CJ McCollum unintentionally created an NBA controversy on All-Star Saturday, saying he had not talked to Zion Williamson, despite playing five games for the Pelicans at that point since being traded from the Blazers. After that, former Pelicans player J.J. Redick laid out how he saw Zion as a disengaged teammate and suggested this was just evidence of that.
McCollum and Zion have spoken multiple times now, and after practice on Thursday McCollum came to Zion’s defense as the young star tries to recover from offseason foot surgery (he may need a second one).
“Leave the young fella alone, man. He’s trying to rehab in peace, trying to get himself ready to come back…
“He’s going through a lot. You guys are putting him on the spot on the daily and I think he’s just trying to recover on his own time and really focus on his rehab. I’ve been injured before, so I know what it’s like. You feel disconnected. You feel away. You wish you could be out there, and it’s tough, mentally and physically. It’s tough on the body. And you gotta read about yourself all the time. I know it’s frustrating. But I’ve got a lot of respect for him. We’re going to get along very well and continue to build a relationship and I’ll be here for him when he needs it.”
This is what a leader does — stick up for your teammate under fire. Tell him and the world you’ve got his back. This is McCollum being who he is, and the guy the Pelicans need him to be.
Now it’s on Zion to live up to his part. Redick was far from the first person to call him out for his lack of engagement, and Zion’s camp does not get along well with team president David Griffin. Zion needs to do better taking control of his own narrative — his nature is to be quiet, but NBA Twitter abhors a vacuum, and the space created by his silence will get filled with unflattering stories. Zion is up for — and almost certainly will get — a max contract extension this summer (although it could look like Joel Embiid‘s, with some health carve outs for the team). That will bring another round of discussion.
Hopefully, if Zion can get back on the court, and that makes all the talk and questions go away.