Zion Williamson Wants to Play for Pelicans His 'Whole Career,' Talks Title Hopes

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2019

New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson (1) smiles during the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the New York Knicks on Friday, July 5, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)
Steve Marcus/Associated Press

New Orleans Pelicans fans who were worried that No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson would follow in Anthony Davis' footsteps and demand a trade at some point can rest a little easier.

"Growing up, I loved what Kobe [Bryant] did and Dirk [Nowitzki] did," Williamson told Complex's Macklin Stern. "...My intentions are to stay with the Pelicans my whole career, but if something happens, I wouldn't leave because I hate the place. It's just the business."

Both Nowitzki and Bryant spent their entire careers in one uniform. Bryant's 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers had been the longest a player had spent with a franchise before Nowitzki surpassed him in 2018-19, finishing his career having played 21 seasons for the Dallas Mavericks

When the Pelicans won the lottery in May, there was speculation that Williamson did not want to go to New Orleans. Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin called that talk a "false narrative," per Jim Eichenhofer of the team's official website.

Williamson did not rule out the possibility of leaving at some point. But the fact that he spoke so fondly of players spending their entire career in one uniform bodes well for New Orleans.

Meanwhile, the rookie phenom also told Stern the Pelicans can will a title this season:

"Me being confident in my teammates, I would say I think the ceiling is [a] championship. But I have to be realistic about this. I have high expectations for us, but you gotta see how we’re gonna work. I think we are going to work, but it does take time to adjust to each player—knowing what they like to do, finding out their tendencies. So I think the quicker we find out those things, I think we have a very high ceiling."

Though New Orleans lost a six-time All-Star in Davis as well as an emerging player in Julius Randle this offseason, it has assembled an interesting roster. Along with Williamson, the Pelicans have added 2016 No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram, 2017 No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball, 2017 first-round pick Josh Hart, veteran guard JJ Redick and veteran forward Derrick Favors.

That roster doesn't put New Orleans in the same company as the Los Angeles Lakers or the Los Angeles Clippers as preseason title favorites, but Williamson believes recent history suggests the Pelicans could surprise some people.

"What's realistic is sometimes you never know," Williamson added, per Stern. "From the start of the season, who would have guessed the Raptors would have won it [last year]? I'm going to be honest, I didn't have them in my top five."

Toronto had been a perennial Eastern Conference contender for years before it added 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard last offseason. That, along with the Golden State Warriors' injuries, proved to be a winning formula.

New Orleans, on the other hand, will rely on a young core that has no playoff experience, though Redick, Favors and Jrue Holiday could offset that.