Pelicans GM Griffin on Zion Williamson: “This is a max player. That’s easy.”

2022 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans
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On July 1, the New Orleans Pelicans will offer Zion Williamson a max contract extension, which will be worth at least $182 million (and would jump if he made All-NBA next season).

The real question is how much of that money is guaranteed.

Pelicans head of basketball operations David Griffin went on the Ryen Russillo’s podcast and said he believed a deal would get done.

“We feel really confident he wants to be here and we’re equally confident we can come to an agreement,” Griffin said.

As for how big a contract, Griffin played both sides of it, saying Zion is a max player but the Pelicans have to protect themselves (hat tip Christian Clark of Nolanews.com).

Williamson said he would be eager to sign an extension, but he and his agent will want every penny of that contract guaranteed. Pelicans ownership — which also owns the New Orleans Saints — may want to take a more NFL-style approach with Williamson needing to meet specific benchmarks (such as games played) to get all of it. The players’ union would take serious issue with that kind of contract.

Zion has played 85 games over three seasons and missed 141, including all of last season. There have been concerns about Zion’s body type and style of play, as well as his workout habits. Will he make the commitment to live up to that contract? He’s putting in the work at the Pelicans’ facility recently.

This also is where having a veteran leader such as CJ McCollum in the locker room helps, both to guide a young player and hold him accountable.

The often-cited Zion contract comp is Joel Embiid‘s rookie-scale extension with the 76ers, which wasn’t fully guaranteed but was much closer to that than people think. Embiid would have had to suffer very specific re-injuries then be waived by the 76ers not to get his money (the Pelicans can only hope the Zion contract works out as well as the Embiid one). That could be part of Zion’s next deal.

Zion has lived up to his No. 1 pick draft status when he has played, including being the best interior scorer in the league. Two seasons ago, he averaged 27 points a game shooting 61.1%, plus  7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists a night. Add Zion to the shooting and shot creation of CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram, and suddenly Willie Green’s Pelicans — who made a nice run at the end of last season — look much more dangerous.

But first, the Pelicans and Zion need to figure out their contract status.