3 Instant Reactions After Zion Williamson Agrees to 5-Year, $193M Pelicans Contract

Adam WellsJuly 2, 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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As expected, the New Orleans Pelicans have given Zion Williamson a supermax extension to keep him with the team for at least the next six seasons.

Austin Brown, Williamson's agent, told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on Saturday that the two sides have agreed to a five-year, $193 million deal that could end up being worth as much as $231 million.

The move doesn't come as a surprise. Pelicans President of Basketball Operations David Griffin told reporters last month that it was an "easy decision" to offer the 21-year-old a max extension.

New Orleans is hoping to build off last season's success when it made the play-in tournament despite finishing 36-46. The team went on to defeat the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers to earn the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

The Pelicans' season came to an end with a hard-fought first-round loss to the Phoenix Suns in six games.

Hopes for the Pelicans going forward will depend largely on Williamson's health. Here are three instant reactions after he secured his first massive payday in the NBA.

Williamson Smart to Extend

When Williamson told reporters in April he couldn't sign an extension "fast enough," it was met with joking sneers from fans and analysts.

Of course, Williamson would leap at the opportunity to get at least $193 million. He's only appeared in 85 games through his first three NBA seasons.

Given how susceptible Williamson has been to injuries at such a young age, his leverage was somewhat limited in this situation.

There are plenty of examples of other young players receiving long-term extensions despite injury concerns.

Michael Porter Jr. got a five-year, $172 million deal from the Denver Nuggets in September. He missed his first season in 2018-19 because of a back injury but was able to play in 116 games over the next two seasons.

That deal turned out to be a brilliant move for Porter. He was limited to nine games during the 2021-22 campaign before having season-ending back surgery in November.

If Porter had not signed that deal, he would have been a restricted free agent this offseason and potentially looking at an incentive-laden short-term contract.

Williamson has a massive ceiling when he's healthy, but that lack of availability is a significant question that can't be overlooked.

Pelicans Need to Help Williamson

In addition to his injury issues, another reason that Williamson re-signing with New Orleans didn't always feel like a given was the dynamic between the two sides.

Prior to the start of last season, Christian Clark of the Times-Picayune wrote a detailed story about Williamson's frustrations with the organization for how it micromanaged his knee injury during his rookie season:

"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."

The Pelicans front office, led by Griffin, didn't do Williamson any favors last season by being so secretive about the offseason foot surgery he had that ultimately kept him out for all of 2021-22.

By committing to Williamson long-term, the organization certainly seems to be in a good place with him.

Going forward, though, Pelicans management needs to do a better job of communicating information about Williamson when it is relevant. It will make things much easier for him and them to avoid the constant questions that came up last season.

Pelicans Have Enormous Ceiling in 2022-23

Looking at the roster currently in place for the Pelicans, they have the makings of a good playoff team in the Western Conference.

Brandon Ingram looks to be approaching his final form in New Orleans. After two fantastic offensive seasons with the club, the 24-year-old make huge strides on defense in the 2021-22 campaign.

Griffin got aggressive at the trade deadline last season to add more offensive firepower. CJ McCollum performed very well in New Orleans after being acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers. He averaged 24.3 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 39.4 percent from three in 26 starts with the Pelicans.

Adding Williamson, who has averaged 25.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in his career, to that offensive nucleus will be a significant boost for head coach Willie Green. The Pelicans finished 19th in offensive rating (112.0) and 21st in points per game (109.3) without him last season, per NBA.com.

Going back to 2020-21 when Williamson was able to play in 61 games, the Pelicans offense ranked ninth in scoring average (114.6 points per game) and 12th in rating (113.5).

Of course, the combination of McCollum and Williamson on the defensive end could be a huge problem. Williamson's defense two years ago was abysmal. McCollum has been a defensive liability throughout his career.

Given how young Williamson is and the fact that defense tends to develop slower than offense, it's certainly reasonable to expect he can get better on that end of the court.

The top of the Western Conference figures to be a fight next season. The Golden State Warriors are bringing back most of their key contributors from the NBA Finals. The Memphis Grizzlies have one of the deepest rosters in the league.

The Phoenix Suns still have Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Los Angeles Clippers are getting back Kawhi Leonard to play with Paul George. There's also the potential that one or both of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving get traded to a Western Conference team.

It certainly won't be easy for the Pelicans to break into the top tier in the West next season, but there's a way for them to at least be in the conversation with a healthy Williamson playing alongside Ingram and McCollum.