Zion Williamson received attention when Pelicans teammate J.J. Redick slammed New Orleans’ front office for dishonesty and said he didn’t expect his agents to trust those executives again. Redick and Williamson share an agency, CAA.
Williamson received attention as tension emerged between Pelicans players and coach Stan Van Gundy. New Orleans just fired Van Gundy after his lone season there. At minimum, Williamson was exposed to the dysfunction. At worst, Williamson was centrally involved in it.
Williamson definitely received attention when he went of his way to gush about how much he likes playing in New York. Williamson reportedly wanted the Knicks to win the lottery before the Pelicans drafted him No. 1 two years ago.
Behind all those distressing signs, there’s apparently actual major concern about Williamson’s future in New Orleans.
Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and William Guillory of The Athletic:
They have been unable to put together the right elements to make rising star Zion Williamson and his family happy, and multiple sources have told The Athletic that certain family members want Williamson on another team.
But for most of this season, certain Williamson family members voiced displeasure with the organization. Among the targets of their criticism was Van Gundy, who they felt was too rigid and demanding as head coach, but also with the organization, which they claim did not live up to what they felt should be the standard for a star like Williamson. Numerous opposing league executives had heard the complaints, and they were confirmed by Pelicans officials.
When the Pels traded J.J. Redick to Dallas in March, it not only upset Redick but also is said to have irritated Williamson.
Redick was a veteran with whom Williamson had grown comfortable in their two seasons together, and the dysfunction Redick accused the Pelicans of harboring is said to have stoked some of Williamson’s own feelings with regards to the direction of the franchise.
Williamson is one of the NBA’s brightest young stars. He continues to grow and evolve and still has so much room to improve. The Pelicans should obviously prioritize keeping him happy.
That might not be easy, though.
Players’ families commonly have different ideas about what’s best for the player. The more people in the player’s camp, the more opinions. It’s ultimately on the player to decide what’s best for him. Just because Williamson has some family members wanting him to leave New Orleans doesn’t mean he’ll act on it.
But Williamson is just 20 and seemingly impressionable. The Pelicans ought to be concerned.
They also face a predicament with Williamson’s super-max path.
Though the super-max rules were designed to help teams keep their stars, New Orleans might not be able to take advantage with Williamson. In fact, unintended consequences could even push Williamson to leave the Pelicans sooner than he would otherwise.
Because he didn’t make an All-NBA team this season, he must make a 2023 All-NBA team to qualify for a super-max rookie-scale extension. If he had made an All-NBA team this year – as I thought he should have – he would have qualified by making another All-NBA team in 2022 or 2023. That margin for error could have been especially helpful given his health issues.
Williamson will be eligible for a rookie-scale extension in the 2022 offseason. (If he signs, the extension would take effect in 2023 and include a provision about what happens if he makes an All-NBA team in 2023.)
Or Williamson could bypass the extension and become a restricted free agent in 2023. New Orleans could match any offer sheet he signs.
However, Williamson could also accept his $17,595,263 qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2024. Williamson would hold the ability to veto any trade during the 2023-24 season. That’s obviously a nightmare scenario for the Pelicans.
And then there’s the veteran super-max.
Implemented in the 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Designated Veteran Player rule allows players to earn more money on a contract that begins in their eighth or ninth season. Players must qualify by making All-NBA teams or winning MVP or Defensive Player of the year in certain seasons.
Another requirement: Players must be with their original teams or have switched teams only via trade within their first four seasons.
So, if Williamson wants to leave New Orleans, he has incentive to force a trade sooner than later.
None of this means Williamson will leave. The Pelicans have another talented young player in Brandon Ingram and a ton of draft picks to build around Williamson. He’d have to bypass a massive guaranteed money to expedite his exit through the qualifying offer/2024 unrestricted free agency, an unprecedented move. Demanding a trade so early into his career could invite significant public-relations blowback.
But New Orleans can’t feel good about this situation.