Zion Williamson has had quite an interesting start to his NBA career. He has only played 85 games through the first three seasons of his career due to an array of injuries, including missing the entire 2021-22 season with a broken foot.
But when Williamson has been on the court, he’s been an absolute force. Despite playing just 24 games in his rookie season, Williamson was dominant for most of the 2020-21 campaign, averaging 27 points per game in his second year with the New Orleans Pelicans. Despite having no real jump shot, Williamson is so strong and fast that he can get to the rim for emphatic dunks and smooth layups whenever he wants.
Williamson’s status with the Pelicans has been cloudy for some time now
Despite Williamson’s fantastic on-court production so far, he’s only played one full NBA season despite being in the league for three years now. There’s been a lot of radio silence during the rehab from his foot injury, which has led to questions about how New Orleans has handled the injury and whether Zion wants to continue playing for New Orleans.
Those rumors floated around for most of the season, but the Pelicans recently cleared Williamson to participate in all basketball activities, so assuming there are no setbacks, he should be good to go by the time the next season rolls around. And with Williamson now eligible for a rookie extension worth up to five years and $186 million, both the Pelicans and Zion have sounded interested in inking him to an extension this offseason. Williamson reaffirmed those desires at a recent basketball camp he held at a local YMCA:
“I do want to be here. That’s no secret. I feel like I’ve stood on that when I spoke…It was a long year for me for rehab and mental battles. I’m fine now. I’m ready to get to work.” - Zion Williamson, ESPN.
The Pelicans can hand Williamson a massive extension, but should they?
The main reason for the many Zion-related rumors throughout the season was his contract status this offseason. Despite playing scarcely to start his career, Williamson has made it known he wanted a new deal at some point this offseason. The worries were that New Orleans wouldn’t give it to him, but they have seemed willing to do so, ending the potential rumors that he could be traded.
Now the question shifts to whether or not the Pelicans should hand Williamson a new deal due to his extensive injury history. Zion has dealt with some significant injuries dating back to his college days at Duke, preventing him from being a consistent contributor in New Orleans early on. Zion has all the talent in the world, but it means nothing if he can’t stay on the court.
When he’s played, Williamson has played like a guy who deserves the full five-year, $168 million deal, and that’s what he is going to be expecting to get from New Orleans. The Pelicans don’t have to offer him that much, and they probably shouldn’t, given how frequently he’s missed games due to injuries.
Of course, the Pels can add in some different provisions to protect themselves from Zion potentially getting injured again, which seems like the most likely route at this point. Zion gets his money, and New Orleans gets their star assuming he can stay on the court.
But this potential deal comes with a lot of risk for New Orleans, and their somewhat cloudy relationship with Williamson doesn’t necessarily help. Handing out a nine-figure contract to a player who hasn’t been available as much as Zion has is a tough pill to swallow. Still, Williamson could be the final piece to help the Pels become a legitimate contender in the Western Conference. And the chance to contend for a title is worth much more than what New Orleans will end up handing him.