Zion Williamson missed the entire 2021-22 NBA season for the New Orleans Pelicans with a foot injury, but the former #1 pick in the draft signed a five-year rookie contract extension worth $193 million with a supermax escalator clause that could be worth up to $231 million.
If Zion can earn a spot on the All-NBA Team, or win either the MVP or Defensive Player of the Year, he will be eligible for a supermax contract extension with the Pelicans for $231 million. Otherwise, he’s still set to earn $193 million over five years, or an average of $38.6 million.
The Pelicans finished in eighth place with a 36-46 record. They secured the #8 seed in the Western Conference through the Play-In Tournament. The #1 Phoenix Suns needed six games to knock out the Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs. Zion did not participate in the playoffs because he was still out with a foot injury, which kept him out the entire regular season.
According to a recent update by the DraftKings, the Pelicans are +4000 odds to win the 2023 NBA championship.
Since the Pelicans selected Zion with the #1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft out of Duke, he appeared in only 85 games with the Pelicans and he missed 141 games. He appeared in just 24 games during his rookie season due to a knee injury that delayed his debut.
In his second season, Zion remained somewhat healthy until he suffered a fractured finger in May 2021 and missed the final ten games. Fans and the organization caught a glimpse of what a healthy Zion brings to the table. He averaged 27 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 61 games while shooting 61% from the floor.
Last summer, Zion suffered a fractured foot during offseason workouts. He underwent surgery and the Pelicans hoped he could return around Christmas. However, his return was constantly postponed due to pain and swelling.
When he was not ready by the All-Star break, Zion considered having a second surgery, but he decided against it. He lived in Portland while rehabbing his injury. His distance from the team and overall aloofness got him called out by former teammate (and fellow Dukie) JJ Redick. When the Portland Trail Blazers traded CJ McCollum to the Pelicans prior to the trade deadline, McCollum said Zion never reached out to him, which flamed the news cycle for a couple of weeks.
Back to NOLA
Zion returned to New Orleans late in the season and continued his rehab in the team’s practice facility. A couple of his dunks during solo workouts went viral, but he was not cleared to play the rest of the season.
There were whispers that Zion could get cleared for full-contact practice, which meant he could suit up for the playoffs, yet he was not ready heading into the Western Conference Play-In Tournament. When the first round began against the Suns, Zion was still on the injury list.
“We have a special locker room,” said Zion. “My first two years, it was a good locker room. But this year, maybe it was the playoffs, it was more together. Just seeing the potential. We have a lot of great pieces. I’m excited to get out on the court with those guys.”
In recent weeks, Zion expressed his interest in playing in New Orleans long term and signing a contract extension with the Pelicans. The Pelicans included an escalator clause in his extension as an incentive. Winning the MVP or DPOY seems out of reach, but he played like his second season, there’s a good chance he can qualify for the supermax clause by earning All-NBA honors.
Knicks Trade Rumors: Zion, Julius Randle Swap
All signs pointed toward a Pelicans and Zion breakup earlier this spring. Zion was not shy about his desire to one day play for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, which is why he’s been linked to the Knicks in numerous trade rumors.
The latest rumor suggests the Knicks and Pelicans are working on a trade package that includes picks and Julius Randle. The Knicks accumulated numerous first-round picks on draft night when they traded the #11 pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for three future first-rounders.
Depending on the other trade rumors from Gotham, the Knicks are hoarding picks to make a run at Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz. However, if the Jazz decide to keep Mitchell, then the Knicks will roll the dice with Zion. The Jazz traded Rudy Gobert to Minnesota Timberwolves to placate Mitchell after the two had a beef with each other. According to reports out of Salt Lake City, the huge rift between Gobert/Mitchell was so fierce that head coach Quin Snyder stepped down because he didn’t want to have to deal with the carnage in the locker room.
Leon Rose, the Knicks general manager, has an affinity for Duke players. The Knicks already have RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish on the roster, and they selected center Trevor Keels from Duke. Barrett and Reddish played with Zion during their time at Duke together, and Barret and Zion are considered close friends. Perhaps Rose will make a pitch to the Pelicans to bring Zion to the Knicks in a blockbuster trade.