Windhorst on Zion Williamson Contract Talks: I Don't Think Pelicans Offer 5-Year Max

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVMay 3, 2022

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - APRIL 28: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on during the game against the Phoenix Suns at Smoothie King Center on April 28, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Zion Williamson says he'd sign a max contract extension if the New Orleans Pelicans offered one.

Whether they're willing to do so is another question entirely. 

"I don't think they're offering a five-year max," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on The Hoop Collective podcast (11-minute mark). "... I don't think they're going to want to guarantee the full five years. I think they'll come into it not wanting him to have a player option. In other words, it will be a five-year contract and we'll have protection. And they'll want to haggle over what constitutes the protection."

Williamson is eligible to sign an extension this summer that could pay him up to $223 million if he makes an All-NBA team next season. Should he fail to make an All-NBA team, the max would top out at around $185 million.

While the Pelicans wouldn't hesitate to pay a healthy version of Williamson any number, we're yet to see him get through a full NBA season without injury. He missed the entire 2021-22 season while recovering from offseason foot surgery and has played just 85 total games in three seasons.

"Obviously, that conversation is going to be one that will be a challenge," Pelicans president of basketball operations David Griffin told reporters of a Williamson extension. "When it's time to have that, we'll have it. And right now what we're focused on is him being healthy, and [being in] kind of elite condition to play basketball and we'll start there."

The Pelicans could look at the five-year, $148 million extension signed by Joel Embiid in 2017 as a way to give themselves protection. Embiid's rookie-scale extension had clauses that protected the team in case of injury, and it was signed after the center had played in only 31 NBA games.

New Orleans has a slightly larger sample of Williamson's dominance than the Sixers did Embiid, but the financial implications are also a little higher. It would likely be smart of Williamson to sign any contract that guarantees him a nine-figure payday, even if it's slightly below the full max or comes with playing-time incentives.

If he goes through the rest of his career healthy, it's likely he'll take only a small financial hit in exchange for generational long-term security.