things never fully came together with their last superstar who was a No. 1 overall pick.
The franchise won a single playoff series when Anthony Davis was around from 2012-13 through 2018-19 and struggled to put enough pieces around him to compete with the league's best teams.
Whether the Pelicans are more successful in doing that with Williamson will likely determine how this contract extension unfolds in the coming years.